Why Read Consortium News?

Consortium News brings you in-depth coverage from a fresh perspective of the biggest stories of the day. Read us to keep up with the crises of Iran, Venezuela and WikiLeaks.

You can read The New York Times and The Washington Post if you want to know what official Washington is saying and doing on the surface.  But if you are interested in digging down deep for a critical analysis of what government is really up to and why, read the unique coverage of Consortium News.

We bring you news and analysis the establishment media shies away from or spins to fit the official cover story. You can hear them say they want to bring freedom and democracy to Venezuela and Iran, and that Julian Assange is a hacker and not a journalist. Or you can read Consortium News to learn about the establishment’s real motives.

To keep us going we depend only on donations from readers. So please help us blow past our fundraising goal this Spring and keep on keeping yourself informed. 

 

Please Make a Donation to Our
Spring Fundraising Drive Today! Contribute $150 or More to Become a Consortium News Member.

 




Intl Community Must Protect Venezuela’s Embassy in DC

The 1979 occupation of the U.S. embassy in Tehran shows why Venezuela now requires support in protecting its Washington embassy, says Alfred de Zayas. 

On Thursday morning Kevin Zeese, one of the activists who remained inside the embassy, reported: “The police have broken in and say they will arrest us.” Shortly after that he and three others were forcibly removed. —Editors

By Alfred de Zayas

International Law applies to all states, even if some violate the norms with impunity. Against the arrogance of power, law is impotent, because the international community has yet to create effective mechanisms of implementation. However, the breach does not abrogate international law, which remains in force until a future time when it is vindicated by the political will of governments and by people power.

Since the adoption of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the United States has committed multiple violations of its provisions.  Normally such violations would lead to international adjudication and the obligation to make reparation to the injured state.  The outrageous behavior of the United States with regard to the Venezuelan embassy in Washington violates the Vienna Convention, to which the United States is bound, and which has served U.S. interests in the past, when the premises of U.S. embassies and consulates have been targets of terrorism and/or illegally occupation. 

The Venezuelan government demanded that the United States comply with the Convention, protect the Venezuelan diplomatic premises and respect the human rights of the activists who protected the building with authorization from the Venezuelan government.

Tehran Example

When on Nov. 4, 1979, Iranian students and militants occupied the U.S. embassy in Tehran, the U.S. promptly brought a case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, invoking the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention, which refers disputes on its application to the world court. The U.S. also requested the indication of provisional measures of protection, which the court granted, holding that there was no more fundamental prerequisite for relations between states than the inviolability of diplomatic premises, and demanding the immediate restoration to the United States of the embassy premises. In its decision on the merits of the case, the court, in its judgment of May, 24, 1980, found that Iran had violated and was still violating obligations owed by it to the United States, that the violation of these obligations engaged Iranian responsibility, and that Iran was bound to make reparation for the injury caused to the United States.

The current situation concerning the Venezuelan embassy in Washington justifies adjudication by the world court, but in 1986 President Ronald Reagan withdrew U.S. recognition of the court’s automatic jurisdiction, and in 2018 President Donald Trump denounced the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention, precisely to be able to violate it with impunity, without fearing the inconvenience of having to appear in The Hague and defend the indefensible.

Article 22 of the Convention stipulates:

No. 1: The premises of missions shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State (United States) may not enter them, except with the consent of the mission.

No. 2: The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.

No. 3: The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.

Article 45 stipulates:

If diplomatic relations are broken off between two States….(a) The receiving State must…respect and protect the premises of the mission, together with its property and archives…

The legal situation is therefore clear.  But since an adjudication by the International Court of Justice is no longer possible following the unilateral withdrawals by the United States, it is up to the international community to defend the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and to demand that the United States respect it.  Also the United Nations secretary general and the UN General Assembly could make public statements and adopt resolutions reminding the United States that it is not exempt from the application of customary international law, the UN Charter and the Vienna Convention.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and the many volunteers in the Venezuelan embassy have demonstrated that people power can reaffirm human rights and hold – even if only temporarily – against abuse of power by governments. It is now for the media to fulfill its obligation to inform the people about the facts and to condemn obvious violations of the international order.

Alfred de Zayas was the UN independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order from 2012 to 2018. He is former secretary of the UN Human Rights Committee and head of the Petitions Department at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. He is co-author with Judge Jakob Th. Möller of the handbook “United Nations Human Rights Committee Case Law, N.P. Engel, Strasbourg 2009.”




Venezuela Embassy Protection Collective Defies ‘No Trespass’ Order

Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright describe the collective’s encounter Tuesday with D.C. police, who refrained from evacuating the embassy. 

By Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright
Codepink

An extraordinary set of events has been unfolding at the Venezuela embassy in Washington, D.C., since April 11, when the Embassy Protection Collective began living at the embassy with the permission of the elected government of Venezuela to protect it from an illegal takeover by Venezuela’s opposition. The actions of the police have added a new level of drama.

Since the cutting off of electricity, food and water inside the embassy has not been enough to force the collective to leave, late Tuesday afternoon, the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police handed out a trespassing notice that was printed without letterhead or signature from any U.S. official.

The notice said that the Trump administration recognizes Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the head of the government of Venezuela and that the Guaidó-appointed ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, and his appointed ambassador to the Organization of American States, Gustavo Tarre, were to determine who is allowed into the embassy. Those not authorized by the ambassadors were to be considered trespassers. Those inside the building were “requested” to depart the building.

The notice appeared to have been written by the Guaidó faction, but was posted and read by D.C. police as if it were a document from the U.S. government.

The police taped the notice to the doors all around the embassy, which is located in Georgetown,  and later called in the fire department to cut the lock and chain that had been on the front door of the embassy since diplomatic relations were broken between Venezuela and the United States on Jan. 23.

