Still at War with Iran-Nuke Deal

As neocons look forward to dominant roles in a Clinton-45 administration, they are continuing their attacks on the Iran nuclear deal, thus keeping hope alive to eventually bomb-bomb-bomb Iran, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar describes.

By Paul R. Pillar

The never-say-die efforts to kill the Iranian nuclear agreement have been taking some strange turns lately. Two in particular.

One is that some of the same opponents who, before the agreement was adopted, spent much energy berating the terms of the agreement are now focusing instead on criticizing certain actions by the U.S. administration toward Iran that the opponents assert are not among the terms of the agreement, and that the opponents say should not be taken for that very reason. The assertions are incorrect.

The issues at hand mostly concern the stickiness of the U.S. sanctions system and the persistence of fears among European banks and others about doing any business with Iran — even business that is permitted under the sanctions relief granted as part of the nuclear agreement. Efforts by U.S. officials to undo some of the stickiness are not beyond the obligations of the agreement; they are a necessary part of implementing terms that are an intrinsic and fundamental aspect of the bargain incorporated in the agreement.

Another, lesser, issue that has received comment concerns U.S. purchase of some of the heavy water that, under the agreement, Iran must remove from its stockpiles. Any such purchase is a direct facilitation of the carrying out by Iran of obligations that lessen its nuclear capabilities.

The opponents cannot have it both ways: first saying the terms were terrible and then saying what’s terrible is not to adhere strictly to the terms — or rather, to the opponents’ newest interpretation of the terms. If the agreement really says what the opponents now say it says, they should have been delighted with the document that emerged from the negotiations — one that, according to their interpretation, would have imposed all of the same limitations and scrutiny on Iran’s nuclear program that the actual accord does, but with almost no economic benefit accruing to Iran and even with the Iranians incurring additional economic loss in the form of expensively produced heavy water being poured down the sewer.

Another strange turn has come within the last week in the form of attention to a profile of presidential aide Ben Rhodes written by David Samuels and appearing in the New York Times Sunday magazine. If this piece was written to be exploitable by opponents of the nuclear agreement, that is not surprising given that the writer is a confirmed opponent himself. The picture that Samuels conveys is of Rhodes as a master manipulator of public perceptions who got the press that was covering the Iran negotiations to eat out of his hand in a way that conveyed false impressions of what the White House was up to.

Now, whatever one may think of Ben Rhodes, and even if one were to believe that the press covering U.S. foreign relations and security policy were as dumb and dependent as portrayed, there is no there there. There were no impressions, manipulated or otherwise, that ought to cause anyone any heartburn.

One of the supposed instances of manipulated and false impressions is that the administration contended it didn’t do anything on this issue until after Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran in September 2013 despite there having been some earlier secret U.S.-Iranian talks. In fact, the earlier talks have been well known for some time and had been reported long ago by that supposedly gullible press.

Moreover, it would have been surprising, and disappointing to anyone who would like the makers of U.S. foreign policy to be diligently looking ahead and considering all possibilities for advancing U.S. interests, if the administration had not tried to reconnoiter what the possibilities were for negotiating restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program.

And Rouhani’s election did make a significant difference, both in bringing into office on the Iranian side a team with the knowledge and commitment to reach such an agreement, and in rendering irrelevant on the American side the political difficulty of any major dealings with the loathsome Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. So where’s the deception, and what’s the problem?

The Samuels piece also suggests that the manipulator Rhodes got people to believe that the administration’s main purpose in negotiating the agreement was nuclear proliferation but that it really had other objectives in mind having to do with broader Middle Eastern matters. But the Obama administration wasn’t the one going out of its way to talk up an Iranian nuclear threat, even though other administrations have been known to talk up such threats to pursue other agendas. This time there was plenty of agitation from other sources about the danger of an Iranian nuke.

The agreement certainly needs to be assessed, pro or con, primarily in terms of nuclear nonproliferation, and it is in such terms that nonproliferation specialists have overwhelmingly endorsed the agreement. The agreement also needs to be assessed, pro or con, in terms of other effects it may have on regional politics and stability. And it was so assessed in the public debate; certainly the con side addressed it especially vigorously in such terms — you know, all that talk we heard about how Iran supposedly would be “emboldened” to do all sorts of “nefarious” things in the region. So where’s the deception, and how did it affect in any way the debate on the agreement?

The suggestion of duplicity with Ben Rhodes pulling strings from his West Wing office reminds one of those teasers for the eleven o’clock news that are phrased as a question: “Is there…[some shocking development, if it existed]?” only to find out, if one stays up and tunes in to the news broadcast, that the answer is: no, there isn’t.

Each of these strange turns in the tactics of the would-be agreement-killers is an additional example of what we saw so much of when debate on the agreement was most intensive last year: a grasping by the opposition for any straw to raise any kind of doubt about the agreement, however little sense the arguments made.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




A Gift of Culture to Battered Palmyra

In an extraordinary act of culture and courage, a Russian orchestra performed in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra recently liberated from the Islamic State, but Western media mocked the event, notes Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

Even those with a limited knowledge of Russia may be credited with having heard of St. Petersburg being called the Venice of the North. This is a title it must share with a variety of other claimants famed for their canals, such as Bruges in Belgium, although St. Petersburg has more justification than competing cities given its common architectural roots with the Venice of the South, namely the leading Eighteenth Century Italian architects who contributed greatly to forming its appearance.

To cognoscenti there is also another twin city association of St. Petersburg, that of Northern Palmyra. That notion goes back to the age of Catherine the Great, who was likened to the Third Century Queen Zenobia, powerful ruler of the Palmyran Empire, who conquered Egypt and a large swathe of Anatolia. In the time of Pushkin, Russian writers further developed the allusion, drawing more generally upon the reputed beauty and cultural richness of Roman Palmyra.

The links of consciousness did not end there. Later in the Nineteenth Century, St. Petersburg based archeologists were among the Europeans taking part in digs in Palmyra and writing about their adventures.

With this twin city awareness borne by the Russian intelligentsia to this day, it is not so surprising that precisely a St. Petersburg conductor, Valeri Gergiev, thought up the grand gesture, an act of great imagination that was realized on May 5. He brought the Symphony Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater to Palmyra, recently liberated from the Islamic State by a Russian-backed offensive mounted by the Syrian government.

The orchestrated performed a concert of Bach, Shchedrin and Prokofiev in the Roman Amphitheater to celebrate the return of culture to a UNESCO site desecrated by its Islamic State occupiers who over the preceding year held their brutal public executions here. The concert audience consisted of Russian and Syrian troops, Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky, noted Arabist and Director of the Hermitage Museum Mikhail Piotrovsky, local dignitaries, and a contingent of UNESCO representatives.

The event opened with a short speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin carried over a live satellite link from his residence in Sochi. Putin underscored the courage of those participating in the concert and the will of civilized society to triumph over terror. The entire event was broadcast live on Russian state television and was made available on the web by RT.

As the recording makes clear, this was a world-class performance that featured eminent soloists. The unaccompanied Bach piece for violin was played by a laureate of the International Tchaikovsky Competition, Pavel Miliukov. Quadrille, a work by the Mariinsky’s house composer Rodion Shchedrin, widower of ballet prima donna Maya Plisetskaya, was performed by cellist Sergei Roldugin. And the choice of a Prokofiev symphony was in line with Gergiev’s longstanding efforts to make that great Soviet composer widely known and appreciated at home and abroad.

A Frontline Performance

The concert took place little more than a month after Palmyra was liberated from its Islamic State occupiers and just days after the archeological sites were cleared of mines by Russian military specialists, many of whom were in the audience. Meanwhile, the forces of the Islamic State continue to send missions against Palmyra and its surrounding countryside in attempts to recapture lost ground.

In these circumstances, the action of maestro Gergiev, his orchestra and soloists, the logistics team that moved the orchestra and some 100 tons of telecommunications gear into the war zone, and the broadcasting team who set up the live coverage must be characterized as brave, even daring.

It was also in character for Gergiev. He performed at the front before, as he famously did in 2008 when he brought the orchestra to the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, just after its liberation from Georgian attackers. But he and his orchestra also perform at home in ways that show similar disregard for their own comfort and incur heightened risks: they regularly bring their music to hard to reach parts of the Russian Federation on grueling tours of the far north and the far east, often taking with them internationally known soloists. Those concerts do not receive the admiring attention of the outside world.

It bears mention that the concert by maestro Gergiev and the Mariinsky orchestra was not a one-off event. It was meant to be the first step in the return of culture and decency to Palmyra. On the next day a follow-on concert featuring a Syrian orchestra and chorus was held in the Roman amphitheater.

Moreover, the Russians did not rush to evacuate their broadcasters and gear, because state television carried a live transmission of this evening concert to Russian viewers late last night.

With all due respect to maestro Gergiev’s intention to present a gift of culture to the residents of Palmyra and to convey the promise of return to normal civilian life in a country devastated by civil war and the intervention of foreign fighters, it would be disingenuous to ignore the way the Kremlin and its state television framed the event for consumption in Russia and the wider world.

Call it an exercise in Soft Power, of which it was surely Russia’s most successful in many, many years; call it what you will, the concert in Palmyra had a clearly stated political dimension. This “Pray for Palmyra” concert was dedicated to the memory of two heroes, one Syrian, the other Russian. Large photos of both were on either side of the stage.

The Syrian being honored was Dr. Khaled Asaad, director of the Palmyra museum complex who in August 2015, at age 81, was brutally executed, beheaded by the Islamic State militants. The presence at the concert of Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky was a direct counterpoint to the missing Syrian scholar and administrator. Piotrovsky symbolized the ongoing and future participation of Russian art restorers in bringing Palmyra back to its pre-war status as a center of research for orientalists and a major tourist attraction.

A Russian Hero

The Russian being honored was Lieutenant Alexander Prokhorenko, Russia’s national hero of the Syrian campaign, the special forces officer working behind enemy lines on the Palmyra front who, when surrounded by jihadists, called in Russian jet strikes on his own position and knowingly paid with his life while taking out an enemy detachment.

Prokhorenko’s body was eventually recovered and returned to Russia where it was given the highest state honors. His funeral in his native Orenburg region was held on May 6. Russian television news coverage of the Palmyra concert was back-to-back with video reportage of the honor guard receiving Prokhorenko’s coffin.

Though some British newspapers had described Prokhorenko as a Russian “Rambo” and some Western military experts saluted the selfless heroism of this fellow professional soldier, Russian state television chose to feature a more personal response. We were shown an elderly French couple who had sent their family medals for World War II resistance heroism to the parents of Prokhorenko via the Russian diplomatic service as their expression of solidarity. The couple was invited to Russia by President Putin and met with the grieving parents of Russia’s hero, as we saw on television.

More broadly, the date for the Mariinsky concert in Palmyra was surely chosen with an eye to the May 9 Victory in Europe celebrations across Russia. The concert was a gift to the Russian nation for its popular if skeptical support of the military intervention in Syria. The people saw on their screens the fruits of Russian-Syrian military cooperation, and in particular images of the secular and friendly Syria that Russian diplomacy has backed with blood and national wealth.

