Confronting Southern ‘Victimhood’

Exclusive: Many white Southerners are getting their backs up again over demands that the Confederate flag and other symbols of slavery be removed. But the core problem is that the South never admitted that slavery and then segregation were wrong, instead offering endless excuses, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Unlike the Germans after World War II who collectively shouldered blame for the Holocaust and the war’s devastation, America’s white Southerners never confessed to the evil that they had committed by enslaving African-Americans and then pushing the United States into a bloody Civil War in their defense of human bondage.

Instead of a frank admission of guilt, there have been endless excuses and obfuscations. Confederate apologists insist that slavery wasn’t really all that bad for blacks, that the North’s hands weren’t clean either, that the Civil War was really just about differing interpretations of the Constitution, that white Southerners were the real victims here from Sherman’s March to the Sea to Reconstruction. Some white Southerners still prefer to call the conflict “the war of Northern aggression.”

Indeed, Southern white “victimhood” has been at the heart of much bloodshed and suffering in the United States not only during the Civil War and the ensuing decades but through the modern era of the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s to the present bigoted hatred of the first African-American president and the coldblooded murders of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina.

Dylann Roof, the alleged perpetrator of the Charleston murders, apparently was motivated by racist propaganda that highlighted incidents of black-on-white crime and led Roof to believe that he was defending the white race, under siege from blacks, another excuse used to justify the Confederate cause.

Yet, the overriding reality has been centuries of white racist violence against blacks from the unspeakable cruelties of slavery to Jim Crow lynchings to the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders to recent police shootings targeting blacks.

Considering that grim history, what is perhaps most remarkable about white Southerners is that they as a group have never issued an unequivocal apology for their systematic abuse of African-Americans, let alone undertaken a serious commitment to make amends. Instead, many white Southerners pretend that they are the real victims here.

We see this pattern again with the white backlash against public calls from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and others to retire the Confederate battle flag and other pro-slavery symbols. This weekend, news reports revealed a rush among white Southerners to buy the flag and clothing items featuring the flag. And across the Internet, Confederate apologists rushed to reprise all the sophistry that has surrounded the pro-slavery cause for generations.

In Arlington, Virginia, I encountered some of that when I again urged the County Board to petition the state legislature in Richmond to remove the name of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from roadways that pass Arlington National Cemetery (founded to bury Union soldiers killed in the Civil War) and that skirt historic black neighborhoods in South Arlington (conveying a racist message of who’s still the boss).

Jefferson Davis’s name was put on the stretch of Route One in the early 1920s amid a surge of Confederate pride, a period of increased lynchings of blacks, a growth in Ku Klux Klan membership, and release of the movie, “Birth of a Nation,” celebrating the KKK as the brave defender of innocent whites endangered by rampaging blacks. In 1964, as a counterpoint to the Civil Rights Act, Virginia extended Jefferson Davis Highway to a roadway near Arlington Cemetery and the Pentagon.

‘Rankled’ and ‘Crazy’

A year ago when I first suggested removing Jefferson Davis’s name, the local newspaper treated my appeal as something of a joke, referring to me as “rankled” and prompting angry responses from some Arlingtonians. One hostile letter writer declared, “I am very proud of my Commonwealth’s history, but not of the current times, as I’m sure many others are.”

A top Democratic county official confronted me after a public meeting and upbraided me for raising such a divisive issue when there were more practical and immediate issues facing the county. The official said the state legislature would think Arlington County was “crazy” if it submitted a recommendation on removing Davis’s name.

However, after the Charleston massacre, I wrote to the board again: “When even South Carolina’s Republicans say it’s time to retire old symbols of the Confederacy — especially ones associated with slavery, white supremacy and violence — isn’t it time for Arlington County to petition the state legislature to rename Jefferson Davis Highway something more appropriate to our racial diversity?

“As we’ve seen tragically in recent days, symbols carry meaning. They encourage behavior, either good or bad. And, in the case of Confederate symbols, it is clear how individuals like Dylann Roof interpreted them, as a license to murder innocent black people. As for Confederate President Davis, not only was he a white supremacist who wished to perpetuate slavery forever, but he also authorized the murder of captured or surrendering black soldiers of the Union Army, an order that was acted upon in some of the final battles of the Civil War.

“There’s even an Arlington connection to some of those U.S. Colored Troops murdered based on Davis’s order. Some were trained at our own Camp Casey before marching south to fight for freedom. Some Camp Casey recruits fought in the Battle of the Crater in a desperate effort to save white Union troops who were being slaughtered in battle. However, after the fighting stopped, Confederate troops — operating under President Davis’s order — executed captured USCT soldiers.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mystery of the Civil War’s Camp Casey.”]

My letter continued: “As a longtime resident of Arlington, I have often wondered what we think we are honoring when we name a major highway after Jefferson Davis. Are we saying that we think slavery was a good idea? Are we saying that we believe in white supremacy? Are we saying that we favor murdering black people simply because of the color of their skin? What message are we sending to our children — and indeed perhaps to some troubled young people like Dylann Roof?

“Please, finally, petition the legislature to remove Davis’s name from these Arlington roadways — and keep at it even if it requires multiple efforts. It is way past time to do so.”

I have received no reply from the County Board. My guess is there will be the same timidity about riling up the Confederate defenders who will draw fury from their bottomless well of victimhood. When my letter circulated on some local message boards, it did prompt a number of hostile responses (as well as some supportive comments).

But history should tell us that a grave injustice that is not confronted that is allowed to lie dormant while its perpetrators nurse their imaginary grievances will resurface in a myriad of ugly and destructive ways. It is best, albeit difficult, to take on the injustice and demand accountability.

(Update: Sadly, some of the comments to this story only prove my point. Confederate apologists just can’t bring themselves to admit that American slavery was one of history’s great evils. Instead, they engage in endless sophistry, obfuscation, excuses and misdirection. The goal apparently is to confuse the topic and distract from the heart of the matter — that many of them still believe in slavery and white supremacy. If they don’t, why don’t they just say so.)

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). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Finessing the Iran-Sanction Issue

Despite discouraging headlines about last-minute troubles facing the nuclear deal with Iran, negotiators have devised a clever way of sidestepping the touchy issue of when Iran would get sanctions relief — by delaying the actual signing until initial steps have been taken, reports Trita Parsi.

By Trita Parsi

Contrary to public posturing on the timing and pace of sanctions relief, a framework for handling this critical matter of the nuclear deal has been resolved, according to Iranian sources.

Iranian officials have on numerous occasions insisted that sanctions relief must come immediately upon the signing of an agreement. This has been at direct odds with the position of the U.S. government and its allies, who insist that relief only can come after Iran has taken numerous steps limiting its nuclear activities.

As oftentimes is the case in diplomacy, the solution was found in a combination of a play with words and practical measures. This is exactly what the diplomats did to reconcile the Iranian insistence on front-loaded sanctions relief and the Western position of relief being provided only after the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified Iranian steps to curtail its nuclear program.

According to Iranian sources, the agreement is divided into three phases. The initial phase called “adoption of agreement” takes place as the two sides agree on a final deal. This phase will kick in over the next few days if a deal is reached.

The next phase the operationalization of the agreement will begin once the domestic political processes of various parties have conclusively approved the agreement. This phase has been added primarily as a result of the U.S. Congress passing the Corker bill, in which the American legislature gave itself the right to review and vote on the nuclear deal.

The timing of the second phase is directly related to the duration of the Congressional review process. If the two sides come to an agreement prior to July 10, the review process is set at 30 calendar days, in addition to 22 calendar days for Congress to pass a resolution to accept or reject the deal and for the President to use his veto, if need be. If the two sides fail to reach a deal by July 10, the Congressional review process increases to 60 calendar days.

While other states in the negotiations may also initiate some form of internal review and approval process, none of them are expected to take as long as the Congressional review. As such, the U.S. Congress has significantly delayed the implementation of a presumptive deal.

Once the deal has survived the Congressional review whether through a resolution of affirmation or the failure to pass a resolution of rejection the Iranians will begin implementing the first steps of their commitments. This is phase III.

The initiation of the implementation of their end of the deal must then be verified by the IAEA, after which the U.S. and its allies will begin relieving sanctions. It is at this point that the deal will be “signed,” enabling the Iranian demand for sanctions relief to occur upon signing of the deal to be upheld.

The exact timing of this schedule depends on the date the deal is adopted, the duration of the Congressional review and the time it takes for Iran to implement the first steps of the agreement. But at best it will begin a few months after the adoption of the deal. This is reflected by President Hassan Rouhani’s statement earlier in June that he expected relief from sanctions within a “couple of months” after an agreement is reached.

While agreement on these principles of the process is a very important step forward, some question marks remain. What kind of a binding commitment will the U.S. and its allies make to reciprocate Iranian implementation of the deal, as the first steps taken will be Iranian? At what point will the UN Security Council adopt a resolution that affirms the deal?

While these are important details that must be settled, it is more important that the framework for the process has been agreed upon.

Trita Parsi is the President of the National Iranian American Council and author of  A Single Roll of the Dice, Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press, 2012). [This article first appeared at HuffingtonPost.]




Turkish Voters Rebuke Erdogan

A surprise election setback for Turkish President Erdogan’s party reflected growing public resistance to his dictatorial style, his aggressive behavior toward Turkey’s neighbors and an economic downturn, as Alon Ben-Meir explains.

By Alon Ben-Meir

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s May 2013 plan to raze Gezi Park in Central Istanbul and replace it with a replica Nineteenth Century Ottoman barrack prompted anti-government protests in Istanbul and other cities across Turkey, which led to violent confrontations in which the police used disproportionate force.

Thousands of demonstrators were injured, and thousands more faced legal proceedings and lost their jobs. Some defendants were charged with terrorism offenses (many are still on trial) and many others spent up to 10 months in detention before being bailed out.

I believe that the Gezi Park incident was a historic turning point marking the beginning of the end for Erdogan’s political fortunes. What appeared to be a reaction to Erdogan’s plan was, in fact, triggered by a much deeper and long-simmering public resentment toward the Erdogan government.

The steady erosion of sociopolitical conditions, the growing restrictions on free speech, and the pervasiveness of the governing Justice and Development Party (known as AKP) created deep anxiety and fear among the general public as they witnessed the gradual transformation of their country from a democracy to a police state. There are five dimensions that demonstrate how Erdogan has badly regressed from what could have otherwise been his great legacy:

–The first is the social dimension in which, undoubtedly, Turkey made noteworthy progress between 2002 and 2010. In 2001, Turkey adopted the Accession Partnership that provided Ankara with a roadmap to bring about “democracy and the rule of law, human rights and protection of minorities” as a prerequisite for EU membership negotiations to begin.