Supporters Gather

Adding to the drama, supporters of both sides began to gather. The pro-Guaidó forces, who had erected tents around the perimeter of the embassy and had set up a long-term encampment to oppose the collective inside the building, were ordered to take down their encampment. It seemed as though this was part of moving them from outside the embassy to the inside.

Two hours later, some members of the collective inside the embassy voluntarily left to reduce the load on food and water, and four members refused to obey what they considered an illegal order to vacate the premises. The crowd waited in anticipation of the police going inside and physically removing, and arresting, the remaining collective members. The pro-Guaidó forces were jubilant, crying “tic-toc, tic-toc” as they were counting down the minutes before their victory.

In a remarkable turn of events, however, instead of arresting the collective members who remained inside, a lengthy discussions ensued between them, their lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard and the D.C. police. The discussion focused on the reason collective members were in the embassy in the first place — trying to stop the Trump administration from violating the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Facilities by turning over the diplomatic premises to a coup government.  

Collective members reminded police officers that following illegal orders does not protect them from being charged with criminal actions.  

After two hours, instead of arresting the collective, police turned around, locked the door behind them, posted guards and said they would ask their superiors how to handle the situation. The crowd was stunned that the State Department and D.C. police, after having over a month to organize the eviction, had begun this operation without a full plan to include arrests warrants in case the collective members did not vacate the building voluntarily.

Kevin Zeese’s Statement 

Kevin Zeese, a collective member, wrote a statement concerning the status of the collective and the embassy:

“This is the 34th day of our living in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC. We are prepared to stay another 34 days, or however long is needed to resolve the embassy dispute in a peaceful way consistent with international law… Before doing so, we reiterate that our collective is one of independent people and organizations not affiliated with any government. While we are all US citizens, we are not agents of the United States. While we are here with permission of the Venezuelan government, we are not their agents or representatives…  The exit from the embassy that best resolves issues to the benefit of the United States and Venezuela is a mutual Protecting Power Agreement. The United States wants a Protecting Power for its embassy in Caracas. Venezuela wants a Protecting Power for its embassy in DC… The Embassy Protectors will not barricade ourselves, or hide in the embassy in the event of an unlawful entry by police. We will gather together and peacefully assert our rights to remain in the building and uphold international law… Any order to vacate based on a request by coup conspirators that lack governing authority will not be a lawful order. The coup has failed multiple times in Venezuela. The elected government is recognized by the Venezuelan courts under Venezuelan law and by the United Nations under international law. An order by the US-appointed coup plotters would not be legal…Such an entry would put embassies around the world and in the United States at risk. We are concerned about US embassies and personnel around the world if the Vienna Convention is violated at this embassy. It would set a dangerous precedent that would likely be used against US embassies….If an illegal eviction and unlawful arrests are made, we will hold all decision-makers in the chain of command and all officers who enforce unlawful orders accountable….There is no need for the United States and Venezuela to be enemies. Resolving this embassy dispute diplomatically should lead to negotiations over other issues between the nations.”

Collective members anticipate that the Trump administration will go to court to request an official U.S.-government order to remove them.

National Lawyers Guild’s Statement 

Members of the National Lawyers Guild wrote a statement challenging the Trump administration’s handing over of diplomatic facilities to unlawful persons:

“The undersigned write to condemn the violations of law which are occurring at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington D.C. and to demand immediate action be taken. Prior to April 25, 2019, a group of peace activists were invited to the Embassy by the government of Venezuela – recognized as such by the United Nations – and continue to be lawfully on the premises.

Nonetheless, the United States government, through various law enforcement agencies, have condoned and protected violent opponents in support of an attempted siege of the Embassy. In so doing, the U.S. government is creating a dangerous precedent for diplomatic relations with all nations. These actions are not only illegal, but they put embassies around the world at risk. The contempt shown by the Trump Administration for these principles and for international law puts at risk the entire system of diplomatic relations which could have a reverberating effect in nations throughout the world.

The undersigned demand that the United States immediately cease its ongoing state-sponsored assault and illegal intervention in Venezuela and against its government, which continues to be recognized by the United Nations and the majority of the world. We demand that local and federal law enforcement immediately refrain from exposing the peaceful invitees and their supporters inside and outside the Embassy to harm in violation of their fundamental human rights.”

As this saga over the Venezuela embassy continues to unfold, history will record this as a key turning point in U.S.-Venezuelan relations, U.S. violation of a key tenet of international law and most of all, as a heroic example of US citizens doing everything in their power — including going without food, water and electricity and facing daily assaults by the opposition — to try to stop a U.S.-orchestrated coup.

Medea Benjamin, a member of the Embassy Protection Collective, is cofounder of CODEPINK Women for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic,” “Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection,” and “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.”

Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a colonel.   She was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.  She resigned from the U.S. government in March 2003 in opposition to President George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. She is co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”

This article first appeared on  Codepink. 

 

 




US State Dept Deletes Sadistic Hit List Boasting of Venezuela’s Ruin

Grayzone has obtained a list of “key outcomes” that include wrecking the nation’s economy, destabilizing its military and puppeteering its political opposition, reports Anya Parampil.

By Anya Parampil
Grayzone

On April 24, six days before self-proclaimed Venezuelan “interim president” Juan Guaidó‘s attempt to violently overthrow Venezuela’s democratically elected government alongside a handful of military defectors, the U.S. State Department published a fact sheet that boasted of Washington’s central role in the ongoing coup attempt. After realizing the incriminating nature of its error, the State Department quickly acted to remove the page. 