They saw the first step in what will be a long process of reconstruction, preparing the way for the return of refugees and displaced persons. All of this is a direct reproach to the European Union’s handling of the migrant crisis. Europe, like the United States, has at best stood by and at worst aided and abetted the Gulf States and Turkey in their interventions in the Syrian civil war, greatly strengthening the terrorist forces and prolonged the fighting awaiting the collapse of the Assad regime, notwithstanding all the havoc that resulted for the Syrian population.

Western mainstream media coverage of the Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra’s concert in Palmyra runs the full range from merely tendentious and sour grapes to overtly hostile and malicious commentary.

U.S. media coverage was meager. The online edition of Time magazine was short, concentrated on the facts and avoided politically colored adjectives. To its credit, we were told that the concert was led “by renowned Russian conductor Valery Gergiev.” The presence in the audience of UNESCO dignitaries was noted.

The New York Times was less cautious, more inflammatory. Its editors chose a headline that sought to deprive the event of any serious merit: “Russian Orchestra Plays in Palmyra Ruins as Strikes Kill 28.” This linkage of two separate news items may be described as the “Washington narrative” because it shows up in many other derogatory press accounts of the concert.

What shred of journalistic integrity the Times managed to produce appears at the very end of the article, when the author admits that: “it was not immediately clear who carried out the attack on the camp in Idlib province where some 2,000 internally displaced people had taken shelter from the fighting in nearby Aleppo and Hama provinces over the past year.”

And the closing words are that it is “too early to say if Assad’s forces carried out the attack.”  But the intended damage to the credibility of the Russian cultural mission to Palmyra was already done up front.

The New Cold War

Probably the most toxic U.S. reporting on the concert was from Radio Svoboda, the old Cold War bullhorn directed against Russia with U.S. government funding.  Here at the outset we are told about the cellist Roldugin, the “close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin” who was revealed in the Panama Papers scandal as the owner of an offshore company engaged in “shady transactions.”

But then the article switches over entirely to a story broadcast by Sky News two days earlier alleging that Palmyra was handed over to Syrian government troops by the Islamic State in accordance with agreements reached between the Islamic State and the Assad regime. The propaganda point was that Assad was supposedly in cahoots with the jihadists. The notion of Russian participation in the city’s liberation is off the radar screen.

British media were more attentive to the concert in Palmyra but, with one or two exceptions, no friendlier than their American confrèresThe Guardian was entirely aligned with the Washington narrative. Valery Gergiev is portrayed as the “Kremlin favourite.” Moreover, we read that “Gergiev, the former principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, is a controversial and outspoken supporter of Putin.”

In this light, we are reminded about Gergiev’s 2008 concert in Ossetia. I note parenthetically what The Guardian omitted in their rush to marginalize the maestro: that Gergiev is now the principal conductor of the Munich Philharmonic as well as artistic director of the Mariinsky.

The Guardian also reminds us that featured cellist Sergei Roldugin is “Vladimir Putin’s best friend” and that  “the Panama Papers revealed that Roldugin was the beneficiary of hundreds of millions of dollars in offshore deals.”

Finally, The Guardian tells its readers that among the foreigners present at the concert were representatives from Zimbabwe, China and Serbia. They pointedly omitted that they were present in a UNESCO delegation which also included Europeans.

The BBC online coverage carries many of the anti-Putin, anti-Russian tendentious adjectives, reminders and omissions that we have seen above. But it goes the extra mile by quoting UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond’s extraordinary comment that the concert was “a tasteless attempt to distract attention from the continued suffering of millions of Syrians. It shows that there are no depths to which the regime will not sink.”

From the BBC quote, it is not clear whether the Minister had in mind Putin’s or Assad’s regime’s plumbing the depths, but his intention to slander the Russians is obvious.

The BBC also carried a more balanced separate report from their bureau chief in Moscow, Steve Rosenberg. He saw that the message from Moscow was that Russia is a force for good, whereas Western officials “remain suspicious of Russia’s intentions.” Otherwise Rosenberg just repeats the same hurtful innuendos that we have seen above: the connection between Rodulgin and the Panama Papers, the Gergiev concert in Tskhinvali in 2008.

To every generalization there is always an exception, and as happens from time to time it is the British tabloids that show more common sense and decency than the high-style outlets of the political class.

The heading given to the article on the concert in the online edition of The Daily Mail says it all:  “Culture and civilization return to Palmyra: Russian orchestra performs concert in the ancient Roman amphitheatre for the first time since ISIS used it to carry out public executions in Syria.” The editors wisely included a click-on video recording of the concert, allowing their readers to judge for themselves.

In summary, the Information War that the West has been waging against Russia is going full tilt. It is an unpardonable error of judgment to speak of a new Cold War as something that lies ahead, just around the corner. We are in the midst of it, and it will take enormous luck or a change of leaders for the better if we are to avoid a hot war.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd. His most recent book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.  © Gilbert Doctorow, 2016




America’s Two-Faced Policy on Iran

The Obama administration seeks to demonize Iran — along with Russia and China — while also demanding their help in areas of U.S. interest, an approach that is both disingenuous and dangerous, as former British diplomat Alastair Crooke explains.

By Alastair Crooke

In an article entitled “Why America needs Iran in Iraq,” former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad argues that “the chaos in Baghdad, culminating in the temporary occupation of the parliament by followers of Shiite Islamist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, is undermining the war against the Islamic State; weakening Iraq’s economy; and accelerating the country’s disintegration.

“Without cooperation between the United States, Iran and Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Sistani, the crisis could very well lead to the collapse of the entire political system set up in Iraq during the temporary U.S. occupation … To prevent this, Washington needs Tehran’s help. And Iran should be as motivated to seek stability [in Iraq] as much as Washington, because” Khalilzad asserts, “Iran, currently is losing favour in Iraq.”

Putting aside the questionable implication that Iran might somehow, through co-operation with America, raise its standing amongst Iraqis, Khalilzad’s presumption that Iran should now attend to America’s needs in Iraq, coupled with Secretary of State John Kerry’s insistence that Iran should help America to end the conflict in Syria too, throw into sharp relief the paradox inherent at the heart of U.S. diplomacy towards Iran, Russia (and China also).

This approach has been dubbed the “middle way” by former special adviser to the Assistant Secretary of State, Jeremy Shapiro: the U.S. Administration has no desire for an all-out confrontation with these three states. They are militarily hard nuts, and there is not much appetite for yet more military confrontation amongst a weary and wary American public (to the continuing frustration of the neocons).

More prosaically, the global financial system is now so brittle, so delicately poised, that it is not at all certain that the prospect of conflict would give the lift to America’s flagging economy that war generally is supposed to give. It might just snap the financial system, instead — hence the Middle Way.

Shapiro points out the obvious contradiction to this two-track approach: the U.S. no longer can ignore such powerful states. Its window of absolute, unchallenged, uni-polar power has passed. America needs the help of these states, but at the same time, it seeks precisely to counter these states’ potential to rival or limit American power in any way.

And America simply ignores the core complaints that fuel the tensions between itself and these states. It simply declines to address them. Shapiro concludes that this foreign policy approach is unsustainable, and bound to fail: “This dual-track approach, condemning Russia [or Iran] as an aggressor one day, [whilst] seeking to work with Moscow [or Tehran] the next … would [ultimately] force ever-greater confrontation.”

The ‘Middle Way’

In a sense, the U.S. approach towards Iran seems to be mirroring the so-called “middle way” policy which the U.S. Administration pursues towards Russia, whereby the putative “reset” with Russia was set aside (when President Vladimir Putin assumed the Presidency for the second time), and Obama – rather than seek outright confrontation with Russia – ruled that America however, would only co-operate with Russia when it suited it, but the U.S. would not deign to address Russia’s core issues of its “outsider” status in Europe, or its containment in Asia — or its concerns about a global order that was being used to corner Russia and to crush dissenter states who refused to enter the global order on America’s terms alone.

And Obama did little to drawback the NATO missile-march towards Russia’s borders (ostensibly, it may be recalled, to save Europe from Iranian missiles).

Ostensibly, too, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) could have been America’s “reset” with Iran.  Some, including a number of prominent Iranian politicians, thought it was.

But National Security Advisor Susan Rice was very explicit to Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic that this was never intended: “It is assumed, at least among his critics, that Obama sought the Iran deal because he has a vision of a historic American-Persian rapprochement. But his desire for the nuclear agreement was born of pessimism as much as it was of optimism.

“The Iran deal was never primarily about trying to open a new era of relations between the U.S. and Iran,” Susan Rice told [Goldberg]. “It was far more pragmatic and minimalist. The aim was very simply to make a dangerous country substantially less dangerous. No one had any expectation that Iran would be a more benign actor.”

And so, we see a similar pattern, the possibility of a real “reset’ with Iran is pre-meditatively set aside (as per Rice), whilst the dual-track approach of condemning Iran for its ballistic missile tests (which have nothing to do with JCPOA), and its support for Hizbullah, are condemned one day, whilst Iran’s help in Iraq and Syria is being demanded on the next day.

At the same time, Iran’s core dispute with the U.S. – its complaints that exclusion from the international financial system is not being ameliorated as JCPOA was supposed so to do – are not being addressed. Rather they are being met with a shrug that implies “did they really expect anything else?”

Well, some (but by no means all) Iranian politicians had done just that: they had raised the Iranian public’s expectations that all sanctions – other than specific U.S. sanctions – would be lifted.  They rather bet their credibility on it, as it were, and may pay a political price eventually.

And as NATO deploys a further 4,000 troops in the Baltic states and Poland, on Russia’s border, so too the U.S. Congress continues its figurative advance on Iran’s frontiers.

Here is Iran’s (conservative) Keyhan newspaper: “The draft of a new resolution has been presented to the US Congress in which Iran is accused of creating tension in the Persian Gulf, and the US Government has been urged to confront Iran and impose new sanctions against our country. Randy Forbes, a Republican member of the US House of Representatives, has drafted a resolution, which if passed by the Congress, condemns Iran’s military presence in the Persian Gulf as a provocation” (emphasis added)

Shapiro’s specific warning about the “middle way” approach was that “political and bureaucratic factors on both sides would force ever-greater confrontation.” But this is not the only risk, nor does it even constitute being the biggest risk (besides that of having undermined those in Iran and Russia who had put their “hat in the ring” of contemplating Entente with the United State).

America’s Bad Faith

Rather, it is by making this policy approach quite general to those states which have taken on themselves the burden of being the symbol for a non-Western, alternative vision (Russia, Iran and China, inter alia), that a perceived breach of the spirit of the JCPOA (at the least), will have wider repercussions.

Russia and China both spent political capital in order to help persuade Iran to sign up to the JCPOA: Will they not wonder whether America is to be trusted? China has complicated negotiations in hand with America on trade and financial issues, whilst Russia has been trying to resolve ballistic missile, as well as Ukraine sanctions issues, with America.

Is it not a straw in the wind for the consequences to this policy when a prominent Russian commentator, Fyodor Lukyanov, who is not at all hostile to rapprochement with the West, writes in End of the G8 Era that using Russia’s prospective inclusion in the G8 as an instrument of pressure on Russia is pointless?:

“The G8 reflected a certain period of history when Russia really wanted to be integrated into the so-called Extended West. Why it did not happen? Something went wrong? This is another topic. The most important thing is that it did not happen at all … it seemed (in the 1990s) that this membership would not mean just participation in yet another club, but a strategic decision aimed at the future.