The parliament passed several laws to protect the rights of defendants and detainees, transfer supervision of civil society organizations from the police to civil authorities, institute judicial reforms, and guarantee freedom of speech. In addition, Turkey passed laws allowing Kurdish radio broadcasts as well as providing the option for private Kurdish-language education.

But these reforms began to erode as Erdogan started to compromise on the progress that sustained his power base, all for the sake of amassing more power, while pushing ever more the Islamization of the country.

According to Human Rights Watch’s 2015 World Report, the government increasingly betrayed its principles and committed violations, including unjustified prosecutions for alleged speech crimes, the “abusive” use of terrorism charges such as “membership of an armed organization,” prolonged pretrial detention (especially of journalists, student and lawyers), and the systematic intimidation of any individual or party that objects to, or opposes, government policy, not to speak of the rampant corruption at the top.

–The second dimension is the political reform that Erdogan has embraced, including changes in Turkey’s National Security Council (NSC) regulations to reduce the military’s omnipotent power over it by increasing its number of civilian members and appointing a civilian as Secretary General, increased governmental transparency, and the abolishment of the State Security Courts.

In recent years, however, Erdogan started to freeze these political reforms and rob them of their essential purpose of developing a progressive form of democratic governance. He used a democratic façade to direct electoral authoritarianism, where politically-motivated indictments detained nearly one-third of the high military brass, and government opponents were put under house arrest on trumped-up charges of conspiring to topple the government.

–The third dimension is economic development, where the government aggressively embraced capitalism and, due to diplomatic openings in the global market (especially in the Middle East), managed to open several new markets for Turkish exports.

These efforts have accelerated economic growth to unprecedented levels in Turkey’s modern history. From the time the AKP took power in 2002, Turkey’s per capita income almost tripled by 2011, with the GDP exceeding $774 billion that year, making it the eighteenth largest economy in the world.

That said, Turkey’s economic growth has not benefited the Turkish population equitably. Tens of millions of people still suffer from economic disparity. In 2012, the Turkish economy’s growth slowed to 2.2 percent, far behind the 9 percent growth of 2010 and 2011, a downturn that has seriously eroded Erdogan’s political base.

–The fourth dimension is foreign policy, which was centered on the principle of ensuring “zero problems with neighbors” that Prime Minister DavutoÄŸlu (the then-foreign minister) espoused and worked diligently to implement.

Yet presently, the picture looks drastically different. There is hardly any neighboring country (and many others in the region) that Turkey does not have a problem with, including Armenia, Greece (over Cyprus), Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, etc.

Turkey has also strained its relations with the United States and the European Union over their differing policy toward Syria and the campaign against ISIS. The irony is that while “zero problems with neighbors” requires a savvy political and diplomatic approach to resolve problems, Erdogan largely opted for a confrontational approach.

–The fifth dimension is the growing imbalance between Islam and democracy. By all accounts, the government has gone far beyond a healthy mix of religion and democracy. Erdogan has systematically embraced religiously-oriented policies both domestically and within Turkey’s foreign relations. He favors any organization or country with strong Islamic credentials (such as Qatar and Hamas) over others, regardless of the conflicting issues involved.

Instead of striking a balance between a democratic form of government and Islam as the religion of the state, Erdogan’s deliberate abandonment of political and social reforms in favor of growing Islamic indoctrination (in contradiction to the republic’s founding principle) began to backfire. Erdogan badly underestimated the strength and popularity of Turkish secularism.

To be sure, Erdogan’s backsliding on all fronts has finally caught up with him. His successes during his first two terms seem to have blinded him. As a result, his ambition to change the constitution to grant him near-absolute power as president was overwhelmingly rejected by the electorate.

The Turkish public will do well to remember that only through the power of the ballot were they able to stifle Erdogan’s blind ambition, and by the wise use of the ballot in the future they can restore Turkey’s potential as a great democratic power and a significant player on the global stage.

Erdogan’s dream to preside as President during Turkey’s one hundredth anniversary in 2023 with near-absolute power and become the Atatürk of modern Turkey has now evaporated. His insatiable lust for power, his arrogance and his dictatorial manner in wielding authority have finally done him in.

As Shakespeare once observed, “it is excellent to have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.”

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. alon@alonben-meir.com  Web: www.alonben-meir.com




Was Turkey Behind Syria Sarin Attack?

From the Archive: Turkey’s history of “deep state” intelligence may have resurfaced in 2013, according to journalist Seymour Hersh, as Turkish-backed, Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists learned to make sarin and may have used it in Syria to trick the U.S. into joining that civil war, as Robert Parry reported in 2014.

By Robert Parry (Originally published on April 6, 2014)

In August 2013, the Obama administration lurched to the brink of invading Syria after blaming a Sarin gas attack outside Damascus on President Bashar al-Assad’s government, but new evidence reported by investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh implicates Turkish intelligence and extremist Syrian rebels instead.

The significance of Hersh’s report was twofold: first, it showed how Official Washington’s hawks and neocons almost stampeded the United States into another Mideast war under false pretenses, and second, the story’s publication in the London Review of Books revealed how hostile the mainstream U.S. media had become toward information that didn’t comport with its neocon-dominated conventional wisdom.

In other words, it appears that Official Washington and its mainstream press had absorbed few lessons from the disastrous Iraq War, which was launched in 2003 under the false claim that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was planning to share hidden stockpiles of WMD with al-Qaeda, when there was no WMD nor any association between Hussein and al-Qaeda.

A decade later in August and September 2013, as a new war hysteria broke out over Assad allegedly crossing President Barack Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons, it fell to a few Internet sites, including our own Consortiumnews.com, to raise questions about the administration’s allegations that pinned the Aug. 21 attack on the Syrian government.

Not only did the U.S. government fail to provide a single piece of verifiable evidence to support its claims, a much-touted “vector analysis” by Human Rights Watch and The New York Times supposedly tracing the flight paths of two rockets back to a Syrian military base northwest of Damascus collapsed when it became clear that only one rocket carried Sarin and its range was less than one-third the distance between the army base and the point of impact. That meant the rocket carrying the Sarin appeared to have originated in rebel territory.

There were other reasons to doubt the Obama administration’s casus belli, including the irrationality of Assad ordering a chemical weapons strike outside Damascus just as United Nations inspectors were unpacking at a local hotel with plans to investigate an earlier attack that the Syrian government blamed on the rebels.

Assad would have known that a chemical attack would have diverted the inspectors (as it did) and would force President Obama to declare that his “red line” had been crossed, possibly prompting a massive U.S. retaliatory strike (as it almost did).

Plans for War

Hersh’s article describes how devastating the U.S. aerial bombardment was supposed to be, seeking to destroy Assad’s military capability, which, in turn, could have cleared the way to victory for the Syrian rebels, whose fortunes had been declining.

Hersh wrote: “Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed.

“‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’

“The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.”

According to Hersh, the administration’s war plans were disrupted by U.S. and British intelligence analysts who uncovered evidence that the Sarin was likely not released by the Assad government and indications that Turkey’s intelligence services may have collaborated with radical rebels to deploy the Sarin as a false-flag operation.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep ErdoÄŸan sided with the Syrian opposition early in the civil conflict and provided a vital supply line to al-Nusra Front, a violent group of Sunni extremists with ties to al-Qaeda and increasingly the dominant rebel fighting force. By 2012, however, internecine conflicts among rebel factions had contributed to Assad’s forces gaining the upper hand.

The role of Islamic radicals and the fear that advanced U.S. weapons might end up in the hands of al-Qaeda terrorists unnerved President Obama who pulled back on U.S. covert support for the rebels. That frustrated ErdoÄŸan who pressed Obama to expand U.S. involvement, according to Hersh’s account.

Hersh wrote: “By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘ErdoÄŸan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the [U.S] cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’”

‘Red Line’ Worries

Recognizing Obama’s political sensitivity over his “red line” pledge, the Turkish government and Syrian rebels saw chemical weapons as the way to force the President’s hand, Hersh reported, writing:

“In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability.

“‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. ErdoÄŸan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. ErdoÄŸan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond [to small chemical weapons attacks] in March and April.’”

The dispute between ErdoÄŸan and Obama came to a head at a White House meeting on May 16, 2013, when ErdoÄŸan unsuccessfully lobbied for a broader U.S. military commitment to the rebels, Hersh reported.

Three months later, in the early hours of Aug. 21, a mysterious missile delivered a lethal load of Sarin into a suburb east of Damascus. The Obama administration and the mainstream U.S. press corps immediately jumped to the conclusion that the Syrian government had launched the attack, which the U.S. government claimed killed at least “1,429” people although the number of victims cited by doctors and other witnesses on the scene was much lower.

Yet, with the media stampede underway, anyone who questioned the U.S. government’s case was trampled under charges of being an “Assad apologist.” But we few skeptics continued to point out the lack of evidence to support the rush to war. Obama also encountered political resistance in both the British Parliament and U.S. Congress, but hawks in the U.S. State Department were itching for a new war.

Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a bellicose speech on Aug. 30, amid expectations that the U.S. bombs would start flying within days. But Obama hesitated, first referring the war issue to Congress and later accepting a compromise brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin to have Assad surrender all of his chemical weapons even as Assad continued denying any role in the Aug. 21 attacks.

Obama took the deal but continued asserting publicly that Assad was guilty and disparaging anyone who thought otherwise. In a formal address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2013, Obama declared, “It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.”

Suspicions of Turkey

However, by autumn 2013, U.S. intelligence analysts were among those who had joined in the “insult to human reason” as their doubts about Assad’s guilt grew. Hersh cited an ex-intelligence official saying: “the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’

“As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by ErdoÄŸan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular.

“’Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’

“Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’”

According to the thinking of Turkish intelligence, Hersh reported, “ErdoÄŸan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’”

Hersh added that the U.S. intelligence community has been reluctant to pass on to Obama the information contradicting the Assad-did-it scenario. Hersh wrote:

“The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame ErdoÄŸan.’”

Like the bloody U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the near U.S. air war against Syria in 2013 is a cautionary tale for Americans regarding the dangers that result when the U.S. government and mainstream media dance off hand in hand, leaping to conclusions and laughing at doubters.