The Grayzone has obtained a full copy of the expunged report. The deleted page puts to bed any claims of Guaidó’s independence from Washington, as the State Department emphasizes the fact that he “announced his interim presidency… in January” at the the top of a section dedicated to breaking down “key outcomes” of U.S. efforts with regard to Venezuela.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Kimberly Breier recently took to Twitter to claim that “since he became acting president, Juan Guidó has given tangible results to the people of Venezuela.” Her tweet was accompanied with an infographic detailing alleged accomplishments of the powerless coup administration based on data compiled by the legally defunct National Assembly, the only governing body actually controlled by Guaidó

But the Venezuela fact sheet posted and then deleted days earlier by the State Department told a dramatically different story.

Read the entire expunged fact sheet here [PDF] and at the end of this article.

Economic Hit List

Entitled “U.S. Actions on Venezuela,” the document boasted that U.S. policy had effectively prevented the Venezuelan government from participating in the international market and has led to the freezing of its overseas assets. It read like a sadistic celebration of Washington’s retribution against the Venezuelan population as a whole, the kind of collective punishment which is illegal according to Article 33 of the Geneva Conventions.

The State Department gloated in the deleted fact sheet that its policy had ensured that the Maduro government “cannot rely on the U.S. financial system” to conduct business, noting “key outcomes” of U.S. actions include the fact that “roughly $3.2 billion of Venezuela’s overseas are frozen.” It went on to boast that “Venezuela’s oil production fell to 736,000 barrels per day in March… substantially reducing” government revenue.

US Department of State Deleted Venezuela Hit List by Max Blumenthal on Scribd

“If I were the State Department I wouldn’t brag about causing a cut in oil production to 763,000 barrels per day — which is a 36 percent drop, in just the two months of February and March this year,” Mark Weisbrot, co-director at the Center For Economic and Policy Research, told The Grayzone. “This means even more premature deaths than the tens of thousands that resulted from sanctions last year.”  

Weisbrot recently co-authored a bracing report which found that 40,000 Venezuelans died between 2017 and 2018 as a direct result of U.S. sanctions. The State Department patted itself on the back for announcing its preparedness “to provide an additional $20 million in initial humanitarian assistance” to Venezuela, however, the CEPR report concluded that Trump Administration sanctions implemented in August 2017 resulted in “a loss of $6 billion in oil revenue over the ensuing year” alone. 

While the State Department praised the opposition for “providing medical and hygiene attention to over 6,000” Venezuelans, those numbers dwarf in comparison to the 300,000 people CEPR “estimated to be at risk because of lack of access to medicines or treatment… [including] 80,000 people with HIV who have not had antiretroviral treatment since 2017, 16,000 people who need dialysis, 16,000 people with cancer, and 4 million with diabetes and hypertension.” 

In other words, the supposed “Venezuela Crisis Response Assistance” touted by the State Department is not even a band-aid over the gaping wound that U.S. unilateral coercive measures have inflicted on the country. 

In Weisbrot’s view, the “policy” and “outcomes” promoted by the State Department in the disappeared document will merely lead to “more cuts in imports of medicine, food, medical equipment, and inputs necessary to maintain water, health, and sanitation infrastructure.” 

Having denied the Venezuelan government the ability to provide for its own population, the U.S. has essentially promised that thousands more deaths will occur.

The State Department did not respond to The Grayzone’s request for a comment on the fact sheet it deleted.

‘List of Confessions’

In a recent interview with Grayzone, Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations, Samuel Moncada, characterized the deleted State Department fact sheet as “a list of confessions.”

“Imagine if any other country says… it’s proud of saying that we are destroying the economy of our neighbor; we are proud that we destroyed the political system of our neighbor; we are proud that they are suffering. They are saying we are waging war against Venezuela,” Moncada emphasized.

The ambassador went on to accuse the U.S. of engaging in “bullying” rather than international diplomacy. 

The State Department’s own fact sheet appears to support this accusation, as it asserts “diplomatic pressure resulted in fewer markets for Venezuelan gold.” The document further highlighted U.S. actions that have supposedly led “more than 1,000 members of the military [to recognize] Juan Guaido as interim President” and defect to Colombia, as well as stranding “an estimated 25 crude oil tankers with 12 million barrels” off Venezuela’s coast. 

“They [say] it’s our ‘key’ achievements,” Moncada commented. “They are saying that they are causing trouble in our military and inducing a military coup, [which] so far they haven’t achieved, but they are working towards.”

“If any other person says that themselves,” the ambassador concluded, “and you take that confession to court, they would be in prison.”

The State Department’s fact sheet even frames recent decisions by the Organization of American States, Lima Group, Inter-American Development Bank, and European Union to either recognize or support Guaidó’s shadow administration as a U.S. achievement, highlighting Washington’s outsized influence within each of these supposedly international governing bodies. The decision to mention the E.U. and Lima Group is particularly noteworthy considering the United States is not a member of either organization.

“They are so far out of any normal parameters of decency, morality, legality, reason, that really they are dangerous,” Moncada said of the Trump administration. “They are a real threat to international peace, and they are a real threat to my people.” 

Anya Parampil is a Washington-based journalist. She previously hosted a daily progressive afternoon news program called “In Question” on RT America. She has produced and reported several documentaries, including on the ground reports from the Korean peninsula and Palestine.




US Federal Police Evicting Activists from Venezuelan Embassy in Washington

U.S. federal police have begun evicting activists protecting the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington from the illegitimate Guaido’ regime.

At around 8 pm Monday evening journalist Max Blumenthal, who was in the building, tweeted a photograph that was posted to the embassy door.

The text of the eviction notice reads in part: ““Ambassadors Vecchio and [Gustavo] Tarre have requested and directed anyone who is present on this property to depart from it immediately, and to not return without these ambassadors’ express authorization,” said the eviction notice, which was dated May 13. “Any person who refuses to comply with these requests and orders to depart from this property will be trespassing in violation of federal and District of Columbia law and may be arrested and criminally prosecuted.”