“However, the desirable future did not come, and probably won’t come. It is obvious now, that the world does not develop in the direction of the Western model. So, now we have what we have, and there is no reason to restore the G8.”

May this general sentiment come to be reflected in Iran too, as the sanctions-lifting issue drags on? Did the U.S. then “win one over Iran” through the JCPOA accord – as the shrugs of U.S. shoulders at Iranian complaints, might imply? Was Iran just naïve?  Did they really think that the U.S. was simply going to empower Iran financially?

It is pretty clear that the Supreme Leader understood the situation precisely — he had, after all some experience of U.S. non-compliance with agreements from the Lebanese hostage negotiations of the 1980s.

But what has Iran lost by the JCPOA? A few Iranians may have had their fingers burned in the process, but Iran achieved three important things: the world now knows that it was not Iran that was the impediment to a nuclear deal; the deal has transformed Iran’s public image – and created an opening – with the rest of the world (including Europe); and it has, in the process, constructed and strengthened strategic political and economic ties with Russia and China.

But most important of all, the rift within Iran that stemmed from the sense amongst some Iranian orientations, that President Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric was a principal obstacle to normalizing with the West, has been addressed: an Iranian government, with a Western-friendly face, has been given, and seen to have been given, the full chance to negotiate a solution to the nuclear issue.  Whatever the final outcome, that boil has been lanced.

No, the Iranian leadership has not been naïve.

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West.




Price for Witnessing Against War

Exclusive: The funeral for anti-war priest Daniel Berrigan was a reminder of humanity’s need to challenge immoral government actions and the price that one pays for doing so, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Fr. Daniel Berrigan’s funeral was being live-streamed Friday, as I started to write this, which seems only fitting. Dan’s witness and writing have been a constantly re-chargeable battery for my moral compass.

Live-streaming (arranged by America magazine) was the next-best thing to being at the funeral in person. And it brought back memories of getting shoe-horned into West Baltimore’s St. Peter Claver church in early December 2002 for an equally moving celebration of the life of Dan’s younger brother, Fr. Phil Berrigan.

Homilist Fr. Steve Kelly, S.J., who has spent more than a decade in this or that prison for non-violent resistance to war began with some Berrigan-style Irish humor: “Let members of the FBI assigned here today validate that it is Daniel Berrigan’s funeral Mass of the Resurrection, so they can complete and perhaps close their files. ‘Death has no dominion!’ to quote Daniel’s friend William Stringfellow.”

Kelly then minced no words in calling out “appointed pastors who collude with structures of domination, blessing the bombs.”

Tears welled as I watched Catholic Worker friends drop a large banner with the words from Isaiah, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares. Nations shall make war no more,” a charge lived into by all three brothers Berrigan – Jerry, Dan, and Phil.

And I thought back on what I learned decades ago at retreats led by Dan on the prophets Isaiah and Amos.

During the eulogy, Liz McAlister, Phil’s widow, quoted from the “apology” Dan wrote for burning draft cards with home-made napalm in Catonsville, Maryland, in May 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War:

“Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house.”

Liz continued to read from the Statement of the Catonsville 9: “The suppression of truth stops here; this war stops here!” (emphasis added by Liz’s own prophetic voice.) Not stopping was the loud, un-church-like cheering that rattled the rafters.

So Liz added a vintage Berrigan admonition for those who “seek ways to exempt themselves from responsibility.” I had the feeling that the affirming crowd would still be making a din, had not Phil’s daughter Frida gently gestured: Please, let my mom finish.

Thanks to the live-streaming, I could discern many of my friends at the still functioning Dorothy Day Catholic Worker houses for men and women in the Bowery. The only folks missing were those doing the daily Martha-work of preparing food for the lunch line. Ringing in my ears was another charge, heard hundreds of times from my Irish grandmother: “Show me your company, and I’ll tell you who you are!”

As the daughter of the late Jerry Berrigan, eldest of the three brothers, added her words to the eulogy, I felt proud to be out on bail, awaiting trial with 11 others of the “Jerry Berrigan Memorial Anti-Drone Brigade” for shutting down the main entrance and exit to Hancock Air Force Base Brigade near Syracuse, New York, on the morning of Jan. 28, 2016. Jerry, who lived in Syracuse, was frequently arrested there for similar protests against drone killings.

‘Whatever His Views, He’s Harmless’

Following people like Dan, Phil, and Jerry can get you beaten up and thrown in jail, but the benefits are out of this world, so to speak. Watching Dan’s funeral, I found myself musing over the words chosen by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s confidant Sidney Blumenthal, reassuring Clinton that she had nothing to fear from the likes of me.

On Feb. 15, 2011, at George Washington University, Clinton had, with callous aplomb, completely ignored my getting assaulted by two security personnel as I silently stood directly in front of her with my back turned.

In a Feb. 18, 2011 email, Blumenthal explained: “Ray McGovern, a former CIA officer who gave the daily brief for President George H.W. Bush, is pretty well known in the intelligence community. He’s become a Christian antiwar leftist who goes around bearing witness. Whatever his views, he’s harmless.”

Harmless or not, I can see my grandmother smiling down at the company I now keep, and whispering in her thick Irish brogue, “If you were really harmless, Raymond, they would not be writing them email things about you.”

It was not so long ago that I moved in circles where the label “activist” was dismissed as misguided but, well, harmless. How fortunate, then, to learn of the definition given to activism by my co-passenger on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, poet Alice Walker: “Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.”

I could not be more grateful at having fallen in, better late than never, with such companions. Dan’s funeral served as a reminder of how much my journey has changed – having witnessed power from the inside, and the consequences of challenging it from the outside.

On the Inside

During the first Ronald Reagan administration, it was my job to conduct early morning one-on-one briefings of the Secretary of Defense (Caspar Weinberger), Secretary of State (George Shultz), and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Gen. Jack Vessey) and also, depending on their schedules, Vice President George H. W. Bush, as well as a movable feast of Assistants to the President for National Security Affairs.

Another senior CIA officer and I took turns, each of us briefing every other day six days a week. As professional intelligence analysts, we conducted ourselves in a completely non-partisan way, and our services were appreciated. We relied largely on The President’s Daily Brief that we had helped prepare the day before, and we updated and supplemented the material in it, as needed.

Ronald Reagan was given these one-on-one briefings as soon as he became president-elect and put considerable value on them. Once in the White House, however, he ordered that, as a general rule, the early morning briefings be given to his most senior national security advisers whom he would normally ask to brief him directly several hours later.

When I took early retirement at age 50, I was fully aware that few others on “the outside” had the privilege of acquiring a first-hand feel for how intelligence could be used, and power abused.

At the time, however, I had no inkling that the creeping politicization and careerism fostered by senior CIA official Robert Gates on behalf of Reagan’s CIA Director William Casey would corrupt managers and analysts alike to the point they would let themselves be suborned into conjuring up the kind of faux intelligence that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney ordered up to “justify” war on Iraq.

‘Quid Est Veritas?’

What brought this to mind earlier this week was the tenth anniversary of an impromptu, four-minute debate that I had with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Atlanta on May 4, 2006.

It was not hard to prove him an inveterate liar about important matters like the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) he said were in Iraq – but weren’t; and the ties that existed between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein – but didn’t. But my Rumsfeld anniversary brought a painful reminder that things have hardly improved – and that no one has challenged former Secretary Clinton openly about her lies – about Syria and Libya, for example. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Need to Clear Up Clinton Questions.”]

The opportunities for such challenge have become fewer; the penalties harsher; the Fawning Corporate Media dumber and dumber.

The mini-debate with Rumsfeld in Atlanta depended largely on luck. Not only had I truth as my breastplate, so to speak, but the stars were nicely aligned. People like Rumsfeld, an accomplished Princeton debater (and, for that matter, Wellesley valedictorian Hillary Clinton), are required to keep careful track of their lies. Those not normally burdened with that extra chore – professional intelligence analysts, for example – enjoy a distinct advantage, even in times like these, when all too many Caesars keep asking “Quid est Veritas?” – “what is truth?” – a phrase attributed to Pontius Pilate during the trial of Jesus.

As it turned out, I had some success – momentarily, at least – exposing Rumsfeld, who had played fast and loose with the truth, while enjoying the “matinee-idol” label pinned on him by President George W. Bush during the initial weeks of “shock and awe.”

The abundance of evidence notwithstanding, my attempts to expose the lies of Hillary Clinton proved much more difficult (as I was wrestled away by security guards for turning my back on the Secretary of State), and I had zero success exposing Teflon-coated General (and former CIA Director) David Petraeus for the fraud he is (as I was arrested by New York City police at the entrance of a Petraeus speech). Worse still, the violence I encountered escalated with each nonviolent attempt.

With Rumsfeld, none of the media stenographers at Pentagon briefings ever looked up from their pads long enough to ask the Defense Secretary a direct question about his prevarications, so the Pentagon prima donna seemed a bit shocked by a factual question he could not spin.

So, Rumsfeld was not used to fielding “impertinent,” un-self-censored questions. Indeed, it may have seemed to some as though I were unfairly blindsiding the poor Secretary of Defense.

An Exchange with Power 

The setting for Rumsfeld’s talk was a little-known, defense-secretary-friendly-Southern-white-male-upper-crust “think tank.” There was no advance notice of Rumsfeld’s talk on its website, but some women friends from the World Can’t Wait figured out a way to get me a ticket (for $70!).

The impromptu debate went as follows:

RAY McGOVERN: And so, I would like to ask you to be up front with the American people. Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds of casualties? Why?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, I haven’t lied. I did not lie then. Colin Powell didn’t lie. He spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence Agency people and prepared a presentation that I know he believed was accurate, and he presented that to the United Nations. The President spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence people, and he went to the American people and made a presentation. I’m not in the intelligence business. They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there.

RAY McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were, and we were —

RAY McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were, “near Tikrit, near Baghdad, and northeast, south and west of there.” Those were your words.

DONALD RUMSFELD: My words — my words were — no, no, no, wait a minute! Let him stay one second. Just a second.

RAY McGOVERN: This is America, huh? Go ahead.

DONALD RUMSFELD: You’re getting plenty of play, sir.

RAY McGOVERN: I’d just like an honest answer.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I’m giving it to you.

RAY McGOVERN: We’re talking about lies and your allegation that there was bulletproof evidence of ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Was that a lie or were you misled?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the prewar period. That is a fact.

RAY McGOVERN: Zarqawi, he was in the north of Iraq, in a place where Saddam Hussein had no rule. That’s where he was.

DONALD RUMSFELD: He was also in Baghdad.

RAY McGOVERN: Yeah, when he needed to go to the hospital. Come on, these people aren’t idiots. They know the story.

DONALD RUMSFELD: You are — let me give you an example. It’s easy for you to make a charge, but why do you think that the men and women in uniform every day, when they came out of Kuwait and went into Iraq, put on chemical weapon protective suits? Because they liked the style? They honestly believed that there were chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons on his own people previously. He had used them on his neighbor, the Iranians. And they believed he had those weapons. We believed he had those weapons.

RAY McGOVERN: That’s what we call a non-sequitur. It doesn’t matter what the troops believe. It matters what you believe.

MODERATOR: I think, Mr. Secretary, the debate is over. We have other questions, courtesy to the audience.