The key difference between the war in Iraq and the averted war on Syria was that President Obama was not as eager as his predecessor, George W. Bush, to dress himself up as a “war president.” Another factor was that Obama had the timely assistance of Russian President Putin to chart a course that skirted the abyss.

Given how close the U.S. neocons came to maneuvering a reluctant Obama into another “regime change” war on a Mideast adversary of Israel, you can understand why they are so angry with Putin and why they were so eager to hit back at him in Ukraine. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.”]

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). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




On the Trail of Turkey’s Terrorist Grey Wolves

From the Archive: Turkey, as a NATO country near Russia’s border, developed a powerful “deep state” where intelligence operatives, terrorists and gangsters crossed paths and shared political alliances, a grim reality that author Martin A. Lee explored in 1997 and a dark legacy that reaches to the present.

By Martin A. Lee (Originally published in 1997)

In broad daylight on May 2, 1997, 50 armed men set upon a television station in Istanbul with gunfire. The attackers unleashed a fusillade of bullets and shouted slogans supporting Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Tansu Ciller. The gunmen were outraged over the station’s broadcast of a TV report critical of Ciller, a close U.S. ally who had come under criticism for stonewalling investigations into collusion between state security forces and Turkish criminal elements.

Miraculously, no one was injured in the attack, but the headquarters of Independent Flash TV were left pock-marked with bullet-holes and smashed windows. The gunfire also sent an unmistakable message to Turkish journalists and legislators: don’t challenge Ciller and other high-level Turkish officials when they cover up state secrets.

For several months, Turkey had been awash in dramatic disclosures connecting high Turkish officials to the right-wing Grey Wolves, the terrorist band which has preyed on the region for years. In 1981, a terrorist from the Grey Wolves attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in Vatican City.

But at the center of the mushrooming Turkish scandal is whether Turkey, a strategically placed NATO country, allowed mafiosi and right-wing extremists to operate death squads and to smuggle drugs with impunity. A Turkish parliamentary commission is investigating these new charges.

The rupture of state secrets in Turkey also could release clues to other major Cold War mysteries. Besides the attempted papal assassination, the Turkish disclosures could shed light on the collapse of the Vatican bank in 1982 and the operation of a clandestine pipeline that pumped sophisticated military hardware into the Middle East — apparently from NATO stockpiles in Europe — in exchange for heroin sold by the Mafia in the United States.

The official Turkish inquiry was triggered by what could have been the opening scene of a spy novel: a dramatic car crash on a remote highway near the village of Susurluk, 100 miles southwest of Istanbul. On Nov. 3, 1996, three people were crushed to death when their speeding black Mercedes hit a tractor and overturned.

The crash killed Husseyin Kocadag, a top police official who commanded Turkish counter-insurgency units. But it was Kocadag’s company that stunned the nation. The two other dead were Abdullah Catli, a convicted fugitive who was wanted for drug trafficking and murder, and Catli’s girlfriend, Gonca Us, a Turkish beauty queen turned mafia hit-woman.

A fourth occupant, who survived the crash, was Kurdish warlord Sedat Bucak, whose militia had been armed and financed by the Turkish government to fight Kurdish separatists. At first, Turkish officials claimed that the police were transporting two captured criminals.

But evidence seized at the crash site indicated that Abdullah Catli, the fugitive gangster, had been given special diplomatic credentials by Turkish authorities. Catli was carrying a government-approved weapons permit and six ID cards, each with a different name. Catli also possessed several handguns, silencers and a cache of narcotics, not the picture of a subdued criminal.

When it became obvious that Catli was a police collaborator, not a captive, the Turkish Interior Minister resigned. Several high-ranking law enforcement officers, including Istanbul’s police chief, were suspended. But the red-hot scandal soon threatened to jump that bureaucratic firebreak and endanger the careers of other senior government officials.

Grey Wolves Terror

The news of Catli’s secret police ties were all the more scandalous given his well-known role as a key leader of the Grey Wolves, a neo-fascist terrorist group that has stalked Turkey since the late 1960s.

A young tough who wore black leather pants and looked like Turkey’s answer to Elvis Presley, Catli graduated from street gang violence to become a brutal enforcer for the Grey Wolves. He rose quickly within their ranks, emerging as second-in-command in 1978. That year, Turkish police linked him to the murder of seven trade-union activists and Catli went underground.

Three years later, the Grey Wolves gained international notoriety when Mehmet Ali Agca, one of Catli’s closest collaborators, shot and nearly killed Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. Catli was the leader of a fugitive terrorist cell that included Agca and a handful of other Turkish neo-fascists.

Testifying in September 1985 as a witness at the trial of three Bulgarians and four Turks charged with complicity in the papal shooting in Rome, Catli (who was not a defendant) disclosed that he gave Agca the pistol that wounded the pontiff. Catli had previously helped Agca escape from a Turkish jail, where Agca was serving time for killing a national newspaper editor.

In addition to harboring Agca, Catli supplied him with fake IDs and directed Agca’s movements in West Germany, Switzerland, and Austria for several months prior to the papal attack. Catli enjoyed close links to Turkish drug mafiosi, too. His Grey Wolves henchmen worked as couriers for the Turkish mob boss Abuzer Ugurlu.

At Ugurlu’s behest, Catli’s thugs criss-crossed the infamous smugglers’ route passing through Bulgaria. Those routes were the ones favored by smugglers who reportedly carried NATO military equipment to the Middle East and returned with loads of heroin. Judge Carlo Palermo, an Italian magistrate based in Trento, discovered these smuggling operations while investigating arms-and-drug trafficking from Eastern Europe to Sicily.

Palermo disclosed that large quantities of sophisticated NATO weaponry — including machine guns, Leopard tanks and U.S.-built Cobra assault helicopters — were smuggled from Western Europe to countries in the Middle East during the 1970s and early 1980s. According to Palermo’s investigation, the weapon delivers were often made in exchange for consignments of heroin that filtered back, courtesy of the Grey Wolves and other smugglers, through Bulgaria to northern Italy.

There, the drugs were received by Mafia middlemen and transported to North America. Turkish morphine base supplied much of the Sicilian-run “Pizza connection,” which flooded the U.S. and Europe with high-grade heroin for several years.

[While it is still not clear how the NATO supplies entered the pipeline, other investigations have provided some clues. Witnesses in the October Surprise inquiry into an alleged Republican-Iranian hostage deal in 1980 claimed that they were allowed to select weapons from NATO stockpiles in Europe for shipment to Iran.

[Iranian arms dealer Houshang Lavi claimed that he selected spare parts for Hawk anti-aircraft batteries from NATO bases along the Belgian-German border. Another witness, American arms broker William Herrmann, corroborated Lavi’s account of NATO supplies going to Iran.

[Even former NATO commander Alexander Haig confirmed that NATO supplies could have gone to Iran in the early 1980s while he was secretary of state. “It wouldn’t be preposterous if a nation, Germany, for example, decided to let some of their NATO stockpiles be diverted to Iran,” Haig said in an interview. For more details, see Robert Parry’s Trick or Treason. ]

 

A Vatican Mystery

Italian magistrates described the network they had uncovered as the “world’s biggest illegal arms trafficking organization.” They linked it to Middle Eastern drug empires and to prestigious banking circles in Italy and Europe.

At the center of this operation, it appeared, was an obscure import-export firm in Milan called Stibam International Transport. The head of Stibam, a Syrian businessman named Henri Arsan, also functioned as an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, according to several Italian news outlets.

With satellite offices in New York, London, Zurich, and Sofia, Bulgaria, Stibam officials recycled their profits through Banco Ambrosiano, Italy’s largest private bank which had close ties to the Vatican until its sensational collapse in 1982. The collapse of Banco Ambrosiano came on the heels of the still unsolved death of its furtive president, Roberto Calvi, whose body was found hanging underneath Blackfriar’s Bridge in London in June 1982.

While running Ambrosiano, Calvi, nicknamed “God’s banker,” served as advisor to the Vatican’s extensive fiscal portfolio. At the same time in the mid- and late 1970s, Calvi’s bank handled most of Stibam’s foreign currency transactions and owned the building that housed Stibam’s Milanese headquarters.

In effect, the Vatican Bank — by virtue of its interlocking relationship with Banco Ambrosiano — was fronting for a gigantic contraband operation that specialized in guns and heroin. The bristling contraband operation that traversed Bulgaria was a magnet for secret service agents on both sides of the Cold War divide.

Crucial, in this regard, was the role of Kintex, a Sofia-based, state-controlled import-export firm that worked in tandem with Stibam and figured prominently in the arms trade. Kintex was riddled with Bulgarian and Soviet spies — a fact which encouraged speculation that the KGB and its Bulgarian proxies were behind the plot against the pope.

But Western intelligence also had its hooks into the Bulgarian smuggling scene, as evidenced by the CIA’s use of Kintex to channel weapons to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels in the early 1980s. The Reagan administration jumped on the papal assassination attempt as a propaganda opportunity, rather than helping to unravel the larger mystery.

Although the CIA’s link to the arms-for-drugs traffic in Bulgaria was widely known in espionage circles, hard-line U.S. and Western European officials promoted instead a bogus conspiracy theory that blamed the papal shooting on a communist plot.

The so-called “Bulgarian connection” became one of the more effective disinformation schemes hatched during the Reagan era. It reinforced the notion of the Soviet Union as an evil empire. But the apparent hoax also diverted attention from extensive — and potentially embarrassing — ties between U.S. intelligence and the Turkey’s narco-trafficking ultra-right.

Fabrication of the conspiracy theory might have even involved suborning perjury. During his September 1985 court testimony in Rome, Catli asserted that he had been approached by the West German BND spy organization, which allegedly promised him a large sum of money if he implicated the Bulgarian secret service and the KGB in the attempt on the pope’s life.

Five years later, ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman disclosed that his colleagues, under pressure from CIA higher-ups, skewed their reports to try to lend credence to the contention that the Soviets were involved. “The CIA had no evidence linking the KGB to the plot,” Goodman told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Friends of the Wolves

Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, the CIA station chief in Rome at the time of the papal shooting, had previously been posted in Ankara. Clarridge was the CIA’s man-on-the-spot in Turkey in the 1970s when armed bands of Grey Wolves unleashed a wave of bomb attacks and shootings that killed thousands of people, including public officials, journalists, students, lawyers, labor organizers, social democrats, left-wing activists and ethnic Kurds. [In his 1997 memoirs, A Spy for All Seasons, Clarridge makes no reference to the Turkish unrest or to the pope shooting.]