Knowing that the police were about to raid the building the activists posted this video at 7:23 pm:

Journalist  Anya Parampil is seen here in this video leaving the embassy. She is told by police to give back a painting of Simon de Bolivar that she had used to cover her face, but is not arrested.

 

 

 

 




Activists at Venezuelan Embassy Offer State Department a Peaceful Resolution to Standoff

Activists protecting the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington have written to the State Department offering a way to peacefully end the standoff between themselves and an argy mob of Guaidó supporters.

Activists who have lived inside the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington for more than a month protecting it from seizure by an illegitimate government have offered the State Department a solution to the crisis unfolding at the diplomatic compound.  Last week the State Department pulled the credentials of Venezuelan diplomats—still recognized at the United Nations— preventing them from entering their place of work. Instead the U.S. recognized Venezuelan “diplomats” representing the self-declared “president” Juan Guaidó.

In an effort to evict the activists, police and the Secret Service have prevented anyone or even food from entering the building and have cut off electricity and water. They’ve also allowed an angry mob of Guaidó backers to intimidate the activists and their supporters on the street. Police have arrested supporters who have tried to toss food into open windows. Last week, Guaidó called for U.S. military intervention in Venezuela to install him in power after his failed coup attempt on April 30.   

Here is the letter that has been sent on Monday to the State Department and the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry .

 

ToU.S. State Department, Venezuelan Foreign Ministry

From: Embassy Protection Collective

Re: Exiting the Venezuelan Embassy

Date: May 13, 2019

This is the 34th day of our living in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC. We are prepared to stay another 34 days, or however long is needed to resolve the embassy dispute in a peaceful way consistent with international law.

This memo is being sent to the U.S. and Venezuela as well as members of our Collective and allies. We are encouraging people to publish this memo as a transparent process is needed to prevent the U.S. from making a unilateral decision that could impact the security of embassies around the world and lead to military conflict.

There are two ways to resolve the issues around the Venezuelan embassy in DC, which we will explain.

Before doing so, we reiterate that our collective is one of independent people and organizations not affiliated with any government. While we are all U.S. citizens, we are not agents of the United States. While we are here with permission of the Venezuelan government, we are not their agents or representatives.

We are here in the embassy lawfully. We are breaking no laws. We did not unlawfully enter and we are not trespassing.

1. Exiting with a Protecting Power Agreement

The exit from the embassy that best resolves issues to the benefit of the United States and Venezuela is a mutual Protecting Power Agreement. The United States wants a Protecting Power for its embassy in Caracas. Venezuela wants a Protecting Power for its embassy in DC. Such agreements are not uncommon when diplomatic relations are severed.

A Protecting Power Agreement would avoid a military conflict that could lead to war. A war in Venezuela would be catastrophic for Venezuela, the United States, and for the region. It would lead to lives lost and mass migration from the chaos and conflict of war. It would cost the United States trillions of dollars and become a quagmire involving allied countries around the world.

We are serving as interim protectors in the hope that the two nations can negotiate this resolution. If this occurs we will take the banners off the building, pack our materials, and leave voluntarily. The electricity could be turned on and we will drive out.

We suggest a video walk-through with embassy officials to show that the Embassy Protection Collective did not damage the building. The only damage to the building has been inflicted by coup supporters in the course of their unprosecuted break-ins.

2. The United States violates the Vienna Convention, makes an illegal eviction and unlawful arrests

This approach will violate international law and is fraught with risks. The United States would have to cut the chains in the front door put up by embassy staff and violate the embassy. We have put up barriers there and at other entrances to protect us from constant break-ins and threats from the trespassers whom the police are permitting outside the embassy. The police’s failure to protect the embassy and the U.S. citizens inside has forced us to take these actions.

The Embassy Protectors will not barricade ourselves, or hide in the embassy in the event of an unlawful entry by police. We will gather together and peacefully assert our rights to remain in the building and uphold international law.

Any order to vacate based on a request by coup conspirators that lack governing authority will not be a lawful order. The coup has failed multiple times in Venezuela. The elected government is recognized by the Venezuelan courts under Venezuelan law and by the United Nations under international law. An order by the U.S.-appointed coup plotters would not be legal.

Such an entry would put embassies around the world and in the United States at risk. We are concerned about U.S. embassies and personnel around the world if the Vienna Convention is violated at this embassy. It would set a dangerous precedent that would likely be used against U.S. embassies.

If an illegal eviction and unlawful arrests are made, we will hold all decision-makers in the chain of command and all officers who enforce unlawful orders accountable.

If there is a notice that we are trespassing and need to vacate the premises, please provide it to our attorney Mara Verhayden-Hilliard, copied on this memo.

We have taken care of this embassy and request a video tour of the building before any arrests.

We hope a wise and calm solution to this issue can be achieved so escalation of this conflict can avoided.

There is no need for the United States and Venezuela to be enemies. Resolving this embassy dispute diplomatically should lead to negotiations over other issues between the nations.

The Embassy Protection Collective

May 13, 2019




PATRICK LAWRENCE: A Week of Dangerous Developments from Iran to North Korea

The increasingly aggressive moves by Trump’s hawkish advisers give the impression of a palace coup, writes Patrick Lawrence. 

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Neoconservative hawks in the Trump administration, led by National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, moved swiftly to usurp control of U.S. foreign policy last week. Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, China: In all four cases, the president has been effectively sidelined on defense and national security questions in what begins to resemble a palace coup.

Global tensions now escalate by the day; so does the risk of military confrontation, notably but not only with Iran. There have long been indications that President Donald Trump is at odds with many of his foreign policy advisers. This internal conflict broke into the open last Thursday, when the Washington Post published leaked accounts of White House warfare.