‘Let Him Stay’

Early in the exchange, the black-hatted point man from Rumsfeld’s SWAT Team (clearly seen in the video) put his elbow in my solar plexus as I was speaking and started to pry me from the microphone to which I was adhering like permanent glue.

However, after a glance in the direction of the TV cameras, Rumsfeld waved him off, with a “no, no, no, wait a minute! Let him stay one second. Just a second.” It was a snap decision to continue the debate, with Rumsfeld convinced he could put me in my place. After all, I had identified myself as a former CIA analyst, and Rumsfeld had had an easy time intimidating CIA directors George Tenet and Porter Goss, as well as those of my former colleagues badgered into dancing the Cheney/Rumsfeld fraudulent tango on Iraq.

The event also took place early enough that afternoon to make the evening news. Better still, the event was aired live on C-Span and CNN. All this together made it very difficult for TV producers, anchors and pundits to brush off my challenges to Rumsfeld as inconsequential. Besides, there was very little happening that was newsworthy on May 4, 2006, which put icing on the cake.

In any case, the tense scene of a citizen challenging the great and powerful Rumsfeld with real questions was so unusual that even the corporate media recognized it as “news” and gave it at least fleeting attention on the evening news shows.

But my unmasking of Rumsfeld’s Iraq War lies also created a highly unwelcome precedent that I would be made to pay for by soon being pigeonholed as a disgruntled stalker.

CNN anchor Paula Zahn’s first questions that evening were (1) “How long have you harbored this animus against Donald Rumsfeld?” and (2) why was I “following the Secretary of Defense all the way down to Atlanta?”

I explained that, in fact, I had gotten to Atlanta first – to receive, that same evening, the ACLU’s National Civil Liberties Award (won the previous year by Coretta Scott King).

I could not remember how long I had had “this animus” toward Rumsfeld. Were I quicker on my feet, I would have said something like — since his lies got thousands of human beings killed in an unnecessary war. But you don’t get a do-over.

After the Zahn interview, CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s first question, asked of me haltingly as I was exiting the auditorium, was much less hostile but, in its own way, far more revealing: “Weren’t you afraid?” he asked. Think about that for a while.

No Such Luck With Hillary

Five years later, with some slight hope for an encore during a possible Q & A – this time with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – I wangled a ticket to hear her speak at George Washington University on Feb. 15, 2011. After several minutes of fulsome praise from the university president and prolonged, standing, adulatory applause from the carefully chosen audience, before Clinton even uttered a word, I decided to remain standing in silence with my back to her.

Unlike Rumsfeld in 2006, Secretary of State Clinton was taking no chances. True, her speech focused on the need to respect dissent, but she was talking about the authorities in Iran, not in Washington. She missed not a syllable as she watched me brutalized directly in front of her and then dragged down the main aisle (with Clinton seeing-no-evil and nary a peep from the Hillary-friendly audience of by-standers/by-sitters).

Once outside the auditorium, a Clinton security-woman interrogated me at some length, after two sets of steel handcuffs were put on my wrists. I was then arrested and dumped into jail.

Perhaps Clinton thought her tacit condoning of this pre-emptive strike by her security folks would provide a useful deterrent to others who might choose nonviolent but highly visible ways to express dissent – or, God forbid, ask an impertinent question of the kind asked of Rumsfeld in Atlanta.

Unlike my encounter with Rumsfeld and even though multiple TV cameras caught the brutal way I was seized and thrown out directly in front of Hillary Clinton (“escorted out” is the gentle way Fox News put it), there was almost no further mention in mainstream media.

The Clinton incident happened at the same time of day as my mini-debate with Rumsfeld, so its absence from the evening news had nothing to do with the news cycle. Still, one would have thought the Kafkaesque nature of my brutalization at the very moment Clinton waxed eloquent about respecting dissent – in Iran – might have provided irresistible grist for a news story or commentary.

But in the five years that had passed since the Rumsfeld event in Atlanta, the media had grown five years-worth tamer. And, in contrast to Rumsfeld’s quick calculation as he looked at the cameras in the back, Clinton apparently believed she could count on the TV outlets and pundits NOT to give much coverage to the assault. In any case, she calculated correctly.

A number of Washington media stenographers were there, of course, as well as the cameras, but the evening TV producers and anchors chose the safer path. After all, no “sensible” commentator or outlet will gratuitously put out of joint the nose of a probable heiress to the presidency.

Less Tolerance of Dissent

If my understandable chagrin at the way Hillary Clinton ignored the assault right in front of her leaves me open to charges of having an “animus” toward Hillary Clinton, so be it. That is very small potatoes in the grand scheme of things.

My “animus” was substantive – her share of responsibility for all manner of death and destruction because of her vote for the Iraq War and the benighted escalation/surge in Afghanistan, for example. It would be only another couple of months after her GWU speech before she helped create equal tragedies in Libya and Syria.

I suppose I should thank my blessings in having avoided the far more brutal, fatal treatment accorded Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Although I had a ticket to hear David Petraeus speak at the 92nd Y in New York City on Oct. 30, 2014, I was barred from even entering, roughly treated, whisked away by NYPD cops already on the scene and jailed overnight in the infamous “The Tombs” beneath the Criminal Court in lower Manhattan.

Although my arrest occurred in the so-called “media capital of the world,” the incident was almost completely ignored at least in the mainstream media. [See Consortiumnnews.com’s, “When Silencing Dissent Isn’t News.”]

The trend seems to be more violence from the “organs of state security,” as they were known in Soviet parlance, and more silence in the mainstream media.

All the more need to follow the example of the Berrigans.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He served as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and CIA analyst for a total of 30 years and, after retiring, co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




If Russia Had ‘Freed’ Canada

Special Report: The U.S. government defined events in Ukraine as a “pro-democracy” revolution battling “Russian aggression” — at least as far as the world’s mainstream media was concerned. But what if the script were flipped, asks Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

As the United States plans to move thousands of NATO troops to Russia’s borders and continues to bolster a fiercely anti-Russian regime in neighboring Ukraine, the official line in Washington and its subservient corporate media is that beneficent America is simply seeking to curtail Moscow’s “aggression.” But the U.S. government and media might look at things quite differently if the shoe were on the other foot.

What, for instance, would the U.S. reaction be if Russia instead had supported the violent overthrow of, say, Canada’s government and assisted the new Ottawa regime’s “anti-terrorist operations” against a few rebellious “pro-American” provinces, including one that voted 96 percent in a referendum to reject the new Russian-backed authorities and attach itself to the U.S.?

If the U.S. government tried to help these embattled “pro-American” Canadians – and protect the breakaway province against the Russian-installed regime – would Washington see itself as the “aggressor” or as simply helping people resist anti-democratic repression? Would it view Russian troop movements to the U.S. border as a way to stop an American “invasion” or rather an act of “aggression” and provocation by Russia against the United States?

The Ukraine Reality

Before playing out this hypothetical scenario, let’s look at the actual scene in Ukraine today as opposed to the gross distortion of reality fed the American people by the U.S. mainstream media the past two years. The reality is not the State Department’s fable of a pro-democracy “revolution” cleaning up corruption and putting Ukrainian people first.

In the real world instead, extreme right-wing nationalists took control of a popular protest by mostly western Ukrainians to spearhead a violent coup that succeeded on Feb. 22, 2014, in overthrowing President Viktor Yanukovych, a man whom I interviewed in 2013 after he had been democratically chosen in an election certified by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Proof of the U.S. role in the coup came in a leaked telephone conversation several weeks earlier between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. In the conversation, Nuland and Pyatt discussed how the U.S. could “midwife” the unconstitutional change of government and they rated which Ukrainian politicians should be put in charge, with Nuland declaring “Yats is the guy,” a reference to Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

As for the European Union’s less aggressive approach to the Ukraine situation, Nuland declared: “Fuck the E.U.”

Nevertheless, after the coup, Western governments denied there ever was a coup, peddling the line that Yanukovych simply “ran away,” as though he woke up one morning and decided he didn’t want to be president anymore.

In fact, on Feb. 21, to contain the mounting violence, Yanukovych signed a European-brokered deal to reduce his powers and to hold early elections. But the next day, as right-wing street-fighters overran government buildings, Yanukovych fled for his life – and the West moved quickly to consolidate a new government under anti-Russian politicians, including Nuland’s choice—Yats as prime minister. (Yatsenyuk remained prime minister until last month when he resigned amid complaints that his stewardship had been disastrous for the Ukrainian people.)

A Resistance Emerges

Since the vast majority of Yanukovych’s support came from the ethnically Russian eastern half of the country, some Yanukovych backers rose up to challenge the legitimacy of the coup regime and to defend Ukraine’s democratic process.

Instead the West portrayed this resistance as a Russian-instigated rebellion against the newly minted and U.S.-certified “legitimate” government that then launched a violent repression of eastern Ukrainians who were deemed “terrorists.”

When Russia supported the resisters with weapons, money and some volunteers, the West accused Russia of an “invasion” and “aggression” in the east. But there has never been satellite imagery or other proof of this alleged full-scale Russian “invasion.”

In the midst of the Kiev “anti-terrorist” offensive in the east, on July 17, 2014, a Malaysian commercial airliner, Flight MH-17, was shot out of the sky, killing all 298 people on board. The United States, again offering no proof, immediately blamed Russia.

Over the past year, the fighting has been largely contained after Russian, Ukrainian and European leaders negotiated the Minsk Accords, though they are far from being implemented and widespread violence could break out again at any time.

Throughout the entire crisis the United States has insisted its motives are pure, including its new plans for deploying some 4,000 NATO troops, including about half American, on Russia’s Eastern European borders north of Ukraine.

President Barack Obama told the U.N. General Assembly last year that the U.S. had no economic interests in Ukraine. But former State Department official Natalie Jaresko served as Ukraine’s finance minister until recently and Vice President Joe Biden’s son sits on the board of a major Ukrainian company. U.S. investment also has increased since the coup.

Yanukovych’s overthrow occurred after he chose a Russian economic plan rather than sign an association agreement with the European Union, which Ukrainian economic analysts warned would cost the country $160 billion in lost trade with Russia.

The E.U. plan would also have opened Ukraine to Western neoliberal economic strategies designed to exploit the country for the benefit of Western capital and local oligarchs (one of whom, Petro Poroshenko, emerged as the new president).

Turning the Tables

To help American readers better understand what has transpired in Ukraine, it may be useful to see what it would be like if the tables were turned. What would the story be like if Russia played the role of the U.S. and Canada the role of Ukraine? Most Americans would not be pleased.

In this reverse scenario, the world’s mainstream media would follow Moscow’s line and present the story as a U.S. “invasion” of Canada. The media would explain the movement of Russian troops to the U.S. border as nothing more than a peaceful step to deter U.S. “aggression.”

But Americans might see matters differently, siding with the breakaway Maritime provinces resisting the Moscow-engineered violent coup d’etat in Ottawa. In this scenario, Prince Edwards Islanders would have voted by over 90 percent to secede from the pro-Russian regime in Ottawa and join the United States, as Crimea did in the case of Ukraine. People in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick – stressing their close historic ties to America – also would make clear their desire not to be violently absorbed by the Ottawa coup regime.

In this alternative scenario, Moscow would condemn Prince Edwards Island’s referendum as a “sham” and vow never to accept its “illegal” secession. The popular resistance in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick would be denounced as “terrorism” justifying a brutal military crackdown by Russian-backed Canadian federal troops dispatched to crush the dissent. In this “anti-terrorist operation” against the breakaway region, residential areas would be shelled killing thousands of civilians and devastating towns and cities.