During those violent 1970s, the Grey Wolves operated with the encouragement and protection of the Counter-Guerrilla Organization, a section of the Turkish Army’s Special Warfare Department. Headquartered in the U.S. Military Aid Mission building in Ankara, the Special Warfare Department received funds and training from U.S. advisors to create “stay behind” squads comprised of civilian irregulars.

They were supposed to go underground and engage in acts of sabotage if the Soviets invaded. Similar Cold War paramilitary units were established in every NATO member state, covering all non-Communist Europe like a spider web that would entangle Soviet invaders. But instead of preparing for foreign enemies, U.S.-sponsored stay-behind operatives in Turkey and several European countries used their skills to attack domestic opponents and foment violent disorders.

Some of those attacks were intended to spark right-wing military coups. In the late 1970s, former military prosecutor and Turkish Supreme Court Justice Emin Deger documented collaboration between the Grey Wolves and the government’s counter-guerrilla forces as well as the close ties of the latter to the CIA.

Turkey’s Counter-Guerrilla Organization handed out weapons to the Grey Wolves and other right-wing terrorist groups. These shadowy operations mainly engaged in the surveillance, persecution and torture of Turkish leftists, according to retired army commander Talat Turhan, the author of three books on counter-guerrilla activities in Turkey.

But the extremists launched one wave of political violence which provoked a 1980 coup by state security forces that deposed Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. The Turkish security forces cited the need to restore order which had been shattered by rightist terrorist groups secretly sponsored by those same state security forces.

Cold War Roots

Since the earliest days of the Cold War, Turkey’s strategic importance derived from its geographic position as the West’s easternmost bulwark against Soviet communism. In an effort to weaken the Soviet state, the CIA also used pan-Turkish militants to incite anti-Soviet passions among Muslim Turkish minorities inside the Soviet Union, a strategy that strengthened ties between U.S. intelligence and Turkey’s ultra-nationalists.

Though many of Turkish ultra-nationalists were anti-Western as well as anti-Soviet, the Cold War realpolitik compelled them to support a discrete alliance with NATO and U.S. intelligence. Among the Turkish extremists collaborating in this anti-Soviet strategy were the National Action Party and its paramilitary youth group, the Grey Wolves.

Led by Colonel Alpaslan Turkes, the National Action Party espoused a fanatical pan-Turkish ideology that called for reclaiming large sections of the Soviet Union under the flag of a reborn Turkish empire. Turkes and his revanchist cohorts had been enthusiastic supporters of Hitler during World War II.

“The Turkish race above all others” was their Nazi-like credo. In a similar vein, Grey Wolf literature warned of a vast Jewish-Masonic-Communist conspiracy and its newspapers carried ads for Turkish translations of Nazi texts.

The pan-Turkish dream and its anti-Soviet component also fueled ties between the Grey Wolves and the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN), a CIA-backed coalition led by erstwhile fascist collaborators from East Europe.

Ruzi Nazar, a leading figure in the Munich-based ABN, had a long-standing relationship with the CIA and the Turkish ultra-nationalists. In the 1950s and 1960s, Nazar was employed by Radio Free Europe, a CIA-founded propaganda effort.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the shifting geopolitical terrain created new opportunities — political and financial — for Colonel Turkes and his pan-Turkish crusaders. After serving a truncated prison term in the 1980s for his role in masterminding the political violence that convulsed Turkey, Turkes and several of his pan-Turkish colleagues were permitted to resume their political activities.

In 1992, the colonel visited his long lost Turkish brothers in newly independent Azerbaijan and received a hero’s welcome. In Baku, Turkes endorsed the candidacy of Grey Wolf sympathizer Abulfex Elcibey, who was subsequently elected president of Azerbaijan and appointed a close Grey Wolf ally as his Interior Minister.

The Gang Returns

By this time, Abdullah Catli was also back in circulation after several years of incarceration in France and Switzerland for heroin trafficking. In 1990, he escaped from a Swiss jail cell and rejoined the neo-fascist underground in Turkey.

Despite his documented links to the papal shooting and other terrorist attacks, Catli was pressed into service as a death squad organizer for the Turkish government’s dirty war against the Kurds who have long struggled for independence inside both Turkey and Iraq.

Turkish Army spokesmen acknowledged that the Counter-Guerrilla Organization (renamed the Special Forces Command in 1992) was involved in the escalating anti-Kurdish campaign. Turkey got a wink and a nod from Washington as a quid pro quo for cooperating with the United States during the Gulf War.

Turkish jets bombed Kurdish bases inside Iraqi territory. Meanwhile, on the ground, anti-Kurdish death squads were assassinating more than 1,000 non-combatants in southeastern Turkey. Hundreds of other Kurds “disappeared” while in police custody. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the European Parliament all condemned the Turkish security forces for these abuses.

Still, there was no hard evidence that Turkey’s security forces had recruited criminal elements as foot soldiers. That evidence surfaced only on Nov. 3, 1996, when Catli died in the fateful auto accident near Susurluk.

Strewn amidst the roadside wreckage was proof of what many journalists and human rights activists had long suspected — that successive Turkish governments had protected narco-traffickers, sheltered terrorists and sponsored gangs of killers to suppress Turkish dissidents and Kurdish rebels.

Colonel Turkes confirmed that Catli had performed clandestine duties for Turkey’s police and military. “On the basis of my state experience, I admit that Catli has been used by the state,” said Turkes. Catli had been cooperating “in the framework of a secret service working for the good of the state,” Turkes insisted.

U.S.-backed Turkish officials, including Tansu Ciller, Prime Minister from 1993-1996, also defended Catli after the car crash. “I don’t know whether he is guilty or not,” Ciller stated, “but we will always respectfully remember those who fire bullets or suffer wounds in the name of this country, this nation and this state.”

Eighty members of the Turkish parliament urged the federal prosecutor to file charges of criminal misconduct against Ciller, who was serving as Turkey’s Foreign Minister, as well as Deputy Prime Minister. They asserted that the Susurluk incident provided Turkey “with a historic opportunity to expose unsolved murders and the drugs and arms smuggling that have been going on in our country for years.”

The scandal momentarily reinvigorated the Turkish press, which unearthed revelations about criminals and police officials involved in the heroin trade. But journalists also were victims of death squads in those years. The violent attack on Independent Flash TV was a reminder. Prosecutors have faced pressure, too, from superiors who are not eager to delve into state secrets. [Ultimately, the corruption case against Ciller was covered up.]

Across the Atlantic in Washington, the U.S. government did not acknowledge any responsibility for the Turkish Frankenstein that U.S. Cold War strategy helped to create. When asked about the Susurluk affair, a State Department spokesperson said it was “an internal Turkish matter.” He declined further comment.

Martin A. Lee is the author of a book on neo-fascism, The Beast Reawakens.




Neocons Urge Embrace of Al Qaeda

Exclusive: The latest neocon gambit is to build support for “regime change” in Syria by downplaying the evils of Al Qaeda, rebranding it as some sort of “moderate” terrorist force whose Syrian affiliate is acceptable to Israel and supported by Saudi Arabia. But this audacious argument ignores reality, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

Just nine days after the fall of the World Trade Center, George W. Bush announced that he was imposing a radical new policy on virtually the entire globe: “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”

As dramatic as the statement was, just about every phrase was open to question in one form or another.  But rather than launching into a long and vigorous debate about the meaning of terrorism or America’s right to impose diktat on the world at large, congressmen turned their minds off and gave Bush a standing ovation.

Today, the same Bush Doctrine is sinking beneath the waves as a growing portion of the punditocracy declares that some forms of terrorism are better than others and that harboring a terrorist may not be so bad if it advances U.S. interests. But once again, the response is not questioning, debate, or even applause, but silence.

The latest evidence of a sea change in establishment thinking is a blog that Ahmed Rashid, a prominent Middle East correspondent, recently published on The New York Review of Books website. Entitled “Why We Need al-Qaeda,” it argues that Al Qaeda and its Syrian affiliate, Al Nusra, are evolving in a more moderate direction in growing contrast to its rival, the super-violent Islamic State. So why not use Al Nusra as a counterforce against both Bashar al-Assad and ISIS?

As Rashid puts it: “Unlike ISIS, which demands absolute subjugation of the inhabitants of any territory it conquers (surrender or be executed), al-Nusra is cooperating with other anti-Assad groups and recently joined the ‘Army of Conquest’ alliance of rebel militias in northern Syria. Moreover, in contrast to ISIS’s
largely international and non-Syrian fighting force, al-Nusra’s fighters are almost wholly Syrian, making them both more reliable and more committed to Syria’s future.

“Meanwhile, in interviews with Al Jazeera, al-Nusra leaders have vowed not to attack
targets in the West, promoting an ideology that might be called ‘nationalist jihadism’ rather than global jihad. In recent months, al-Nusra’s leaders
have toned down the implementation of their own brutal version of Islamic law, while putting on hold their own plans of building a caliphate.”

Thus, according to Rashid’s viewpoint, Al Nusra is cooperative, patriotic, unthreatening to anyone other than Assad, and in favor of a kinder and gentler form of shari‘a as well. Yet, Rashid argues, that while Turkey and the Arab gulf states recognize that change is afoot, the U.S. keeps its eyes resolutely shut:

“With 230,000 killed and 7.6 million people uprooted in Syria alone, the Arab states want a quick end to the Assad regime and a viable solution for Syria. They know that solution will never come from the weak moderate opposition, and that
any lasting peace will require support by the strong and ruthless Islamist
groups fighting there.”

Gulf States’ Favorite

So the gulf states are backing the second most ruthless Islamist group in Syria (Al Qaeda’s affiliate) in hopes of offsetting the first most ruthless (ISIS) and making short work of the Baathist regime in Damascus. But as Arab leaders prepare for direct negotiations with Al Nusra, Rashid warns, “the only one not at the table could be the
United States.”

This is dramatic stuff. After all, Rashid is not taking aim at some minor doctrine, but one that has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy since 9/11. Moreover, he’s not the only one talking this way. Since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew to Riyadh in early March to meet with Saudi King Salman and discuss ways of upping support for the Syrian Islamist opposition, there has been a veritable boomlet in terms of calls for a rapprochement with Al Qaeda.

Within days of the Riyadh get-together, Foreign Affairs went public with an article arguing that even though “the United States is the closest it has ever been to destroying al Qaeda, its interests would be better served by keeping the terrorist organization afloat.” Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, wrote a few weeks later that “while not everyone likes Nusra’s ideology, there is a growing sense in the north of Syria that it is the best alternative on the ground and that ideology is a small price to pay for higher returns.”