“The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around national security adviser John Bolton,” the Post reported, “and what Trump has groused is an interventionist stance at odds with his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires.”

Immediately at issue between Trump and Bolton is the administration’s recently failed attempt to depose Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s president. To be clear, Trump is not the peacenik of the piece: As the Post reported, he is dissatisfied with Bolton because the planned coup in Caracas has not proven swift, clean, and risk-free, as the national security adviser apparently promised it would. A quagmire now beckons.

But the president’s feud with the Bolton–Pompeo axis and those in the Washington bureaucracy allied with it, extends well beyond Venezuela. The extremist neoconservatives among his advisers and elsewhere in his administration have consistently foiled Trump’s efforts to negotiate with Tehran and Pyongyang — for a revised nuclear accord with the former, a denuclearization agreement with the latter. Last week the administration’s hawkish wing made Trump’s chances of diplomatic settlements with Iran and North Korea even more remote. As he works toward a comprehensive trade accord with China, the Pentagon appears intent on provoking Beijing in the South China Sea.  

Persian Gulf Deployment

Bolton opened the week with an announcement that a carrier group and Air Force bombers would deploy to the Persian Gulf “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”  Bolton cited “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” without offering evidence of either.

Please Make a Donation to Our
Spring Fundraising Drive Today!

Two days later, Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Baghdad to brief Iraqi officials on the administration’s new move against Iran. Pompeo cited the same “credible threat” as Bolton — but again without offering evidence of it. In a statement released Friday, the Pentagon said it was also sending a Patriot antimissile system to the Persian Gulf and that the week’s activity was the start of a series of deployments in the region.

There is some informed speculation, as yet unconfirmed, that Israel — which has long wanted to draw the U.S. into an open conflict with Iran — provided the intelligence Bolton and Pompeo appeared to be acting upon. By Friday, The New York Times was citing “American and allied intelligence officials” in its news reports explaining the background of the new deployments.

It is almost pitiable to watch as Trump tries to hold his ground against the hawks who surround him. On Wednesday he announced broad new sanctions to block Iran’s exports of iron, steel, and other metals, which account for about 10 percent of Iran’s export revenue. It was a nonlethal, business-related tightening of the screw, and Trump made his intentions plain later in the week. “What they should be doing is calling me up, sitting down, and we can make a deal, a fair deal,” Trump said. That is a good description of just what the Bolton–Pompeo axis is determined to prevent.

Tensions with North Korea also escalate. Pyongyang is still smarting from the failure of Trump’s February summit with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader — another Bolton–Pompeo design. Pyongyang tested short-range missiles twice last week. The Justice Department quickly announced that the U.S. was impounding a North Korean cargo ship that had allegedly violated sanctions when it carried a shipment of coal to Indonesia last year. It is difficult to imagine the Justice Department’s timing was coincidental; whether or not it was an intentional response to the missile tests, the seizure pushed Trump’s ambition to negotiate with Kim further into the deep freeze.

Challenging China 

The China case is a big-screen variant of the others. While Trump is pressing Beijing hard for a trade deal — he announced additional tariffs on Chinese goods last Friday — the military appears to be escalating its challenges to China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. Last week two U.S. warships sailed waters over which China asserts jurisdiction, prompting Beijing to charge heatedly that the U.S. was violating its sovereignty. At best the Pentagon is indifferent to Trump’s negotiating efforts; at worst it opposes them.

Bolton, Pompeo, and those in their camp have two apparent intentions as they effectively isolate Trump on the foreign policy side. One is to override international law with American diktats. The other — most evident now in the Iranian case — is to provoke a retaliatory move that will serve as a casus belli justifying U.S. military action. Rarely in the postwar period, if ever, has Washington manifest this degree of undisguised belligerence in its foreign policy objectives.

It is safe to assume we are not on the precipice of immediate war with any of the nations Bolton and Pompeo have so far singled out. The Washington Post report on Bolton’s contretemps with Trump indicates that administration hawks are turning leery of military intervention in Venezuela — even as they keep military intervention “on the table.”

Tehran announced last week that it would begin withdrawing from some of the commitments it agreed in the 2015 nuclear accord, but it has so far been careful to remain within the pact’s terms. “Iran and the U.S. are not headed toward a war,” the Financial Times quoted an Iranian official as stating at the end of the week, “but we may witness some clashes that would then lead to negotiations rather than a full-scale war.”

That assessment holds for now but may prove too optimistic. The pace of policy escalation, now that Trump has lost control in his own administration, is quickening. Given what Bolton and Pompeo got done in a week, it is impossible to predict how aggressively they will make use of the latitude they have recently claimed for themselves.

It has been clear for some time that Trump’s confrontation with his policy minders was inevitable from the start. He campaigned in 2015–16 on a disruptive foreign policy platform. Improved ties with Russia, an end to wars of adventure, negotiations with adversaries rather than potentially explosive confrontations: These were among Trump’s bedrock positions, and they provoked opposition within Washington’s permanent bureaucracy — call it the Deep State if you like — as soon as Trump took the Republican nomination.

If there is a surprise in the administration now, it does not lie in the emergence of the Bolton–Pompeo axis. Something like it was never more than just beneath the surface in the Trump White House. The surprise lies in Trump’s persistence in the face of unrelenting resistance from those wedded to the fantasy of eternal American primacy.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. Visit his website here.  Support his work via The Floutist.

Please Make a Donation to Our
Spring Fundraising Drive Today!




‘Turnkey Tyranny’ on the Streets of Washington

We are at the point Edward Snowden described as “turnkey tyranny.”And on Wednesday night the key was turned a bit more dramatically. Ray McGovern explains.