In this endeavor, the Canadian army would be joined by Russian-supported neo-fascist battalions that had played a crucial role in the overthrow of the Canadian government. In the Maritime city of Halifax, these extremists would burn alive at least 40 pro-U.S. civilians who took refugee in a trade union building. The new government in Ottawa would make no effort to protect the victims, nor conduct a serious investigation to punish the perpetrators.

Ignoring a Leak

Meanwhile, proof that Russia was behind the overthrow of the elected Canadian prime minister would be revealed in a leaked conversation between Moscow’s foreign ministry chief of the North America department and the Russian ambassador to Canada.

According to a transcript of the leaked conversation, the Moscow-based official would discuss who the new Canadian leaders should be several weeks before the coup took place. Russia would launch the coup when Canada decided to take a loan package from the U.S.-based International Monetary Fund that had fewer strings attached than a loan from Russia.

Russia’s ally in Beijing would be reluctant to back the coup. But this would seem to be of little concern to Moscow’s man who is heard on the tape saying, “Fuck China.” Although this conversation would be posted on YouTube, its contents and import would be largely ignored by the global mainstream media, which would insist there was no coup in Ottawa.

Yet, weeks before the coup, the Russian foreign ministry official would be filmed visiting protesters camped out in Parliament Square in Ottawa demanding the ouster of the prime minister. The Russian official would give out cakes to the demonstrators.

The foreign ministers of Russian-allied Belarus and Cuba would also march with the protesters through the streets of Ottawa against the government. The world’s mainstream media would portray these demands for an unconstitutional change of government as an act of “democracy” and a desire to end “corruption.”

In a speech, the Russian foreign ministry official would remind Canadian businessmen that Russia had spent $5 billion over the past decade to “bring democracy” to Canada, much of that money spent training “civil society” activists and funding anti-government “journalists.” The use of these non-governmental organizations to overthrow foreign governments that stand in the way of Russia’s economic and geo-strategic interests would have been well documented but largely ignored by the global mainstream media.

But recognizing the danger from these “color revolution” strategies, the United States would move to ban Russian NGOs from operating in the U.S., a tactic that would be denounced by Russia as America’s rejection of “democracy.”

The Coup Succeeds

The Canadian coup would take place as protesters violently clashed with police, breaking through barricades and killing a number of police officers. Snipers would fire on the police and the crowd from a nearby Parliament Square building under the control of hardline pro-Russian extremists. But the Russian government and the mainstream media would blame the killings on the embattled Canadian prime minister.

To stem the violence, the prime minister would offer to call early elections but instead would be driven from office violently by the pro-Russian street gangs. Russia and the global mainstream news media would praise the overthrow as a great step for democracy and would hail the pro-Russian street fighters who had died in the coup as the “Heavenly Hundred.”

Following the coup, Russian lawmakers would compare President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler for allegedly sending U.S. troops into the breakaway provinces to protect the populations from violent repression, and for accepting the pleas of the people of Prince Edward Island to secede from this new Canada.

Obama would be widely accused of ordering an “American invasion” and committing an act of “American aggression” in violation of international law. But the Maritimes would note that they had long ties to the U.S. dating back to the American Revolution and didn’t want to live under a new regime imposed by a faraway foreign power.

Russia would claim intelligence proving that U.S. tanks crossed the Maine border into New Brunswick, but would fail to make the evidence public. Russia would also refuse to reveal satellite imagery supporting the charge. But the claims would still be widely accepted by the world’s mainstream news media.

For its part, Washington would deny it invaded but say some American volunteers had entered the Canadian province to join the fight, a claim met with widespread media derision. Russia’s puppet prime minister in Ottawa would offer as proof of an American invasion just six passports of U.S. soldiers found in New Brunswick.

Taking Aim at Washington

When – during one of the new regime’s “anti-terrorist” offensives – a passenger jet would be shot down over Nova Scotia killing all onboard, Russia would accuse President Obama of being behind the outrage, charging that the U.S. had provided the powerful anti-aircraft missile needed to reach a plane flying at 33,000 feet.

But Moscow would refuse to release any intelligence to support its claim, which would nevertheless be accepted by world’s mainstream media.

The plane’s shoot-down would enable Russia to rally China and other international allies into imposing a harsh economic boycott of America to punish it for its “aggression.”

To bring “good government” to Canada and to deal with its collapsing economy, a former Russian foreign ministry official would be installed as Canada’s finance minister, receiving Canadian citizenship on her first day on the job.

Of course, Russia would deny that it had economic interests in Canada, simply wanting to help the country free itself from oppressive American domination. But Russian agribusiness companies would take stakes in Albertan wheat fields and the son of Russia’s prime minister as well as other well-connected Russians would join the board of Canada’s largest oil company just weeks after the coup.

Russia’s ultimate aim, beginning with the imposition of the sanctions on the U.S. economy, would appear to be a “color revolution” in Washington, to overthrow the U.S. government and install a Russia-friendly American president.

This goal would become clear from numerous statements by Russian officials and academics. A former Russian national security adviser would say that the United States should be broken up into three countries and write that Canada would be the stepping stone to this U.S. regime change. If the U.S. loses Canada, he would declare, it would fail to control North America.

But the world’s mainstream media would continue to frame the Canadian crisis as a simple case of “American aggression.”

This fictional scenario perhaps lays bare the absurdity of the U.S. version of events in Ukraine.

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




No Dissent from Anti-Russian Propaganda

The European Union prides itself on its commitment to free expression, except apparently when a documentarian diverges from the official line bashing Russia. Then silencing dissent becomes the “responsible” response, as Gilbert Doctorow explains.

By Gilbert Doctorow

The West’s propaganda campaign against Russia took an unusual turn this week as a new documentary challenging the Western narrative of how Kremlin critic Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009 was blocked from being shown at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium.

The last-minute shutting down of the documentary, “The Magnitsky Act: Behind the Scenes,” was engineered by lawyers for William Browder, the influential chairman of the investment fund Hermitage Capital and an associate of Magnitsky.

Based in London, Browder has been an unrelenting crusader for imposing sanctions on Russian officials allegedly connected to Magnitsky’s death in prison. Browder successfully pushed for the U.S. Congress to approve the 2012 Magnitsky Act and has lobbied the European Parliament to pass a similarly punitive measure.

On Wednesday, Browder pulled off a stunning show of force by arranging the cancellation of “The Magnitsky Act” documentary just minutes before invitees entered the auditorium at the parliament building for the showing.

Instead of watching and then discussing the film, the few of us who attended were drawn precisely to the power of the absent puppet master, Bill Browder, as Andrei Nekrasov, the film’s director, explained the reasons for his rare dissent against the Magnitsky narrative that Browder has peddled for years.

St. Petersburg-based film director Nekrasov said he had originally intended to produce a documentary largely supportive of Browder’s narrative but a eureka moment led him to change the message of his film midway through production into what ultimately became a scathing critique of Browder and a serious critique of the entire concept of applying personal sanctions against alleged human rights abusers without due process, as was the case in the compilation of the so-called “Magnitsky List” of Russians blamed for Magnitsky’s death.

A Praised Filmmaker

Nekrasov is an internationally recognized artist who has won prizes for dramas, documentaries and arts programs in Germany and France with his work presented at festivals around the world. Fluent in German, French and English in addition to his native Russian, Nekrasov took parts of his professional education in France and the U.K.

In his home country, Nekrasov has a reputation as a nonconformist and his reporting has taken on Russian authorities in the past, including a film arguing that the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings were organized by the KGB successor organization (FSB) to justify the second war in Chechnya that brought Vladimir Putin to power.

In other words, Nekrasov has not been a friend of the Kremlin, let alone a “stooge” of the Putin regime. Indeed, he said that before taking the assignment to do a film about Magnitsky for the ARTE television channel, he had friendly relations with Browder, whom he had met a number of times in different settings. Nekrasov said he fully believed in Browder’s narrative of the murder of Magnitsky as a way to silence his investigation into the theft of Hermitage Capital’s assets by crooked Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs officials.

Nekrasov said his change of heart came in the middle of shooting the film when Browder’s people handed him a copy of the affidavit signed by Magnitsky that was said to have led to his murder in detention. The introduction to the document laid out precisely that argument of Russian wrongdoing, but the content, the actual text signed by Magnitsky, said nothing whatever about his investigating the theft of $230 million and made no charges whatsoever against Ministry of Internal Affairs officers.

That glaring discrepancy prompted Nekrasov to gather more and more evidence, leading ultimately to his conclusion that the Magnitsky case was a sham fabricated by Browder, that there was no murder, that Magnitsky’s death was a case of negligence and nothing more sinister, the sort of thing that happens quite routinely in U.S. and other prisons around the world, however sad that may be.

Moreover, this discovery set Nekrasov’s mind to thinking about how and why what was now obvious to him was hidden to all others through whose hands the facts, factoids and allegations of the Magnitsky affair had passed over the past seven years. His inescapable conclusion was the explanation was to be found only in blind anti-Russian prejudice, the denigration not only of the country’s leader but of its entire political establishment if not the nation as a whole.

Nekrasov began to wonder how anyone could accept as reasonable the assumption that in that country of 146 million people there was not a single honest or professionally competent judge, not a single policeman who was not a crook.

Dangerous Thought

Nekrasov expressed concern for his own future welfare after the negative publicity arising from his discovery of unpleasant truths about the Magnitsky affair, especially in Russia where he fears that pro-Browder people will consider his documentary a betrayal.

Regarding why the film’s screening was canceled on Wednesday night, Finnish parliamentarian Heidi Hautala, the sponsor of the event (and reportedly Nekrasov’s girlfriend), said it was not an action imposed by the President of the European Parliament, though he surely took a dim view of allowing this dissenting viewpoint to be shown in an auditorium at the parliament.

Nekrasov cited two last-minute objections. One was from a German politician whom he interviewed for the film, MEP Marieluise Beck, a leading member of the Greens in the Bundestag, the party allied to the European Parliament bloc from which Hautala, the organizer of the screening, comes.

In the interview segment which Beck now demanded be excised, she demonstrated, in Nekrasov’s view, exactly what was wrong with the position held by Browder’s defenders in Europe.

When he confronted her with the discrepancies, with the reasons he had changed his view of the Magnitsky affair, Beck insouciantly replied that “this is just details” about which she did not care and that the overriding fact remained the same: that Magnitsky died in prison.

However, Nekrasov said the decisive objection that led to the cancellation was from the director of the German national public broadcaster ZDF, a major sponsor of the film who claimed that Browder’s lawyers threatened to sue for libel if the film were shown and would “ruin the broadcaster financially.” Given the public standing of ZDF, that threat appears to have been no more than bluster, however it sufficed for the ZDF management to cave in.

Nekrasov expressed his surprise and alarm that Browder had the money and the contacts to so intimidate the backers of the film. But Nekrasov’s own position vis-à-vis Browder is now inescapably one of self-defense rather than slinking away. Browder has publicly claimed that the film is flawed by inadmissible fabrications and falsifications. It is Nekrasov’s stated intent to take Browder to court for defamation.