Charles Lister of the Brookings Institute’s Doha Center, wrote that Al Nusra is undergoing a “moderating shift.” Frederic Hof, Obama’s former envoy to the Syrian guerrillas and now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said the group has become “a real magnet for young Syrian fighters who don’t have any particular jihadist or even radical sectarian agenda.” They are drawn to Al Nusra, he explained, for two reasons because it’s “well-resourced” and because it “seems to have been willing to fight the regime and not to engage in some of the corrupt activities and warlordism that you would find elsewhere within the panoply of Syrian opposition.”

So, Rashid’s views are hardly unique. Nonetheless, they’re the most explicit and upfront to date, an indication that support for an alliance with Al Qaeda is on the upswing and that advocates are growing bolder and more self-confident. So how should ordinary people who are not part of the elite foreign-policy discussion respond?

One-Sided Arguments

For one thing, they might notice that such articles are remarkably one-sided and poorly reasoned. Rashid may be “one of Pakistan’s most respected journalists,” as the BBC puts it, someone whose work has appeared in such publications as the Daily Telegraph and the Far Eastern Economic Review. Yet shooting holes through his arguments is child’s play.

Take his claim that “al-Nusra’s leaders have toned down the implementation of their own brutal version of Islamic law.” Whatever the difference between Al Nusra and ISIS on this score, it’s less impressive than Rashid lets on.

The Soufan Group, a New York-based security firm headed by a Lebanese-American ex-FBI agent named Ali H. Soufan, notes, for instance, that while Islamic State released a video in January showing its forces stoning an accused adulteress, Al Nusra released one around the same time showing its forces shooting two women for the same alleged offense. Since the victims in either case were killed, the difference, as the Soufan Group noted, was purely “stylistic.”

Rashid claims that Al Nusra is less extreme in its hostility to Shi‘ism, in part because it thinks “anti-Shia fanaticism” is backfiring and becoming “an impediment to gaining more territory.” Indeed, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, Al Nusra’s commander-in-chief, told Al Jazeera in a rare interview on May 27 that his forces were willing to welcome Alawites, as Syria’s Shi‘ites are known, back into the fold.

“If they drop weapons,” al-Julani said, “disavow Assad, do not send their men to fight for him and return to Islam, then they are our brothers.” But when he described Alawism as a sect that has “moved outside the religion of God and of Islam,” the meaning became clear: Alawite must either convert or die.

Whether this makes Al Nusra less genocidal than ISIS is open to debate. According to the pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, Al Nusra recently massacred more than 20 Druze villagers in northwestern Syria reportedly after a local commander denounced them as kuffar, or infidels, while al-Julani, in his Al Jazeera interview, specified that Christians must pay the jizya, a special head tax imposed by Islamic law, as well a stipulation Syria’s ten-percent Christian minority is not likely to find very reassuring.

Ordinary people viewing this from afar might notice that the government that al-Julani is seeking to overthrow is officially secular and non-discriminatory and that even Obama has conceded that it has “protected the Christians in Syria,” as he told a Syrian Christian delegation last September. They might also notice that Rashid’s article is in other respects highly revealing, although not in ways he cares to admit.

For instance, Rashid writes that U.S. policy in the Middle East is beset by “growing contradictions.” This is obviously correct. But the problem is not that Washington refuses to face facts about Al Nusra’s alleged moderating trend, but that the U.S. is attempting to hammer out an accord with Iran while struggling to preserve its alliance with Israel and the Arab gulf states, all of whom regard Iran as public enemy number one.

Obama’s Fence Straddling

The effort has led to monumental fence straddling. While entering into talks with Iran, the Obama administration has given the go-ahead to Saudi Arabia’s two-month-old assault on Iranian-allied forces in Yemen while turning a blind eye to growing Turkish and Saudi support for anti-Iranian terrorists in Syria.

While paying lip service to the Bush Doctrine that he who harbors a terrorist is as bad as a terrorist, the Obama administration made no objection when the Saudis and Turks donated U.S.-made TOW missiles to Al Nusra-led forces in northern Syria or when the Saudi bombing campaign allowed Al Qaeda to expand in Yemen.

It’s a mixed-up policy that has people in the Middle East shaking their heads. Yet Rashid adds to the confusion by misrepresenting the Saudi role. He writes, for instance, that the Arab States are swinging behind Al Nusra because they “want a quick end to the Assad regime and a viable solution for Syria,” when, in fact, Saudi Wahhabists have sought from the start to impose a government much like their own, as a report by U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency observed back in August 2012.

Rather than “viable,” such a government would be precisely the opposite for a highly variegated society like Syria with its large Christian, Shi‘ite, and Druze minorities fearful of Sunni fundamentalist domination yet the gulf states, backed by the U.S., have pushed on regardless.

On the issue of Al Qaeda’s brutal intolerance, Rashid adds, “For Arab leaders, determining whether al-Qaeda has really changed
will depend on the group’s long-term attitude toward Shias,” suggesting that the gulf states are seeking a fairer outcome for Syria’s Alawites.

Saudi Intolerance

But this is misleading as well since Saudi attitudes toward the kingdom’s own 15-percent Shi‘ite minority are deeply oppressive and seem to be getting worse.

According to the Cambridge scholar Toby Matthiesen, for example, Saudi Shi‘ites are barred from the army and the National Guard as well as the top rungs of the government.  State-mandated schoolbooks denounce them as “rejectionists,” while, according to the independent scholar Mai Yamani, they cannot testify in court or marry a Sunni and must put up with abuse from Wahhabist clerics who regularly preach that killing a Shi‘ite merits a greater heavenly reward than killing a Christian or a Jew.

Since Salman’s accession in late January, there is no sign of a softening. Indeed, by bombing Yemen’s Shi‘ite Houthi rebels and stepping up support for fanatically anti-Shi‘ite rebels in Syria, Salman gives every indication of intensifying his anti-Shi‘ite crusade and taking it abroad.

Neocons pushing for an explicit alliance with Al Nusra are thus attempting to plunge the U.S. ever more deeply into a growing sectarian war. Ordinary people might also notice that such “experts” expound their views from cushy posts financed by Qatar (the case with Brookings’ Doha Center) or by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain (the case with the Atlantic Council).

Yet Congress doesn’t care about such conflicts of interest and the White House is too intimidated to speak out, while the American people at large are not consulted. Questioning and debate are more imperative than ever, yet they are as absent as they were back in 2001.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Climbing into Bed with Al-Qaeda.”]

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




Selective Outrage on ‘Terrorism’

America’s view of “terrorism” is distorted by politics and bias, with intense hostility toward the Islamic variety but with much more tolerance of other forms, such as Cuban “anti-communist” violence and right-wing extremist murders, as underscored by a new study examined by ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Many misconceptions about terrorism prevail among the American public. Occasionally one of these misconceptions gets challenged when hard data conveying a different picture become available. This is true of a recent New America study showing that most of the deaths in the United States from terrorist attacks since September 2001 have been perpetrated not by jihadists or other radical Muslims but instead by white supremacists, antigovernment activists, and other non-Muslim extremists.

The discrepancy between such findings and prevalent American beliefs about terrorism can be glaring enough for the discrepancy to become literally a front-page story. But even that sort of attention is insufficient to kill prevailing beliefs, in this case, the belief that terrorism and specifically terrorism that threatens Americans is overwhelmingly a radical Muslim thing.

Information similar to that in the New America study has been around for some time; a survey of law enforcement agencies, for example, yielded similar data. The recent multiple killings by a white supremacist in a predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina, has led some to raise a closely related issue of what tends to get called terrorism and what doesn’t. But this incident is another attention-grabbing event that seems again unlikely to overturn the popular notions of who most terrorists are and what they believe.

The misconceptions have multiple roots. The experience of 9/11 unquestionably has been very important in shaping American beliefs. That one event was so salient and traumatic that it has fostered a host of other misconceptions, such as the notion that significant terrorist threats to the United States all began on that one day 14 years ago.

The attitude-shaping effect of 9/11 rested atop longer-standing American ways of perceiving threats to American security, based in large part on the wars of the Twentieth Century. Americans tend to see the biggest threats to their security coming from alien entities abroad. Jihadist groups based in the Middle East are among the latest such entities to fill this role.

The “war on terror” vocabulary prevalent after 9/11 exacerbated these tendencies. The concept of warring against a tactic never made sense. Making war against al-Qaeda, the perpetrator of 9/11, made more conceptual sense, but it had the further disadvantage of equating, in American minds, terrorism with this one foreign group (a conflation that persisted past the Bush administration and into the Obama administration).

Islamophobia is certainly another factor, despite a widespread reluctance to admit that it is. The dynamic involved is a simple, crude tendency, based on religious and ethnic identities, to be more likely to see threats and evil coming from people with identities different from one’s own. Islamophobia is a significant reality in a predominantly Judeo-Christian America.

Political biases rooted in other interests have been factors as well, including in the tendency to downplay the right-wing extremist threats that the New America study showed to be the source of most terrorist attacks on Americans.

In his New York Times article on the study, Scott Shane recalls the episode several years ago in which criticism from conservatives led the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw a report that highlighted a prospective threat of violence from white supremacists during Barack Obama’s presidency, a threat of which the Charleston killings turned out to be one manifestation.

Then there were the hearings of the House homeland security committee that were ostensibly about terrorist threats to the homeland but focused entirely on radical Islamism. The committee chairman who specified that scope for the hearings, Rep. Peter King, R-New York, had earlier shown that he had no problem at all with terrorism of the Irish nationalist variety.

The practical and policy consequences of these distortions in thinking about terrorism go beyond Americans not realizing where the greatest threats to their safety come from and extend to foreign policy.

The so-called Islamic State or ISIS has displaced Al-Qaeda as the radical Islamist threat du jour in American minds, and this has shifted the whole discourse about policy toward the countries in which ISIS operates in a direction that would not be justified without the mistaken pattern of thinking about terrorist threats to the United States.

It is a discourse in which the liberal columnist Richard Cohen, for example, avers that “if the Islamic State survives, the entity that would emerge would more than likely bring the war home to the United States…” That sounds eerily like the “we’ll have to fight them over there or else we will fight them here” framing that has gotten the United States into trouble overseas before.

The equation of terrorism with foreign entities and the intrusion of other political motives means that states are highlighted as sources of terrorism, but only some states: ones that are disliked for other reasons and do not have political support for getting a pass.