By Ray McGovern

Gerry Condon, President of Veterans For Peace, was bloodied and “taken to ground,” on Wednesday night for trying to get food to people inside the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington. The activists inside, some of whom have lived in the embassy for weeks with permission from the Venezuelan government, are protecting the premises from protestors who support the self-declared president Juan Guaido.  

With the acquiescence of Washington police and the Secret Service, the protestors have been able to block food from entering the embassy.  On Wednesday night electricity was cut to the building.  One activist tossing a loaf of bread to a window was arrested earlier this week for using a “missile.”  Now Condon has been manhandled and nabbed for throwing a cucumber.

We are at the point Edward Snowden described as “turnkey tyranny.” On Wednesday night the key was turned a bit more dramatically. Until now it has been an almost imperceptibly gradual process, like the proverbial frog in boiling water.

Photo and video of Condon’s arrest (story continues below):

Of course, this has happened before. I quoted these words in this article I wrote for Consortium News on December 27, 2007:

There are few things as odd as the calm, superior indifference with which I and those like me watched the beginnings of the Nazi revolution in Germany, as if from a box at the theater. … Perhaps the only comparably odd thing is the way that now, years later….”

The words are those of Sebastian Haffner (pen name for Raimund Pretzel), who as a young lawyer in Berlin during the 1930s experienced the Nazi takeover, and wrote a first-hand account. His children found the manuscript when he died in 1999 and published it the following year as “Geschichte eines Deutschen” (The Story of a German).

The book became an immediate bestseller and has been translated into 20 languages—in English as “Defying Hitler.”

I recently learned from his daughter Sarah, an artist in Berlin, that today is the 100th anniversary of Haffner’s birth. She had seen an earlier article in which I quoted her father and e-mailed to ask me to “write some more about the book and the comparison to Bush’s America. … This is almost unbelievable.”

More about Haffner below. Let’s set the stage first by recapping some of what has been going on here in the U.S. that may have resonance for readers familiar with the Nazi ascendancy, noting how “odd” it is that the frontal attack on our Constitutional rights is met with such “calm, superior indifference.”

After suppressing for two and a half years the explosive story of the Bush/Cheney surveillance of Americans in gross violation of the Fourth Amendment, top New York Times officials decided to let the rest of us in on the fact that the George W. Bush administration had been eavesdropping on American citizens without the court warrants required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. Not to mention the U.S. Constitution.

The Times had learned of this well before the election in 2004 and acquiesced to White House entreaties to suppress the damaging information.

In late fall 2005 when Times correspondent James Risen’s book, “State of War: the Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,” revealing the warrantless eavesdropping was being printed, Times publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., recognized that he could procrastinate no longer.

It would simply be too embarrassing to have Risen’s book on the street, with Sulzberger and his associates pretending that this explosive eavesdropping story did not fit Adolph Ochs’s trademark criterion: All The News That’s Fit To Print.

(The Times’ own ombudsman, Public Editor Byron Calame, branded the newspaper’s explanation for the long delay in publishing this story “woefully inadequate.”)

When Sulzberger told his friends in the White House that he could no longer hold off on publishing in the newspaper, he was summoned to the Oval Office for a counseling session with the president on Dec. 5, 2005. Bush tried in vain to talk him out of putting the story in the Times.

The truth would out; part of it, at least.

Unnamed Program

What followed struck me as bizarre. The day after the Dec. 16 Times feature article exposing the Fourth-Amendment-trashing program, the president of the United States publicly admitted to a demonstrably impeachable offense.

Authorizing illegal electronic surveillance was a key provision of the second article of impeachment against President Richard Nixon. On July 27, 1974, this and two other articles of impeachment were approved by bipartisan votes in the House Judiciary Committee.

Bush took a frontal approach, Far from expressing regret, he bragged about having authorized the surveillance “more than 30 times since the September the 11th attacks,” and said he would continue to do so. The president also said:

Leaders in Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this authorization and the activities conducted under it.”

On Dec. 19, 2005, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and then-NSA Director Michael Hayden held a press conference to answer questions about the as yet unnamed surveillance program.

Gonzales was asked why the White House decided to flout FISA rather than attempt to amend it, choosing instead a “backdoor approach.”  He answered:

We have had discussions with Congress…as to whether or not FISA could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible.”

It Had to Do With Us

It was not difficult to infer that the surveillance program must have been of such scope and intrusiveness that, even amid highly stoked fear, it didn’t have a prayer for passage.

It turns out we didn’t know the half of it.

Bear in mind that when this illegal surveillance program began, it had nothing to do with terrorism, an issue that did not really appear on the new administration’s radar screen until a week before 9/11. … So this until-recently-unknown pre-9/11 facet of the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” was not related to Osama bin Laden or to whomever he and his associates might be speaking. It had to do with us.

We know that the Democrats briefed on the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, (the one with the longest tenure on the House Intelligence Committee), Rep. Jane Harman, D-California, and former and current chairmen of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham, D-FL, and Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, respectively.

May one interpret their lack of public comment on the news that the snooping began well before 9/11 as a sign they were co-opted and then sworn to secrecy?

It is an important question. Were the appropriate leaders in Congress informed that within days of George W. Bush’s first inauguration the NSA electronic vacuum cleaner began to suck up information on you and me, despite the FISA law and the Fourth Amendment?

Are they all complicit? And are Democratic leaders about to cave in and grant retroactive immunity to those telecommunications corporations—AT&T and Verizon—which made millions by winking at the law and the Constitution?

(Qwest, to its credit, heeded the advice of its general counsel who said that what NSA wanted done was clearly illegal.)

What’s going on here? [December 2007] Have congressional leaders no sense for what is at stake?

Lately the adjective “spineless” has come into vogue in describing congressional Democrats—no offense to invertebrates.