But it’s now unclear whether “The Magnitsky Case: Behind the Scenes” will be aired on ARTE, the European cultural channel, as scheduled on May 3 given the vast resources Browder has mobilized to prevent its showing.

Political Courage

Faced with objections from the Green bloc, Hautala showed political courage in sponsoring the documentary. She is known for her strong interest in defending human rights globally, including in Russia, and mentioned in her opening remarks that she was the first MEP to call for sanctions against Russia over the death in detention of Sergei Magnitsky and to this day she favors targeted sanctions against human rights violators.

But she has set four operating principles for sanctions to be workable, all of which come down to adhering to the rule of law: the charges must be verifiable, proving the connection of the persons to the violation; they must be transparent, so that everyone can judge the grounds; they must provide access to remedy for the targeted persons; and they must contain a sunset clause or duration period for possible reevaluation of the grounds.

Hautala also mentioned that she is one of 17 MEPs on Russia’s retaliatory “black list” of 89 European politicians and influential persons, though she complains that she has never received from Russian authorities the individual justifications on why she is on the list and has no access to a remedy to appeal that arbitrary decision.

Hautala displayed even more courage by admitting to the auditorium several prominent critics of the Browder/Magnitsky story, including Pavel Karpov, one of the two Ministry of Interior officers who were accused by Browder of overseeing the torture and murder of Magnitsky and of doing so to cover up their theft of $230 million in assets from his Hermitage Capital operation in Moscow which Magnitsky was said to have been investigating.

Karpov used the opportunity to explain his challenge to these allegations as unsubstantiated and how his bringing of defamation charges against Browder in London courts never was heard.

Also, Natalya Veselnitskaya, a Moscow lawyer, was given the floor to issue a lengthy denunciation of Browder for his crimes of egregious tax evasion that were the apparent motive for his creating the Magnitsky controversy. Veselnitskaya is the attorney of Denis Katsyv, the son of a Vice President of Russian Railways whose assets in the U.S. were frozen under the Magnitsky Act because of allegations that he had somehow enjoyed a share of the purloined Hermitage Capital money.

Hautala also allowed in Russian electronic and print media journalists, including, most significantly, Yevgeni Popov, the Vesti television presenter and director of a hard-hitting and controversial documentary entitled The Browder Effect, which was aired on the flagship Pervy kanal state channel on April 13.

Popov flew in for the European Parliament event and later his interview with Nekrasov on the streets of Brussels was part of a featured news item on the cancellation of the film’s screening.

Still, the lengths to which Browder seems prepared to go suggests that the dominant Western narrative of the Magnitsky affair is coming under pressure and that there is growing skepticism even in the West over whether the case is as simple as evil Russian agents murdering a noble investigator.

There finally is some suspicion that perhaps the controversy was manufactured, in part, to cover up possible criminal activity by Browder and to fend off Russian demands for his extradition to face pending prosecution.

Another open question is whether a second allegation against Browder in Popov’s documentary can be made to stick: namely that William Browder was a contractor working with/for British intelligence (MI6) and the CIA from 1996 and that since 2006 has been controlling Russia’s non-systemic opposition leader Alexei Navalny on a mission to destabilize the Russian government and prepare the way for regime change.

Serious questions, however, have been raised about the authenticity of some of Popov’s documents and whether the accusations against Navalny have any merit.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord.  His most recent book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015. © Gilbert Doctorow, 2016




Hiding the Indonesia Massacre Files

Exclusive: Perhaps nowhere does U.S. hypocrisy over human rights stand out more clearly than Indonesia’s “Year of Living Dangerously” slaughter of vast numbers of people in 1965, dirty secrets that Jonathan Marshall says finally deserve airing.

By Jonathan Marshall

Now that the Indonesian government has officially opened a probe into what the CIA called “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century,” it’s time for the U.S. government to come clean about its own involvement in the orchestrated killing of hundreds of thousands of Communists, ethnic Chinese, intellectuals, union activists and other victims during the mid-1960s.

President Joko Widodo this week instructed one of his senior ministers to begin investigating mass graves that could shed light on the slaughter of more than half a million innocents by soldiers, paramilitary forces and anti-Communist gangs.

That orgy of violence followed the killing of six generals on Sept. 30, 1965, which the Indonesian military blamed on an attempted coup by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). It marked the beginning of several decades of military dictatorship and further mass murders in East Timor and West Papua.

The PKI, which had some three million members, and millions more sympathizers, was by the early 1960s the strongest political force in the country aside from the military and the revered father of Indonesia’s independence, President Sukarno.

As one CIA adviser warned in 1963, “If the PKI is able to maintain its legal existence . . . Indonesia may be the first Southeast Asia country to be taken over by a popularly based, legally elected communist government.” Two years later, the military-led bloodbath put an end to that threat.

Indonesia’s government, whose leaders include military veterans of that era, still refuses to open criminal investigations into the mass murder, as called for in 2012 by Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights.

But some survivors nonetheless welcome the chance to expose truths that have been vigorously suppressed over the years by mass political arrests, press censorship, and pervasive indoctrination programs in the country’s schools.

Hiding Secrets

To help tell the whole story, Indonesia’s human rights commission and major international human rights organizations have called on the Obama administration to declassify U.S. government documents related to the massacres, as it did recently with respect to Argentina’s “dirty war” from 1976-83.

But President Obama, like his predecessors, has so far been reluctant to shed light on tragic events in Indonesia more than half a century ago.

“The extent of America’s role remains hidden behind a wall of secrecy,” complained Joshua Oppenheimer, maker of two acclaimed documentaries about the massacres: “The Act of Killing” and “The Look of Silence.”

“C.I.A. documents and U.S. defense attaché papers remain classified. Numerous Freedom of Information Act requests for these documents have been denied,” he observed. “If the U.S. government recognizes the genocide publicly, acknowledges its role in the crimes, and releases all documents pertaining to the issue, it will encourage the Indonesian government to do the same.”

It’s easy to guess why Washington is so reluctant to bare the truth. The limited number of documents that have been released suggest that U.S. officials goaded Indonesia’s military into seizing power in 1965 and then liquidating PKI supporters throughout the archipelago. The full record could look even uglier.

Indonesia became a focus of U.S. strategic concerns as far back as 1940, when Imperial Japan threatened its immensely valuable rubber plantations, tin mines, and oil wells. President Franklin Roosevelt’s showdown with Tokyo, which culminated in the Pearl Harbor attack, stemmed from his determination to resist the loss of the islands’ strategic resources. Years later, Richard Nixon would call Indonesia “by far the greatest prize in the South-East Asian area.”

Prompted by its appreciation of Indonesia’s value, the Eisenhower administration financed a full-scale but unsuccessful military rebellion in 1958 against the neutralist Sukarno government. The Kennedy administration tried to patch up relations, but President Lyndon Johnson — angered at the regime’s threat to U.S. rubber and oil companies as well as Sukarno’s friendly relations with the PKI — cut off economic aid while continuing training and assistance to the anti-Communist military.

As one senior State Department official testified in executive session before Congress just a few months before the 1965 coup, explaining the administration’s proposal to increase military aid, “When Sukarno leaves the scene, the military will probably take over. We want to keep the door open.”

Prompting the Slaughter

To prompt the army to act against Sukarno, U.S., British, and Australian intelligence operatives planted phony stories about PKI plots to assassinate army leaders and import weapons from Communist China to launch a revolt — elements of a “strategy of tension” that would later be used in Chile.

According to former CIA officer Ralph McGehee, the CIA “was extremely proud” of its campaign and “recommended it as a model for future operations.”

Months after the bloodbath began, the well-connected associate editor of the New York Times, James Reston, would write, “Washington is being careful not to claim any credit” for the coup “but this does not mean that Washington had nothing to do with it.”

The events that triggered the military takeover remain murky even today, thanks to the regime’s systematic suppression of evidence. What seems clear, however, is that the PKI was largely caught unprepared when a group of junior officers — acting either on their own or as part of a “false flag” operation mounted by the anti-Communist General Suharto — killed six generals in the name of stopping a right-wing coup against Sukarno.

Suharto and his colleagues quickly arrested the killers, blamed the PKI for the atrocity, and aroused popular outrage by spreading false stories that the murdered generals had been sexually mutilated.

They also charged that Indonesia’s Communists were targeting Islamic leaders. In response, the country’s largest Muslim organization issued an order to “eliminate all Communists.”

On Oct. 5, 1965, U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Marshall Green informed Washington that Muslin groups were “lined up behind” the army, which “now has opportunity to move against PKI if it acts quickly. . . Momentum is now at peak with discovery of bodies of murdered army leaders. In short, it’s now or never.”

Green was hopeful: “Much remains in doubt, but it seems almost certain that agony of ridding Indonesia of effects of Sukarno . . . has begun.” To help make sure that came to pass, Green advised telling coup leaders of “our desire to be of assistance where we can,” while remaining in the shadows.

Fanning Flames

Green proposed fanning the flames of popular anger through covert propaganda: “Spread the story of PKI’s guilt, treachery and brutality (this priority effort is perhaps most-needed immediate assistance we can give army if we can find way to do it without identifying it as solely or largely US effort).”

To that end, he later instructed to U.S. Information Agency to use all its resources to “link this horror and tragedy with Peking and its brand of communism; associate diabolical murder and mutilation of the generals with similar methods used against village headmen in Vietnam.”

By mid-October, Green reported that the embassy had discussed strategy with Army and Muslim contacts for a “step-by-step campaign not only against PKI but against whole communist/Sukarno clique.”

Soon he was reporting the good news: the army had executed hundreds of Communists and arrested thousands of PKI cadre, with help from Muslim death squads.

“I, for one, have increasing respect for [the army’s] determination and organization in carrying out this crucial assignment,” he wrote.

To help the army succeed, Green endorsed Washington’s decision to bankroll the military’s clean-up operations against the PKI, adding that “the chances of detection or subsequent revelation of our support . . . are as minimal as any black bag operation can be.”

In addition, by December 1965 the U.S. embassy began sending the Indonesian military lists of PKI leaders — facilitating their liquidation.

“It really was a big help to the army,” said Robert J. Martens, a former member of the U.S. Embassy’s political section. “They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad. There’s a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment.”

In a December 1965 story, Time magazine offered the first significant account in the American media of the scope of the killing:

“Communists, red sympathizers and their families are being massacred by the thousands. Backlands army units are reported to have executed thousands of Communists after interrogation in remote jails. Armed with wide-bladed knives called ‘parangs,’ Moslem bands crept at night into the homes of Communists, killing entire families and burying the bodies in shallow graves.

“The murder campaign became so brazen in parts of rural East Java, that Moslem bands placed the heads of victims on poles and paraded them through villages. The killings have been on such a scale that the disposal of the corpses has created a serious sanitation problem in East Java and Northern Sumatra where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh.

“Travelers from these areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies. River transportation has at places been seriously impeded.”

By February 1996, the U.S. embassy was estimating that at least 400,000 people had already been killed across the country — more than died from the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Media Approval

C.L. Sulzberger of The New York Times remarked in April that “the killing attained a volume impressive even in violent Asia, where life is cheap.”

Speaking for official Washington, in a column titled “A Gleam of Light in Asia,” the New York Times’ James Reston called this bloodbath one of “the more hopeful political developments” in Asia, one that could not have “been sustained without the clandestine aid it has received indirectly from here.”