That is why the official U.S. list of state sponsors has never come close to being an accurate reflection of where sources of active terrorism are to be found. It also is why, with politically strong elements opposing any business with Iran, the theme of Iranian terrorism gets constantly invoked even though the most unambiguous terrorist attacks that Iran has been involved with in recent years have been attempted tit-for-tat reprisals for terrorist attacks that others — who get a pass — have inflicted on Iran.

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.)




Shaking Off the Symbols of Racism

A century and a half after the Civil War, many U.S. politicians still pander to Confederate sympathizers and hesitate to object to the South’s racist symbols, an attitude shaken by the murders of nine African-Americans in a Charleston church, as William Loren Katz describes.

By William Loren Katz

The Confederate flag represents a threat to citizens of color, a symbol of treason against the United States, and a war fought on behalf of slaveholders.

But there are other equally offensive symbols that have not attracted the attention they should. For example, a statue of former South Carolina governor and U.S. Sen. Ben Tillman stands in the state Capitol though Tillman was an advocate of lynching.

Tillman entered politics in 1875-1876, just before the end of Reconstruction, directing a mob called “The Red Shirts,” in a massacre in Hamburg, South Carolina. As Tillman himself would later put it, “The leading white men of Edgefield” had decided “to seize the first opportunity that the Negroes might offer them to provoke a riot and teach the Negroes a lesson” by “having the whites demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them as was justifiable.”

Tillman was still around in 1907, regaling fellow senators with racial tirades: “I would lead a mob to lynch the brute who had ravished a woman.” He identified the brute as “negroes . . . a black flood of semi-barbarians,” “a lurking demon.” Whites, Tillman claimed, faced “an irrepressible conflict between civilization and barbarism.”

What about replacing Tillman with statues of heroic African-American men and women who fled to Union lines and volunteered to help, thousands served as spies or in the Union Army and Navy. Or Robert Smalls and his enslaved crew who hijacked the Planter, a Confederate gunboat from Charleston harbor, and sailed to the Union fleet?

What about a commemoration of the daring white and African-American radical Republicans of South Carolina? In 1868, 76 African Americans and 55 whites wrote a new state constitution that promised equal justice for all. The new multicultural legislature (with a black majority) opened public schools, reduced taxes for the poor, reformed prisons and the criminal code, and extended new rights to women.

What about a statue to celebrate Elias Hill, a formerly enslaved South Carolinian in York County? At age 5, he became too ill to stand or walk, or take care of his needs. Hill, who taught himself to read and write, became an ordained Baptist minister and a community leader who started schools and taught adults citizenship rights.

Rev. Hill changed history when raiders from the huge Ku Klux Klan chapter in York beat him savagely. Hill was carried by relatives into Federal Court in York to testify against the KKK. Others were inspired to testify. Enough convictions followed to close the York County KKK. The York trials inspired successful federal prosecutions in other Southern states.

Rev. Hill was among many South Carolinians of both races who suffered while building a multiracial democracy. Many lost their jobs, some their lives, and others were driven into exile. After his testimony, Hill had to flee to Liberia with his family and congregation.

Citizens in South Carolina and other states that have placed inciters of racial violence, like Sen. Ben Tillman, on pedestals should not only remove them but begin a discussion on their replacements. This meaningful discussion and its choices would properly celebrate those ordinary people who, in the face of unrelenting murder and fear, including state-sponsored terror and Federal indifference, rose to defend the rights of all people.

William Loren Katz is the author of 40 books on African-American history, and has been associated with New York University as an instructor and Scholar in Residence since 1973. His website is www.williamlkatz.com. Read an interview with Katz about his life teaching and writing history.




Turkey’s Troubling War on Syria

In Syria, the war to overthrow the secular government in Damascus has attracted Islamic militants from around the world, but they have relied on funding and support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and perhaps most importantly Turkey, where an election reflected growing popular resistance to this war policy, writes Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling

The June 7 parliamentary election in Turkey could have a huge impact on the conflict in Syria. The invincible image of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been cracked. There is a real chance that the election might lead to substantive change in Turkish foreign policy promoting the war in Syria.

Even though Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the most votes, they lost their majority in parliament and must now find a coalition partner, as Turkey’s new parliament was seated for the first time on June 23. Now begins the political bargaining and negotiations to form a governing coalition.

syria-map

Depending on the outcome, Turkey may stop or seriously restrict the flow of weapons and foreign fighters through its territory into Syria. If Turkey does this, it would offer a real prospect for movement toward negotiations and away from war in Syria. Why? The Syrian war continues because Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the U.S., France, the UK and others are spending billions of dollars annually to fund the armed opposition and sustain the war in violation of the UN Charter and international law.

Closely allied with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey has been the primary path for weapons and foreign fighters in Syria. ISIS has depended on export of oil and import of weapons and fighters through Turkey.  Al Qaeda’s Jabhat al Nusra, Ahrar al Sham and other armed opposition groups have depended on weapons and foreign fighters coming in via Turkey for attacks on northern Syria including Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.

The following examples show the extent of Turkish involvement in the war on Syria:

–Turkey hosts the Political and Military Headquarters of the armed opposition. Most of the political leaders are former Syrians who have not lived there for decades.

–Turkey provides home base for armed opposition leaders. As quoted in the Vice News video “Syria: Wolves of the Valley”: “Most of the commanders actually live in Turkey and commute in to the fighting when necessary.”

–Turkey’s intelligence agency MIT has provided its own trucks for shipping huge quantities of weapons and ammunition to Syrian armed opposition groups. According to court testimony, they made at least 2,000 trips to Syria.

–Turkey is suspected of supplying the chemical weapons used in Ghouta in August 2013 as reported by Seymour Hersh here. In May 2013, Nusra fighters were arrested in possession of sarin but quickly and quietly released by Turkish authorities.

–Turkey’s foreign minister, top spy chief and senior military official were secretly recorded plotting an incident to justify Turkish military strikes against Syria. A sensational recording of the meeting was publicized, exposing the plot in advance and likely preventing it from proceeding.

–Turkey has provided direct aid and support to attacking insurgents. When insurgents attacked Kassab Syria on the border in spring 2014, Turkey provided backup military support and ambulances for injured fighters. Turkey shot down a Syrian jet fighter that was attacking the invading insurgents. The plane landed 7 kilometers inside Syrian territory, suggesting that Turkish claims it was in Turkish air space are likely untrue.

–Turkey has recently increased its coordination with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. This has led to the recent assaults by thousands of foreign fighters on Idlib and Jisr al Shugour in northern Syria. Armed with advanced weaponry including TOW missiles, and using suicide bomb vehicles, the armed groups overran Syrian armed forces defending both cities. The assaults were facilitated by Turkey jamming and disrupting Syrian radio communications.

–Turkey has facilitated travel into northern Syria by extremist mercenaries from all parts of the globe including Chechen Russians, Uyghur Chinese, Europeans, North Africans, South Asians including Indonesians and Malaysians. The assault on Jisr al Shugour was spearheaded by Chinese Uyghur fighters and suicide bombers crossing over from Turkey with tanks and heavy artillery.

–Turkey itself has provided steady supply of recruits to the Islamic State. Like other countries which have had citizens indoctrinated with Wahhabi fanaticism, they have done little or nothing to limit the indoctrination or restrict emigration for ‘jihad’.

–Finally, Turkey has permitted the supply of huge quantities of car bomb ingredients (ammonium nitrate fertilizer) to the Islamic State. On May 4, the New York Times reported these shipments at the Turkish border. Sixteen days later ISIS overran Ramadi in an assault that began with 30 car bombs with ten reportedly the size of the Oklahoma City bombing.

–As part of its continuing effort to draw the U.S. and NATO into direct participation in the war on Syria, Turkey is an active player in various propaganda campaigns. For example, the “White Helmets” or “Syrian Civil Defence” are trained and supplied in Turkey. Some of the videos purportedly from Syria are likely filmed in Turkey at their training site. White Helmets and Syrian Civil Defence are both creations of the West and join with Turkey in calling for a “No Fly Zone.”

Turkish Repression

The AKP government has vigorously tried to suppress information about the extent of Turkey’s support of the war on Syria. They have resorted to repression and intimidation such as:

–Turkish authorities have charged four regional prosecutors with attempting to topple the government. Their “crime” was to insist on the inspection of four trucks headed from Turkey to Syria. The trucks contained weapons and ammunition in violation of Turkish law. The trial of the four prosecutors is ongoing, 18 months after the inspection.

–Turkish authorities arrrested seven high ranking military officers over the inspection of trucks taking weapons and fighters to Syria.

–Turkish authorities banned social media and news outlets from reporting on arms shipments through Turkey to Syria. Twitter and Facebook accounts that talked about the shipments where shut down. Erdogan went on to threaten to “eradicate” Twitter.

–Turkish President Erdogan threatened two life-term sentences for the editor of Hurriyet daily newspaper for publicizing support of the armed opposition in Syria by Turkey’s intelligence agency MIT.

–A whistle-blowing MIT (intelligence agency) officer who opposed the agency’s collusion with terrorism in Syria was arrested, convicted and imprisoned. After two years he managed to escape and tell his story. The blockbuster account was broadcast on Turkey’s OdaTV and later translated into English and published here.

Was an American Journalist Murdered?

As seen in the examples above, Turkish AKP authorities have aggressively tried to suppress information on the involvement in Syria. If they have been that aggressive with Turkish journalists, prosecutors and military officers, how far might they go against a foreign journalist working for Iran’s Press TV?

The American-born journalist Serena Shim died just days after she documented the use of World Food Program trucks to transport foreign fighters to the border with Syria and into ISIS territory. After learning that Turkish intelligence was looking for her, Serena Shim was so concerned that she expressed her fear on television.

Two days later, Serena Shim’s car was hit head-on by a cement truck. The driver of the cement truck disappeared but was later found. There are many discrepancies about what happened. The first reports indicated the truck and driver left without stopping. Then the driver and truck were located, and then photos appeared showing a collision.

While some Turkish security services have preemptively exonerated the driver of the cement truck, the local prosecutor has filed charges against the driver, accusing him of causing death through negligence. There are many suspicious aspects, not least is the fact that the cement truck’s wheels are angled toward the car, not away as one would expect with a vehicle trying to avoid collision.

The death of American journalist Serena Shim, and her factual investigative reporting on Syria and Turkey, stands in sharp contrast with the sensational media accounts about the “kidnapping” of NBC reporter Richard Engel. That event turned out to be a hoax contrived by “rebels” to manipulate American political opinion.