Nazis and Their Enablers

You don’t have to be a Nazi. You can just be, well, a sheep.

In his journal, Sebastian Haffner decries what he calls the “sheepish submissiveness” with which the German people reacted to a 9/11-like event, the burning of the German Parliament (Reichstag) on Feb. 27, 1933.

Haffner finds it quite telling that none of his acquaintances “saw anything out of the ordinary in the fact that, from then on, one’s telephone would be tapped, one’s letters opened, and one’s desk might be broken into.”

But it is for the cowardly politicians that Haffner reserves his most vehement condemnation. Do you see any contemporary parallels here?

In the elections of March 4, 1933, shortly after the Reichstag fire, the Nazi party garnered only 44 percent of the vote. Only the “cowardly treachery” of the Social Democrats and other parties to whom 56 percent of the German people had entrusted their votes made it possible for the Nazis to seize full power. Haffner adds:

It is in the final analysis only that betrayal that explains the almost inexplicable fact that a great nation, which cannot have consisted entirely of cowards, fell into ignominy without a fight.”

The Social Democratic leaders betrayed their followers—“for the most part decent, unimportant individuals.” In May, the party leaders sang the Nazi anthem; in June the Social Democratic party was dissolved.

The middle-class Catholic party Zentrum folded in less than a month, and in the end supplied the votes necessary for the two-thirds majority that “legalized” Hitler’s dictatorship.

As for the right-wing conservatives and German nationalists: “Oh God,” writes Haffner, “what an infinitely dishonorable and cowardly spectacle their leaders made in 1933 and continued to make afterward. … They went along with everything: the terror, the persecution of Jews. … They were not even bothered when their own party was banned and their own members arrested.”

In sum: “There was not a single example of energetic defense, of courage or principle. There was only panic, flight, and desertion. In March 1933, millions were ready to fight the Nazis. Overnight they found themselves without leaders. … At the moment of truth, when other nations rise spontaneously to the occasion, the Germans collectively and limply collapsed. They yielded and capitulated, and suffered a nervous breakdown. … The result is today the nightmare of the rest of the world.”

This is what can happen when virtually all are intimidated.

Our Founding Fathers were not oblivious to this; thus, James Madison wrote:

I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. … The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.”

We cannot say we weren’t warned.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner city Washington. He was a CIA analyst for 27 years and presidential briefer and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.




Activists at Venezuelan Embassy Under Threat From Violent Mobs

Activists who have been living in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington have called on the State Dept. and Secret Service to stop violent mobs from attacking them.

Activists who have been living inside the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington are reporting that violent protestors have been attacking both them and embassy property.

On May 2, two days after a failed coup attempt in Caracas, the activists “forced Juan Guaido’s shadow ambassador, Carlos Vecchio, to flee from a rally that was supposed to mark his triumphant entry into the Venezuelan embassy in Washington,” Blumenthal reported on The Gray Zone.

As the mob tried to break down the door to the embassy on Friday, a lawyer for the activists wrote the following:

Please share this letter to the US State Department widely and call secret service at 202-406-8800 and 202-287-0001.:

Dear Sirs,

At this moment, the violent mob that you have allowed to continually commit acts of violence against persons and property at the Venezuelan embassy is actively working to smash in the doors while your officers give permission to the assault and explicitly refuse to intervene.

As you know, and your officers have witnessed, members of this mob have physically attacked and made death threats to the peace activists who are inside and around the embassy. This presence inside the embassy, as you also know, is lawful, as the peace activists were invited inside the embassy by those lawfully in charge of the premises.

There has been no action that has divested them of the right to be inside the embassy or lawful process that could authorize removal.

Instead you are authorizing a vigilante group to attack the peace activists inside.

You must take action immediately to cease this assault, and ensure that there is no violence against the persons inside. They are in grave danger from the mob you have facilitated and authorized to besiege the embassy.

You are responsible for any acts of violence that will be committed against these peace activists inside the embassy.

Sincerely,

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Esq.

on behalf of the Embassy Protection Collective




First-Hand Account of Protecting the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington

Kevin Zeese, co-founder of the Venezuelan Embassy Protection Collective, described the situation inside the embassy on Wednesday. 

‘Focused on Sovereignty and Peace’

By Dennis J. Bernstein
Special to Consortium News

On May 1, I conducted this phone interview with Kevin Zeese, co-director of Popular Resistance, and co-founder of the Venezuelan Embassy Protection Collective, about the occupation of the embassy.

Dennis Bernstein: Where exactly are you now Kevin Zeese?

Kevin Zeese:  I’m talking to you from the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, D.C., as part of the Embassy Protection Collective, a group of organizations and individuals who are standing in solidarity with the Venezuelan people to protect their embassy from takeover by the Trump administration and the state government they have picked for Venezuela, which just had a failed coup yesterday.  I am co-director of Popular Resistance.org, which grew out of the Occupy movement and is a daily movement and organizing site which carries on the issues which were raised by the Occupy movement.  We are one of the initiators of this collective at the embassy, along with Code Pink, the Answer Coalition, Black Alliance for Peace, and other organizations.

Dennis Bernstein: Tell us exactly what you are doing there in the embassy and what people in Washington, D.C., are trying to do in the context of what appears to be a U.S.-supported coup and advanced destabilization.

Kevin Zeese:  We have upwards of 50 people living here every night.  We began on April 10 and it is ongoing.  We work here, we sleep here, we cook here. This has become our home and we see ourselves as tenants of the Venezuelan government.  We live here with the permission of the elected Venezuelan government.  There was no unlawful entry, there is no trespass.  We see ourselves as interim protectors because the U.S. embassy in Caracas is vacant and the U.S. wants to have Switzerland serve as a protectorate for that embassy.  Venezuela is negotiating with other countries to be a protectorate for this embassy. We are hoping that the two countries will mutually agree to having protectorates and that way both embassies will remain sovereign.  Once that is negotiated, we hope that will begin an ongoing dialogue that can resolve a lot of the disputes between the U.S. and Venezuela.