The full extent of that clandestine aid remains a contested question, but historian Bradley Simpson, in a 2008 study of U.S. relations with Indonesia in the 1960s, observed that “declassification of just a fraction of the CIA’s records demonstrates that the agency’s covert operations in Indonesia were more widespread and insidious than previous acknowledged. These records also reveal that the Johnson administration was a direct and willing accomplice to one of the great bloodbaths of twentieth-century history.”

New Mexico’s Tom Udall declared last year as he introduced a Senate resolution to promote reconciliation on the 50th anniversary of the Indonesian massacres, “the United States and Indonesia must work to close this terrible chapter by declassifying information and officially recognizing the atrocities that occurred. . .

“The United States should stand in favor of continued democratic progress for our vital ally Indonesia and allow these historical documents to be disclosed. Only by recognizing the past can we continue to work to improve human rights across the globe.”

The world is still waiting on President Obama to heed that call.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions”; “Neocons Want Regime Change in Iran”; “Saudi Cash Wins France’s Favor”; “The Saudis’ Hurt Feelings”; “Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Bluster”; “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.” ]




From Brady to MH-17, Power Defines Reality

Exclusive: From the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shoot-down to Tom Brady’s NFL suspension, reality gets defined not by facts and reason but by power and propaganda, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Power – far more than fact – determines what is defined as true in America, a nation that has become dangerously disconnected from reality in matters both trivial and important.

The way it works now is that, in case after case, the more powerful entity in the equation imposes the answer and the rest of us are invited to join in by throwing stones and jeering at the weaker party. Two current examples make the point:

On the more substantive side, there is the 2014 case of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing 298 people – and blamed by U.S. officials and the Western media on ethnic Russian rebels and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (More on that below.)

On the more personal side is the case of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has been defined by the powerful National Football League as a perjurer for denying under oath the NFL’s scientifically dubious charges that he was part of a scheme to slightly deflate footballs.

On Monday, a federal appeals court ruled that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had the power to do to Brady or any other player pretty much whatever Goodell wants in acting as judge, jury and executioner.

In the Brady case, the NFL and Goodell were the stronger parties, so they got to define the reality as far as the major U.S. media was concerned, depicting Brady as a liar and cheater although there was no direct evidence that any footballs had actually been deflated.

NFL officials, who launched the brouhaha known as “Deflategate,” admitted that they didn’t know that cold air and moisture reduce a football’s internal air pressure. They simply assumed that the drop in PSI, detected at the halftime of the AFC Championship game more than a year ago, could only come from letting air out of the balls.

A Vendetta on a Roll

Once the vendetta got started, however, it took on a life of its own. In the major U.S. media, the NFL and Goodell controlled the narrative and – with rival NFL owners playing a significant behind-the-scenes role – engineered both a four-game suspension of Brady and the stripping of draft picks from the Patriots.

Despite many scientific experts challenging the NFL’s sloppy scientific claims, the U.S. media – from The New York Times to ESPN – took the NFL’s side while fans of other teams joined in the mocking of Brady and laughing at any attempts to apply science and reason to the case.

The NFL and Goodell were allowed to decide what was “true” despite their corrupt role in covering up the dangers from concussions to players. In other words, the NFL’s history of lying on a matter as consequential as the safety of all football players – both amateur and professional – was not taken into account when balancing the league’s credibility against the denials of Brady and two locker-room assistants linked to the supposed scheme to intentionally deflate footballs.

And, despite all the time and attention this silly scandal absorbed, there was almost no examination of the science involved and no one in the major U.S. media looked at the conflict of interest in rival NFL owners on the NFL’s Management Council pressing Goodell to impose harsh penalties against Brady and the Patriots.

The Management Council controls whether Goodell gets to keep his $35 million job and these rival owners made anti-Brady recommendations to Goodell as he was considering Brady’s initial appeal of his suspension, according to Goodell’s own appeals decision.

After Goodell rejected Brady’s appeal – calling Brady’s sworn testimony false – the NFL got to choose which federal court would handle the case, picking one in New York that was known to be heavily pro-management.

Although District Court Judge Richard Berman last year overturned Brady’s four-game suspension on largely technical grounds, the deck was stacked against the player when the NFL appealed.

On Monday, the NFL got a 2-to-1 favorable ruling from appellate judges who reinstated Brady’s suspension and asserted that Goodell had nearly unlimited authority in disciplinary matters. [For more on the history, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Deflategate Slapdown of NFL and MSM.”]

New Claims on MH-17

On a far more serious level, there’s the tragic case of MH-17, which has been thrust back into the news by British press reports about an upcoming BBC documentary that cites seven eyewitnesses in Ukraine who reported seeing a warplane in the vicinity on July 17, 2014, just before MH-17 was shot down – and one witness saying he saw the warplane firing what looked like an air-to-air missile.

That account, if taken seriously, would put another chink in the West’s narrative absolving the U.S.-backed Ukrainian government of any responsibility and blaming ethnic Russian rebels and Putin.

In the MH-17 equation, the rebels and Putin have been the weaker parties, subject of an intense U.S.-led propaganda campaign aimed at getting Europe to impose economic sanctions that serve a larger neoconservative goal of weakening and destabilizing Russia.

So, at the time of the shoot-down, eyewitness reports from Ukraine of people seeing one or two Ukrainian warplanes in the sky – a claim apparently backed up by Russian radar – were dismissed in Western media. The Ukrainian government claimed it had no warplanes in the area and that assertion was widely accepted in the West.

But the regime had turned off its primary radar systems over the area supposedly for reasons of malfunction and maintenance. That left only Ukraine’s secondary radar, which tracked aircraft equipped with transponders such as commercial flights but would not show military aircraft, which don’t identify themselves with transponders for obvious reasons of stealth.

The Russians said their radar, looking into Ukraine, appeared to detect a possible warplane approaching MH-17, but they said their primary radar was not saved because it was outside their jurisdiction. They offered only the visual screen images, which Western investigators discounted.

A Divergent Finding

However, within days of the shoot-down, the official U.S. story blaming Russia and what U.S. intelligence was discovering sharply diverged, a source briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts told me. The source said U.S. spy data revealed what looked like an ambush by a Ukrainian warplane and a ground-to-air missile fired by a rogue element of the Ukrainian military associated with a hardline Ukrainian oligarch.

The source said CIA analysts gave serious weight to the possibility that the attack was originally intended to kill President Putin who was returning from a state visit to South America aboard his official plane with markings similar to MH-17.

But this analysis contradicted the out-of-the-gate public statements by Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior U.S. officials and thus, the source said, would “reverse the narrative,” making the pro-U.S. Ukrainians look like the bad guys and the Russians not so much.

So, if the source’s information is correct, the needs of America’s global power took precedence over any mandate for honesty in reporting the facts to the American people and the world’s public, including the families of the MH-17 victims.

Since summer 2014, the MH-17 investigation has moved at a glacial pace with the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) and a Dutch criminal investigation still not issuing any official findings as to who was responsible.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to withhold the data that Secretary Kerry cited shortly after the crash, which he claimed implicated the rebels and Russia.

While Kerry declared that the U.S. government knew almost immediately where the ground-to-air missile was fired, the Dutch Safety Board report last October could only put the firing location within a 320-square-kilometer area (covering both government and rebel territory) and a Dutch intelligence report stated that the only operational missiles in the area capable of downing a plane at 33,000 feet were controlled by the Ukrainian military.

But the Western media still reports routinely that a “Russian-made” Buk missile was fired from rebel territory, leaving the public impression that the Russians were responsible (although the “Russian-made” element was always misleading because the Ukrainian military also uses “Russian-made” equipment).

What impact the BBC program may have on the West’s dominant storyline blaming the Russian rebels and Putin is hard to know since the U.S. government has invested so heavily in that narrative and would face a serious loss of credibility by reversing its position at this late date. [For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Kerry Balks at Supplying MH-17 Data.”]

Plus, there is the arrogance of powerful institutions,whether the NFL or the U.S. government, that they can literally define reality for us commoners — and who’s to stop them. [Also, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Media Unmoored from Facts.”]

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

 




Missing the Biggest 2016 Story

The biggest political story of 2016 has been the rise of protest candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, but it was a phenomenon that the mainstream U.S. media largely missed or belittled, writes Neal Gabler.

By Neal Gabler

To their everlasting discredit, most of the MSM Big Feet, which is what the late journalist Richard Ben Cramer labeled the self-important, pontificating political reporters and pundits who dominate our press, got it all wrong about Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

That is no small thing when you consider those two are the big stories this campaign season. It’s like a weatherman missing a Category Five hurricane. Of course, if a weatherman had blown that call, he probably would be fired. With pundits, getting it wrong never seems to matter.

To their credit, a few of those Big Feet have fessed up to their errors. New York Times columnist David Brooks, one of the most contrite, admitted that he realized he had been living in a bubble and had to get out in the country a bit more – “change the way I do my job,” is how he put it — to understand the American psyche.

Brooks is right that a huge disconnect exists between the people who report on our politics and the people who participate in them. My own sense is that by and large political journalists are a smug bunch, but they come by it naturally. If they seem to have contempt for us, it is because they really do have different experiences and inhabit a different world from the vast majority of their fellow Americans.

The most powerful of them – the ones you read, see and hear the most – constitute an elite so far removed that it could only understand us through the most aggressive sympathetic imagination. And that is not going to happen.

For one thing, journalists as a whole don’t look like the rest of America. “The typical U.S. journalist is a 41 year-old white male,” began a 2006 report by the Pew Research Center. When that report was updated in 2013, that typical journalist had become a 47 year-old white male, and the median age had risen not only at newspapers, where one might expect journalists to be aging along with their institution, but also at TV and radio stations and even online news sites.

As for the “white” part, journalists are overwhelmingly white in a nation that is increasingly diverse. Roughly 37 percent of Americans are minorities – a number that is growing rapidly. But by one study, minorities possessed only 22 percent of television journalism jobs, 13 percent of radio jobs and 13 percent of daily newspaper jobs.

Another study, by Indiana University, puts the percentage of minority-held journalism jobs much lower: 8.5 percent in 2013.

And as for the “male” part, while the number of women in journalism has been increasing ever so gradually, only one-third or so of full-time journalists are women – a fraction that has held more or less steady since the 1980s.

So here is the situation: A country that is increasingly younger, darker and half female is being reported on by a press corps that is older, whiter and more male. A gaping demographic gulf separates the press from the people – a gulf that undoubtedly affects the kinds of stories chosen and the way in which they are covered.

And there are other dredges that widen the gulf. Although journalists are obviously scattered throughout the country, they are not geographically apportioned equally. As one might expect, the news centers are New York, Washington and, to a lesser extent, Los Angeles.

Of the 40,000 journalists in America, nearly a quarter live in these three areas, which is staggering when you think about it, and which certainly skews the news coverage. It also seems to confirm the familiar gripe of Middle America that media elites consider most of the country a fly-over from LA to NYC.

I love New York, and I am fond of Los Angeles and Washington, too, but I would hardly say that these three are microcosms of America. While all three rank highly among American cities in a rubric of racial and ethnic diversity, as determined in a study by Wallethub.com (NYC at #6; LA at #54 and DC at #78), all three are middling in income diversity (DC at #86; NYC at #157; LA at #183). That means most Big Feet reporters live in economically stratified cities, and many of them, almost by definition, live in the upper income strata.