With the complicity of individual reporters and mainstream media, the fraud was successful. The bias in mainstream western media is further demonstrated by the almost complete media silence about the death of Serena Shim and her important journalistic work.

Turkey’s Election

For the past 13 years, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has had majority control of Turkey’s parliament. In the recent election, AKP’s share of the popular voted plummeted 10 percent and they lost their parliamentary majority. The results are a clear rebuff to Erdogan and AKP policies.

Sixty percent of voters went against AKP, splitting the vote among the three alternative parties. The pro-Kurdish and Leftist People’s Democratic Party (HDP) burst onto the scene capturing 13 percent of the votes and equaling the number of parliamentary seats captured by the rightist and anti-Kurdish National Movement Party (MHP). The main opposition party is the social democratic Republican Peoples Party (CHP) with 26 percent of the vote.

Over the coming weeks, AKP will try to form a coalition government with one or more of the alternate parties.  However it won’t be easy. The natural bedfellow would be the anti-Kurdish and rightist MHP but they are demanding the resumption of a corruption trial against AKP leaders including Erdogan’s son Bilal. That trial would probably lead back to President Erdogan himself so it seems unlikely AKP will ally with MHP.

The three alternative parties could form a coalition to govern without AKP, but it’s hard to imagine the staunchly anti-Kurdish MHP allying with the pro-Kurdish HDP. If a majority coalition cannot be formed within 45 days, the Turkish constitution requires a rerun of the election.

Even with severe repression and intimidation, the Turkish public is aware of Turkey’s policy supporting war on Syria. One consequence of the war has been almost 2 million immigrant refugees with the dispersal of many throughout Turkey, providing cheap labor and adding significantly to the unemployment problem.

In addition, there have been terrorist attacks in the border region and an escalation of corruption and repression as external money and weapons have flooded the area en route to Syria. The war against Syria has been widely unpopular and played a significant role in the election.

–All the opposition parties called for change in Turkey’s foreign policy.

–Criticism of Erdogan and Davutoglu’s policy even comes from within the AKP membership: “Many believe that one reason for the AKP’s dismal showing in the 2015 elections is its policy on Syria.”

–The head of the main opposition party (CHP) says Turkey will start controlling the border and stop the flood of arms and fighters into Syria.

The coming weeks will indicate how Turkey moves forward: Will AKP manage to form a coalition government with one of the opposition parties? Or will there be another election?

Will Turkey start enforcing the border and stop shipments of arms to the armed opposition as demanded by the leader of the main opposition party? This would be a huge change in the dynamics within Syria. Without a rear base of constant and steady support, the armed opposition would be forced to rely on its own resources rather than those of foreign governments. This armed opposition would quickly wither since they have very little support base within Syria.

Since the election, there are already signs of a shift in the balance. Kurdish forces recently captured ISIS’ important border crossing at Tal Abyad. This has been the main route of weapons, fighters and supplies between Turkey and the Islamic State’s ‘capital’ at Raqqa in eastern Syria.

Past Year and the Future

Thirteen months ago, it looked like the war in Syria was starting to move toward resolution. The last remaining armed opposition in the “capital of the revolution” Homs reached reconciliation and withdrew from the Old City of Homs in May 2014. On June 3, 2014, the election in Syria confirmed substantial support for the government.

Since then, we have seen dramatic changes. On June 10, 2014, ISIS surged through western Iraq and captured the city of Mosul and huge quantities of American armaments including tanks, rockets, humvees, etc. That led to the creation of the “Islamic State” and expansion in eastern Syria including Tabqa Air Base where hundreds of Syrian soldiers and ISIS fighters died.

This past spring saw the coalescing of numerous foreign and Islamist groups into the Jaish al Fatah (Army of Conquest) supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. With high-powered TOW anti-tank missiles and thousands of shock troops they were able to overtake both Idlib and Jisr al Shugour near the Turkish border.

ISIS and the Army of Conquest are both dependent on the Turkish supply line. If that is closed off or seriously restricted, it will dramatically change the situation. With the prospect of losing the base of support in Turkey, will the opposition try something desperate to draw the U.S. and NATO into the conflict directly?

The Turkish people have indicated they want to stop their government’s war on Syria. If their will is respected, it should lead to restricting and stopping the foreign funding and promotion of the conflict. If Turkey stops the flood of weapons and foreign fighters into northern Syria, it will be following instead of violating international law. This will give peace a chance in Syria.

Rick Sterling is a co-founder of Syria Solidarity Movement. He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com




War on Whistleblowers, After Obama

The war on whistleblowers has injected fear of prosecution into all honest communications between national security officials and reporters, meaning that the public instead gets a steady diet of U.S. government lies, propaganda and self-serving rhetoric, a problem addressed by John Hanrahan.

By John Hanrahan

Here’s the thing about President Barack Obama’s war on whistleblowers: In bringing espionage charges in nine cases involving disclosures or alleged misuse of classified information, the current administration has set a floor, rather than a ceiling, on the number and types of whistleblower espionage cases a future president can bring.

And here’s another thing: With leaders of both political parties having either kept silent or cheered on the Obama administration’s unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers, who in high position in Congress would have one shred of moral authority or credibility to challenge a future president’s excesses under the Espionage Act? On the question of keeping American citizens in the dark and of punishing whistleblowers who dare to enlighten them, we truly have bipartisan authoritarianism.

And then a third thing: Don’t count much on major U.S. news media for any meaningful oversight of, and opposition to, the treatment of whistleblowers under future presidents. The mainstream press and big-name journalists, with some intermittent, notable exceptions such as these two New York Times editorials and this Newark Star-Ledger editorial, have largely ignored the jail-the-whistleblowers policies of the Obama administration.

Or, worse, as we’ve reported before, some of the most prominent names in the media joined elected and appointed government officials in calling for harsh penalties for Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Wikileaks, and others whom they claim (without proof) to have endangered U.S. national security by providing classified information to the news media.

With his Justice Department having produced three times as many Espionage Act indictments for classified document disclosure as all other administrations combined since the passage of that legislation back in 1917, Obama has opened the door for his successors to continue, and even expand, the assault on national security state whistleblowers who act in the public interest.

Would any of the announced presidential candidates close that door after Obama leaves office in January 2017? Again, as with leading journalists and members of Congress, don’t count on it.

It’s an open question as to whether any future president could be more aggressive than Obama in going after whistleblowers. But based on the vengeful views of many of the large crop of Republican candidates and on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s tough statements on Edward Snowden’s NSA spying disclosures, prospects are not good for a sharp departure from the whistleblower crackdown of the last six years. Clinton and leading Republican candidates take the hard line that Snowden committed a serious crime and must be punished for it, with no chance of leniency.

Ultimately, as is the case with the ever-growing campaigns against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and National Security Agency spying, for example, it is not presidents or Congress, or the mainstream press, but an aroused citizenry and activist organizations with petitions, street protests, sit-ins, lobbying, etc. that can at least impede such undemocratic programs as the war on whistleblowers.

It also, though, might help if there were a president and Justice Department that were at least somewhat receptive to grassroots pressure to stop prosecuting whistleblowers, so in that vein it is worthwhile to have a look at where the many candidates to date stand.

Because of the monumental nature of Snowden’s NSA disclosures, his case presents the best litmus test of candidates’ views on the role of whistleblowers in a democracy. Bearing in mind, of course, as voters often learn to their regret, what candidates say, and how their views are perceived, before they are in office differs sharply from what they actually do once they are in office.

Look no further than Obama, circa 2008, and his perceived antiwar credentials among Democratic activists, as well as the point from the Obama-Biden ethics agenda from the 2008 campaign in which Obama and running-mate Joe Biden pledged to “protect whistleblowers.” This administration has given a whole new meaning to the word “protect.”

While candidates can back away from progressive positions once in office, it seems a safe bet, though, that candidates who now call Snowden a “traitor” or a “criminal” are unlikely to change their minds to favor whistleblowers once they are elected.

Hillary Clinton: No Friend to Whistleblowers

On the Democratic side, nothing that Hillary Clinton has said to date shows any sympathy toward, or understanding of the role of, whistleblowers. It is laughable that she suggests Snowden and other national security state whistleblowers “go through channels”, as she perpetuates the fairy tale that we have a good system in place for airing whistleblowers’ concerns about military and surveillance issues if only people would avail themselves of it.

During her book tour, The Hill newspaper reported last year, Clinton told National Public Radio: “There were other ways that Mr. Snowden could have expressed his concerns,” such as going to Congress.

Clinton continued: “I think everyone would have applauded that because it would have added to the debate that was already started. Instead, he left the country, first to China, then to Russia, taking with him a huge amount of [sensitive] information.” Clinton has also contended that Snowden’s disclosures had damaged national security by providing information to terrorist networks.

And here is Clinton again in the same vein in a July 4, 2014 interview with The Guardian about holding Snowden “accountable”: “If he [Snowden] wishes to return knowing he would be held accountable and also able to present a defense, that is his decision to make. Whether he chooses to return or not is up to him. He certainly can stay in Russia apparently under Putin’s protection for the rest of his life if that’s what he chooses, but if he is serious about engaging in the debate then he could take the opportunity to come back and have that debate.”

Clinton talks as if there is some sort of Oxford Union mechanism whereby defenders and opponents of the national security state sit together on a stage exchanging deep thoughts about major issues of the day before a well-informed audience.

As many Snowden supporters have pointed out, the “debate” Edward Snowden would face the minute he hits U.S. shores would be to be shackled and put in solitary confinement, like Chelsea Manning, far out of the reach of any press interviews or would-be fellow debaters. He would engage in the same sort of “debate” Manning engaged in under an espionage law which barred her or any defendant from mounting any sort of public-interest defense as to why they did what they did.

Clinton and others who recommend the “channels” route also need to be reminded that Daniel Ellsberg four-plus decades ago went to influential, antiwar members of the Senate, J. William Fulbright (D-Arkansas) and George McGovern (D-South Dakota) with the Pentagon Papers before he released them to The New York Times and other newspapers, but they rebuffed him.

In more recent times, in the early 2000s, CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling went to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence with his concerns over a CIA scheme (Operation Merlin) to provide flawed nuclear weapons blueprints to Iran. Sterling was not only rebuffed, but as his recent trial illustrated (and Sterling did not know at the time), the committee was already aware of this program and did nothing with his allegations.