I know that Venezuela wants to have a good relationship with the United States and does not see the United States as an enemy.  They want peace, but they will protect their sovereignty and independence and they are prepared to do so with their military as well as their civilian militia.  We hope to avoid such a conflict and use this embassy dispute as a way to open up diplomatic relations and end the economic attack as well as the threats of military force.

Dennis Bernstein: What confirms this to be a coup, an overthrow of the government there?

Kevin Zeese:  There is no question that this is a coup.  This was discussed by the OAS [Organization of American States] in January and February by the U.S. and its allies.  They picked [National Assembly President Juan] Guaidó to be their puppet president, someone who had never run for presidency and had come from the second smallest state with 24 percent of the vote, which was enough to get into the national legislature.  By appointing himself interim president he violated the Venezuelan constitution in a multitude of ways. 

The coup tried yesterday to conduct a takeover of the country and failed miserably. Guaidó — along with the leader of the opposition, Leopoldo Lopez, who has been convicted of inciting violence that killed more than 140 people — fled and are hiding in the Spanish embassy.  So our understanding of the reality of the coup is not just that it was discussed at the OAS but also that the night before the coup [Vice President] Michael Pence called Guaidó and said that he has the full support of the U.S. government.  As soon as he was self-appointed, Trump called him and recognized him and got the right-wing Lima Group countries to go along with that as well as many Western European countries.  One hundred and fifty nations have not recognized Guaidó, neither has the United Nations.  The OAS, which has always been under the thumb of the United States, had to change its rules because they could not get the two-thirds vote required to recognize Guaidó, and then they barely got the majority. That has resulted in the OAS ambassadors from Venezuela leaving.  The Caracas embassy has been used as a place for organizing opposition for many years. They worked very hard to undermine the 2018 reelection of President [Nicolás] Maduro.  There were more than 150 election observers from around the world and they unanimously found that the election met international standards and was free of fraud. 

Dennis Bernstein: Meanwhile we have the Trump administration trying to install part of the coup leadership that apparently failed in a coup attempt yesterday.  It was an amazing day for U.S. intelligence when they were talking about this plane, all the leaders agreed to go and something had to be done.  It was right out of the textbook of CIA destabilization and overthrow.  It is a throwback but is extremely disturbing.  What are those who support the government saying to you inside the embassy?  Are they willing to fight all the way?

Kevin Zeese: If you go to our website, you can read the declaration of our collective, which lays out how Maduro was reelected legitimately, how the Vienna Convention requires the U.S. government to protect the embassy and not turn it over to a fake government, and how Guide’s election violated the Venezuelan constitution.                                                                                                                                        

Of course, there are many people from Venezuela here who take a very different position.  Maduro’s supporters are for the most part in Venezuela, which is why they keep winning elections and defeating these coups.  The people who fled Venezuela, the business people and government people from the pre-Chavez era, are forming a violent mob outside the embassy.  Yesterday they were abusing us with sound cannons and racist slurs.  Today an opposition person snuck into the basement, got to the third floor and locked himself in a room and we had to negotiate with the secret service to remove him.  Unfortunately, the secret service removed the police barriers and told us we were on our own.  So, we now feel that we are under siege.  But people are confident.  We know we are acting lawfully, that we are on the right side of history.  We are standing against a U.S. coup, a U.S. military threat, and with the Venezuelan people. 

Dennis Bernstein: [President Donald] Trump, [National Security Advisor John] Bolton and others at the top are calling for a coup.  They said they were ready to fly to Havana but, according to Bolton, that plan broke down at the last minute, they chickened out.

Kevin Zeese: John Bolton is a known liar.  He was convicted of lying to Congress.  He is a known war criminal who has been involved in genocide in Central America during the Iran/Contra era.  He was pardoned by [President] George H. W. Bush.  Everything he is saying about Venezuela is a lie.  I am sure that Maduro never planned to leave the country. Bolton made another false statement about us at the Atlantic Council when he said that we were here in violation of the law.  He said that we have been asked to leave, which is not true.  I have absolutely no doubt that there was never any plan by the Venezuelan government to leave the country.  I was in Venezuela a few weeks ago and we actually ended up meeting with President Maduro after American Airlines cancelled all flights out of the country on the false claim that there was widespread civil unrest, when there was none at all.  We went out and filmed the streets to show that there was no unrest.  But that day President Maduro asked to meet with us. We were there for 90 minutes and he talked about how he was willing to put his life on the line to protect Venezuela’s independence. 

Dennis Bernstein: Would you say a little bit more about the Embassy Protection Collective?

Kevin Zeese: We are a collection of organizations and individuals.  Our declaration has been signed by about 1,500 people and organizations. You can support us through Popular Resistance or through Code Pink or the Black Alliance for Peace. 

Dennis Bernstein: So just to be clear, you are saying that you and the folks in this collective feel under siege now.  The police have told you they would not protect you until after you are hurt or wounded.  There are a series of anti-government protests supported by the U.S. government outside the embassy. 

Kevin Zeese: We have agreed to withdraw inside the embassy while these rallies go on. 

Dennis Bernstein: By the way, what did you talk about all night?  I’m sure you didn’t sleep all that well.

Kevin Zeese: We discussed the day’s events and how we responded.  It was a very tense situation.  We reviewed what we had done and what we could do better.  We discussed what was expected the coming day. And we were able to get online through social media so that more people can get involved and support our actions. 

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.”  You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net. You can get in touch with him at dbernstein@igc.org.