The average reporter or correspondent doesn’t make very much money, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2015 – a little less than $50,000. By comparison, the mean household income in the U.S. generally is just about $52,000. But remember those BLS figures include all reporters and correspondents in the country, including folks in the boondocks where salaries are low. If you focus on the Big Three cities, the picture is somewhat different. The mean annual wage for a reporter in NY is $69,000, in the metro DC area $75,000, and in LA $48,000, actually under the general mean, which suggests how much the major news media outlets are really concentrated in the East.

Of course, those figures very likely underestimate what national correspondents earn, much less what the Big Feet – the reporters and pundits who wield the most influence – get. We don’t know exactly what their salaries are because they aren’t going to tell us, but we don’t have to exercise too much imagination to believe that they are extremely well paid, as in “one percent” well paid.

This matters because the widest gulf between the press and the people is probably not politics (over 50 percent of reporters call themselves independents, so they aren’t pitched at the political poles) or race or ethnicity or geography or even the culture that is forged by a combination of these – though all are important and all contribute to a press corps that neither resembles America nor, in many respects, thinks like most Americans.

Rather, the widest gulf may be economic. It is very possible that reporters – especially the Big Feet – dismissed Trump and Sanders because journalists couldn’t possibly fathom the deep, seething, often unspoken economic discontent that afflicts so many Americans and that has helped fuel both the Trump and Sanders movements. They couldn’t fathom it, perhaps, because they haven’t experienced it. I know because I have.

When you put their geographical proximity together with their class solidarity, it is entirely likely that MSM reporters will huddle, the way most geographic and economic cohorts do. They are more likely to see the same things, attend the same parties and events, mingle with the same people, draw on the same sources and send their children to the same schools, which adds up to their seeing the world in similar ways and reporting the same stories in the same ways.

In short, the MSM is not only an elite, it is a kind of economic and cultural clique. And that clique is not us.

So David Brooks can leave his bubble and attempt to find the soul of America. It is an admirable objective. But like all Big Feet, he would have to do more than change the way he does his job. To do it right, he would have to give up his home, his salary, his friends, his comfort, his inevitable sense of privilege. That is the only way he might truly feel, and thus fully comprehend, the pain and anger that is at the heart of this strange campaign year.

Neal Gabler is an author of five books and the recipient of two LA TImes Book Prizes, Time magazine‘s non-fiction book of the year, USA Today‘s biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at the Lear Center for the Study of Entertainment and Society and is currently writing a biography of Sen. Edward Kennedy. [This article originally appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/the-mainstream-medias-big-disconnect-why-they-dont-get-middle-america/ ]




Hidden Costs of US Air War

When Russian air strikes kill civilians in Syria, it is big news in U.S. newspapers, but there is near-total silence when U.S. bombs kill civilians in Iraq or Syria, a human rights dilemma addressed by Nicolas J S Davies.

 By Nicolas J S Davies

USA Today reported on April 19 that U.S. air forces bombing Syria and Iraq have been operating under new, looser rules of engagement since last fall. The war commander, Lt Gen Sean McFarland, now orders air strikes that are expected to kill up to 10 civilians without prior approval from U.S. Central Command, and U.S. officials made it clear to USA Today that U.S. air strikes are killing more civilians as a result of the new rules.

Under these new rules of engagement, the U.S. has conducted a major escalation of its bombing campaign against Mosul, an Iraqi city of about 1.5 million people, which has been occupied by Islamic State since 2014. Reports of hundreds of civilians killed in U.S. air strikes reveal some of the human cost of the U.S. air war and the new rules of engagement.

Previous statements by U.S. officials have absurdly claimed that over 40,000 U.S. air strikes in Iraq and Syria have killed as few as 26 civilians. Speaking to USA Today, a senior Pentagon official who is briefed daily on the air war dismissed such claims, noting that heavier civilian casualties were inevitable in an air war that has destroyed 6,000 buildings with over 40,000 bombs and missiles.

Professor Souad Al-Azzawi, the award-winning Iraqi environmental scientist from Mosul who conducted the first studies of the health effects of depleted uranium after the First Gulf War, has compiled a partial list of air strikes that have killed civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure in Mosul, most of them since the new U.S. rules of engagement went into effect. The list is based on reports by Mosul Eye, Nineveh Reporters Network, Al Maalomah News Network, other local media and contacts in Mosul and is not intended as a complete list of civilian casualties or civilian infrastructure destroyed.

Missing a Crisis

As I reported for ConsortiumNews in January, this kind of “passive reporting” from war zones can only capture a fraction of actual civilian casualties, and an even smaller fraction in areas outside government control and beyond the reach of conventional media:

-Many government buildings have been destroyed. As U.S. officials told USA Today, such attacks are often conducted at night to minimize civilian casualties, but they have killed night-time security guards and civilians in neighboring buildings.

-Telephone exchanges have been systematically bombed and destroyed.

-Two large dairies were bombed, killing 100 civilians and wounding 200 more, including local people lining up outside to buy milk and dairy products.

-Multiple daytime air strikes on Mosul University on March 19 and 20 (the 13th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq) killed 92 civilians and wounded 135, mostly faculty, staff, families and students. Targets included the main administration building, classroom buildings, a women’s dormitory and a faculty family apartment building from which only one child survived.

-50 civilians (including entire families) were killed and 100 wounded by air strikes on two apartment buildings, Al Hadbaa and Al Khadraa.

-A mother and her four children were killed in an air strike on a house in the Hay al Dhubat district in East Mosul on April 20, next door to a house used by Islamic State that was undamaged.

-22 civilians were killed (including 11 members of one family) in an air strike on houses in front of the Mosul Medical College.

-20 civilians were killed and 70 wounded by air strikes on the Sunni Waquf building and surrounding houses and shops.

-The Nineveh Plains water treatment plant was bombed in October 2014, and another water treatment plant and a hospital were shut down by an air strike on a power station in northeast Mosul in July 2015.

-Flour mills, a pharmaceutical factory, auto repair shops and other workshops have been bombed, with civilian casualties, all over Mosul.

-The Central Bank of Mosul in Ghazi Street and the main and local branches of two other banks, Rafidain and Rasheed, have been bombed, with heavy damage and civilian casualties in the areas surrounding each of them. After the first bank was struck, all the cash was removed from the others before they were bombed a few weeks later.

-Three workers were killed and 12 wounded in an air strike on the former Pepsi bottling plant.

-The Governor’s residence and guest houses and the Turkish consulate were hit by air strikes.

-An air strike on a fuel depot in an industrial area ignited an inferno that caused 150 casualties on April 18.

-Urban planning and engineering planning offices were bombed in Hay Al Maliyah.

-Air strikes targeted a food warehouse, power plants and electric sub-stations across West Mosul.

-The Al Hurairah Bridge was destroyed by air strikes.

Punishing Civilians

At the very least, U.S. air strikes have killed hundreds of civilians in Mosul, as well as destroying much of the civilian infrastructure that people depend on for their lives in already dire conditions. And yet this is, by all accounts, only the beginning of the U.S.-Iraqi campaign to retake Mosul.

One and a half million civilians are trapped in the city, 30 times the United Nation’s estimate of the number of civilians in Fallujah before the November 2004 assault by U.S. Marines that killed 4,000 to 6,000 people, mostly civilians.  Meanwhile Islamic State (also known as ISIS,ISIL and Daesh) is preventing civilians from evacuating the city, believing that their presence protects its forces from even heavier bombardment.

International humanitarian law is absolutely clear that military attacks on civilians, civilian areas and civilian infrastructure are strictly prohibited. The presence of several thousand ISIS militants in a city of 1.5 million people does not justify indiscriminate bombing or attacks on civilian targets.

As the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq warned U.S. officials in a Human Rights Report in 2007, “The presence of individual combatants among a great number of civilians does not alter the civilian nature of an area.”

Bombing food warehouses, flour mills and water treatment plants is also a war crime.

As Jean Ziegler, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, protested in 2005, as U.S. forces besieged other cities in Iraq, “A drama is taking place in total silence in Iraq, where the coalition’s occupying forces are using hunger and deprivation of food and water as a weapon of war.” He called this, “a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”

The controlled leak of the new rules of engagement to USA Today appears to be an “information operation” to provide political cover for air strikes that violate the laws of war and are killing large numbers of civilians, as the U.S. escalates its air strikes against Mosul and other cities occupied by Islamic State.

Controlling Information

Post-Cold War U.S. military strategists have theorized that sophisticated U.S. “information warfare” can shape public perceptions to remove political constraints on the use of U.S. military force.

As Major Ralph Peters, an officer responsible for “future warfare” in the office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, wrote in a 1997 military journal article, “We are already masters of information warfare … we will be writing the scripts, producing (the videos) and collecting the royalties.”

Peters also predicted that U.S forces would “do a fair amount of killing … to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault.”

On the domestic front, the U.S.’s information warfare has proven so effective that most Americans know almost nothing of the real impacts of U.S. military operations. The median response to a 2007 AP-Ipsos poll that asked Americans how many Iraqis had died as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was 9,890, or 1.5 percent of the total revealed in 2006 by a comprehensive mortality study. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Victory of ‘Perception Management.’”]

But internationally, the wartime conditions now afflicting people from Afghanistan to Nigeria to Ukraine have created new realities that render Western narratives increasingly suspect and drive an urgent quest for other ones that can better explain the violent and chaotic world in which more and more people are forced to live.

The presumption that U.S. information warfare could brainwash the world to provide political cover and impunity for systematic U.S. aggression and other war crimes is collapsing under the real-world impacts of U.S. policy.

Spreading Extremism

Wahhabi jihadism is thriving in the new reality born of the U.S. government’s hubris and aggression. The fundamental contradiction of the militarized “war on terror” has always been that U.S. aggression and other war crimes only reinforce the narratives of jihadi groups who see themselves as a bulwark against foreign aggression and neocolonialism in the Muslim world.

Meanwhile U.S. wars and covert operations against secular enemies like Hussein, Gaddafi and Assad keep creating new zones of chaos where the jihadis can set up shop.

U.S. officials, not least President Barack Obama, have acknowledged publicly that there is therefore “no military solution” to jihadism. But successive U.S. administrations have proven unable to resist the lure of military expansion and escalation at each new stage of the crisis, unleashing wars that have killed about 2 million people, plunged a dozen countries into complete chaos and exploded Wahhabi jihadism from its original safe havens in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan to countries across the world.

In 2014, as I wrote at the time, the mostly Sunni Arab people of northern and western Iraq had been tortured, terrorized and murdered by U.S.- and Iranian-backed death squads for ten years and accepted the rule of Islamic State as the lesser of two evils.

If the U.S. and its Iraqi allies now follow through with their threatened assault on Mosul, the resulting massacre will join Fallujah, Guantanamo and Obama’s drone wars as a new, powerful symbol and catalyst for the next mutation of Wahhabi jihadism, which is likely to be more globalized and unified.

But although Al Qaeda and Islamic State have proven adept at manipulating U.S. leaders into ever-escalating cycles of violence, the jihadis cannot directly order American pilots to bomb civilians. Only our leaders can do that. So our leaders bear the moral and legal responsibility for these atrocities, just as Islamic State’s leaders bear the responsibility for theirs.

Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.  He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.