Sterling was subsequently investigated by the government for allegedly providing information about Operation Merlin to New York Times reporter James Risen, charges Sterling denies to this day. For his troubles in “going through channels,” he became a main suspect in the disclosure to Risen, was hounded for years, was indicted and finally this past January convicted of espionage and other charges. Sterling has begun serving a 42-month prison term as he pursues an appeal.

Sanders, Chafee Favor Leniency for Snowden

Among the small pool of other announced Democratic candidates, long-shot Democrat Lincoln Chafee (a former Republican senator and former independent governor of Rhode Island) and independent socialist Bernie Sanders, running as a Democrat, are calling for some sort of leniency, Sanders calls it “clemency”, that would allow Snowden to come back to the United States and apparently not face a prison term.

A year before announcing his presidential run, Sanders called for leniency for Snowden, but at the same time felt it necessary to gratuitously add that Snowden “violated an oath and committed a crime,” without acknowledging that the duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution should trump any oath of secrecy.

In an early 2014 statement to the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press, Sanders said: “The information disclosed by Edward Snowden has been extremely important in allowing Congress and the American people to understand the degree to which the NSA has abused its authority and violated our constitutional rights. On the other hand, there is no debate that Mr. Snowden violated an oath and committed a crime.

“In my view, the interests of justice would be best served if our government granted him some form of clemency or a plea agreement that would spare him a long prison sentence or permanent exile from the country whose freedoms he cared enough about to risk his own freedom.”

In announcing his Democratic presidential candidacy in June 2015, Chafee also offered a much friendlier attitude than Clinton toward the world’s most famous modern-day whistleblower, calling for Snowden to be allowed to come back to the United States without apparently facing a prison term.

“I want America to be a leader and inspiration for civilized behavior in this new century,” Chafee said at his campaign kick-off. “We will abide by the Geneva conventions, which means we will not torture prisoners. Our sacred Constitution requires a warrant before unreasonable searches, which include our phone records. Let’s enforce that and while we’re at it, allow Edward Snowden to come home.”

Notably, unlike Clinton who as a senator voted for the Iraq war resolution, Chafee was one of only 23 senators, and the lone Republican senator, to vote against it.

Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has called for more restrictions on NSA surveillance than was provided for in the recently passed USA Freedom Act, including as he said recently “having a role for a public advocate in the FISA court.” However, he made no mention of Snowden in his statement.

Rand Paul Thanks Snowden But Would Send Him to Prison

On the crowded Republican presidential side, libertarian Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has expressed gratitude for Snowden’s disclosures, but still envisions a prison term, albeit apparently a lenient one, for the whistleblower, even as most other Republican candidates who have taken a position are calling for Snowden’s head as a criminal and a traitor.

Despite Paul’s strong opposition to renewal of the Patriot Act and his acknowledgement that Snowden performed a public service in disclosing NSA’s “illegal” acts, he opts for “a fair trial with a reasonable sentence” for Snowden, rather than clemency.

“I don’t think Edward Snowden deserves the death penalty or life in prison, I think that’s inappropriate, and I think that’s why he fled, because that’s what he faced,” Paul said on ABC’s “This Week” in January 2014. “I think the only way he’s coming home is if someone would offer him a fair trial with a reasonable sentence.”

“Do I think that it’s o.k. to leak secrets and give up national secrets and things that could endanger lives?,” he continued. “I don’t think that’s o.k. But I think the courts are now saying that what he revealed was something the government was doing was illegal.”

Paul went on to pose a false equivalency between NSA’s law-breaking and what Snowden did. Noting the false testimony before Congress of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that the NSA did not deliberately collect data from U.S. citizens, Paul said:

“I don’t think we can selectively apply the law. So James Clapper did break the law and there is a prison sentence for that. So did Edward Snowden. So I think personally he probably would come home for some penalty of a few years in prison which would be probably not unlike what James Clapper probably deserves for lying to Congress, and that maybe if they served in a prison cell together, we’d become further enlightened as a country over what we should and shouldn’t do.”

Paul’s comments about prison time for Snowden prompted CNNPolitics.com to opine that if a top antagonist of the NSA such as Paul “believes Snowden should be locked up, the famed whistleblower is unlikely to get any reprieve from the rest of the 2016 Republican field.”

Other Republicans Mainly See Snowden as ‘Criminal,’ ‘Traitor’

Here’s a sampling of what some other declared and potential Republican presidential candidates have said about Snowden:

–Senator Ted Cruz has been somewhat sympathetic to the whistleblower, saying that “Snowden has done a considerable public service by bringing [the NSA disclosures] to light.” But he added that “there are consequences to violating laws and that is something [Snowden] has publicly stated he understands, and I think the law needs to be enforced.”

–Jeb Bush has called the NSA’s spy programs “the best part of the Obama administration,” and termed Snowden “not a hero.” “He violated U.S. law. That’s why he’s living large in Moscow, the land of freedom,” Bush said with some sarcasm in May 2015.

–Marco Rubio said Snowden’s disclosures marked “the single most damaging revelation of American secrets in our history,” adding in a November 2013 speech to the American Enterprise Institute: “This man is a traitor who has sought assistance and refuge from some of the world’s most notorious violators of liberty and human rights.”

–Rick Perry told Bloomberg Television in a March 2014 interview that Snowden was “more criminal than he is a whistleblower,” adding: “We have rules and regulations, and we just can’t have people passing out information that could do damage to our intelligence gathering.”

–Chris Christie in May 2015 told Fox News that Snowden is “a criminal and is living and he’s hiding in Russia and he’s lecturing to us about the evils of authoritarian government while he’s living under the umbrella of Vladimir Putin.”

–Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) has been among the most vengeful in his statements about Snowden, you have “blood on your hands,” he said. “I don’t think he’s a hero. I believe he hurt our nation. He compromised our national security program designed to find out what terrorists are up to. I hope we’ll chase him to the ends of the earth, bring him to justice.”

–Mike Huckabee opposed extension of the Patriot Act, but his position on Snowden is unclear. On his Fox television show, Huckabee did have guests who debated NSA’s spying, including critics such as former NSA whistleblower William Binney, but doesn’t appear to have passed any judgment on Snowden, other than to cite specific disclosures made by Snowden as being important for the American people to know.

–Bobby Jindal has apparently not stated specifically what he thinks of Snowden, saying only about NSA spying that: “I believe that government should have to get a warrant to spy on American citizens, and I oppose the mass collection of data.  At the same time, I also believe that when the government has a lead, they must have the freedom to follow that lead, wherever it goes.”

–Rick Santorum has said: “I don’t think people who are undermining the security of our country are heroes.”

–Donald Trump, in a “Fox & Friends” appearance in June 2013 shortly after Snowden’s disclosures, said, “in the old days [spies] used to be executed.” He continued: “This guy [Snowden] is a bad guy. You know there is still a thing called execution. You really have thousands of people with access to the kind of material like this. We’re not going to have a country any longer.”

–Other declared or potential Republican candidates, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, etc., appear not to have made reported statements about Snowden or whistleblowers in general.

–Among announced third-party presidential candidates, Jill Stein, who is seeking the Green Party’s nomination for a second time, has long called for a pardon for Chelsea Manning who is serving a 35-year prison sentence as her case is under appeal.

Whistleblower Crackdown Part of Landscape of Fear

Thanks to Obama, and the lack of significant congressional, journalistic or public outcry against his crackdowns on whistleblowers over the last six years, the bringing of espionage charges has become commonplace, a dangerous precedent seemingly controversial only among civil libertarians, non-Democratic progressive activists and bloggers.

Punishing whistleblowers has become part of the landscape of fear that blankets our country today, just as with drone warfare, presidential kill lists, targeted and random assassinations, a high level of U.S. surveillance of citizens and people throughout the world, unpunished torturers, undeclared wars, and a claimed right of interventions and invasions anywhere on the planet to keep Americans “safe.”

Democratic leaders in Congress, in fact, believe Snowden should go to prison for a long time for his disclosures. Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) in August 2013 said: “I think Snowden is a traitor, and I think he has hurt our country, and I hope someday he is brought to justice.”

Likewise, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), at the time chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said shortly after the first Snowden disclosures in June 2013: “I don’t look at this as being a whistleblower. I think it’s an act of treason.”

And House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) in January 2014 termed Snowden “no hero,” said he should not be granted clemency, but should instead “come back and face the music for what he did (but) the music shouldn’t be the death penalty or life in prison.”

Most of the mainstream press, for its part, even today after all of the NSA disclosures triggered by Edward Snowden, continues to label what Snowden did as a crime. Typical of this was a June 4, 2015 editorial in the Los Angeles Times, whose headline rather sums up the feelings of much of the mainstream press toward whistleblowers: “Snowden deserves credit for NSA reform, and to stand trial.”

Telling whistleblowers “thanks for exposing nefarious government activities, but now you’re going to jail” hardly amounts to a ringing defense of whistleblowers, nor much of an incentive for others to do the same. Nor does it recognize that without whistleblowers most blockbuster news stories would never see the light of day, to the detriment of the public and the ever-shrinking traditional news media.

This is the sad state of most corporate journalism in the early Twenty-first Century: report explosive revelations from the whistleblower but offer nothing but prison in return.

By failing to rally vigorously to the defense of whistleblowers, congressional Democrats and most of the mainstream press have implicitly given the o.k. for any future president to go after as many whistleblowers as he or she deems proper.

And if a future president decides to up the ante and also go after recipients of classified materials, i.e., reporters, in an even more aggressive fashion than this administration did in the case of James Risen of The New York Times (who was threatened with jail for refusing to reveal a source’s identity), and James Rosen of Fox News (who was alleged by the government to have been a co-conspirator, but not indicted, in another Espionage Act case), what then?

Would the mainstream press and influential members of Congress go to the barricades for the First Amendment, the press and whistleblowers in such a scenario?

Regardless of what pessimistic answer one gives to that question, the U.S. public should know by now that, as with all of the other repressive measures imposed under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, we aren’t going to get out of any of these messes by figuring that the next president will somehow be better in restoring some of our democratic rights. Only an inflamed citizenry pressuring all of our unresponsive government and journalistic institutions can help us move in that direction.

John Hanrahan, currently on the editorial board of ExposeFacts, is a former executive director of The Fund for Investigative Journalism and reporter for The Washington Post, The Washington Star, UPI and other news organizations. He also has extensive experience as a legal investigator. Hanrahan is the author of Government by Contract and co-author of Lost Frontier: The Marketing of Alaska. He has written extensively for NiemanWatchdog.org, a project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. [This article originally appeared at ExposeFacts.org.]