How Propaganda Feeds War on Syria

Western propaganda against countries targeted for “regime change” can be especially insidious because mainstream journalists abandon skepticism and go with the flow, such as the case of Syrian “torture” photos, writes Rick Sterling.

There has been a pattern of sensational but untrue reports that lead to public acceptance of U.S. and Western military intervention in countries around the world.

For instance, in Gulf War 1 (1990-91), there were reports of Iraqi troops stealing incubators from Kuwait, leaving babies to die on the cold floor. Relying on the testimony of a Red Crescent doctor, Amnesty Interenational ‘verified’ the false claims.

Ten years later, there were reports of yellow cake uranium going to Iraq for development of weapons of mass destruction.

One decade later, there were reports of Libyan soldiers drugged on viagra and raping women as they advanced.

In 2012, NBC broadcaster Richard Engel was supposedly kidnapped by a pro-Assad Syrian militia but luckily freed by Syrian opposition fighters, the “Free Syrian Army.”

All these reports were later confirmed to be fabrications and lies. They all had the goal of manipulating public opinion and they all succeeded in one way or another. Despite the consequences, which were often disastrous, none of the perpetrators were punished or paid any price.

It has been famously said, “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” This report is a critical review of the so-called “Caesar Torture Photos” story. As will be shown, there is strong evidence the accusations are entirely or substantially false.

Overview of ‘Caesar Torture Photos’

On Jan. 20, 2014, two days before negotiations about the Syrian conflict were scheduled to begin in Switzerland, a sensational report burst onto television and front pages around the world. The story was that a former Syrian army photographer had 55,000 photographs documenting the torture and killing of 11,000 detainees by the Syrian security establishment.

The Syrian photographer was given the code-name “Caesar.” The story became known as the “Caesar Torture Photos.” A team of lawyers plus digital and forensic experts were hired by the Carter-Ruck law firm, on contract to Qatar, to go to the Middle East and check the veracity of “Caesar” and his story. They concluded that “Caesar” was truthful and the photographs indicated “industrial scale killing.”

CNN, London’s Guardian and LeMonde broke the story which was subsequently broadcast in news reports around the world. The Caesar photo accusations were announced as negotiations began in Switzerland. With the opposition demanding the resignation of the Syrian government, negotiations quickly broke down.

For the past two years the story has been preserved with occasional bursts of publicity and supposedly corroborating reports. Most recently, in December 2015 Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report titled “If the Dead Could Speak” with significant focus on the Caesar accusations.

Following are 12 significant problems with the “Caesar torture photos” story:

  1. Almost half the photos show the opposite of the allegations.

The Carter Ruck Inquiry Team claimed there were about 55,000 photos total with about half of them taken by “Caesar” and the other half by other photographers. The Carter Ruck team claimed the photos were all “similar.” Together they are all known as “Caesar’s Torture Photos.”

The photographs are in the custody of an opposition organization called the Syrian Association for Missing and Conscience Detainees (SAFMCD). In 2015, they allowed Human Rights Watch (HRW) to study all the photographs which have otherwise been secret. In December 2015, HRW released their report titled “If the Dead Could Speak.”

The biggest revelation is that over 46 percent of the photographs (24,568) do not show people “tortured to death” by the Syrian government. On the contrary, they show dead Syrian soldiers and victims of car bombs and other violence (HRW pp 2-3). Thus, nearly half the photos show the opposite of what was alleged. These photos, never revealed to the public, confirm that the opposition is violent and has killed large numbers of Syrian security forces and civilians.

  1. The claim that other photos only show “tortured detainees” is exaggerated or false.

The Carter Ruck report says “Caesar” only photographed bodies brought from Syrian government detention centers. In its December 2015 report, HRW said, “ The largest category of photographs, 28,707 images, are photographs Human Rights Watch understands to have died in government custody, either in one of several detention facilities or after being transferred to a military hospital.” They estimate 6,786 dead individuals in the set.

The photos and the deceased are real, but how they died and the circumstances are unclear. There is strong evidence some died in conflict. Others died in the hospital. Others died and their bodies were decomposing before they were picked up. These photographs seem to document a war-time situation where many combatants and civilians are killed.

It seems the military hospital was doing what it had always done: maintaining a photographic and documentary record of the deceased. Bodies were picked up by different military or intelligence branches. While some may have died in detention; the big majority probably died in the conflict zones. The accusations by “Caesar.” the Carter Ruck report and HRW that these are all victims of “death in detention” or “death by torture” or death in “government custody” are almost certainly false.

  1. The true identity of “Caesar” is probably not as claimed.

The Carter Ruck Report says “This witness who defected from Syria and who had been working for the Syrian government was given the code-name ‘Caesar’ by the inquiry team to protect the witness and members of his family.” (CRR p12)

However if his story is true, it would be easy for the Syrian government to determine who he really is. After all, how many military photographers took photos at Tishreen and Military 601 Hospitals during those years and then disappeared? According to the Carter Ruck report, Caesar’s family left Syria around the same time. Considering this, why is “Caesar” keeping his identity secret from the Western audience? Why does “Caesar” refuse to meet even with highly sympathetic journalists or researchers?

The fact that 46 percent of the total photographic set is substantially the opposite of what was claimed indicates two possibilities: Caesar and his promoters knew the contents but lied about them expecting nobody to look. Or, Caesar and his promoters did not know the contents and falsely assumed they were like the others. The latter seems more likely which supports the theory that Caesar is not who he claims to be.

  1. The Carter Ruck Inquiry was faulty, rushed and politically biased.

The credibility of the “Caesar” story has been substantially based on the Carter-Ruck Inquiry Team which “verified” the defecting photographer and his photographs. The following facts suggest the team was biased with a political motive:

–The investigation was financed by the government of Qatar which is a major supporter of the armed opposition.

–The contracted law firm, Carter Ruck and Co, has previously represented Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also known for his avid support of the armed opposition.

–The American on the legal inquiry team, Professor David M. Crane, has a long history working for the U.S. Defense Department and Defense Intelligence Agency. The U.S. government has been deeply involved in the attempt at “regime change” with demands that President Bashar “Assad must go” beginning in summer 2011 and continuing until recently.

–Crane is personally partisan in the conflict. He has campaigned for a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal and testified before Congress in October 2013, three months before the Caesar revelations.

–By their own admission, the inquiry team was under “time constraints” (CRR, p11).

–By their own admission, the inquiry team did not even survey most of the photographs

–The inquiry team was either ignorant of the content or intentionally lied about the 46 percent showing dead Syrian soldiers and attack victims.

–The inquiry team did its last interview with “Caesar” on Jan. 18, 2014, quickly finalized a report and rushed it into the media on Jan. 20, two days prior to the start of United Nations-sponsored negotiations.

The self-proclaimed “rigor” of the Carter Ruck investigation is without foundation. The claims to a “scientific” investigation are similarly without substance and verging on the ludicrous.

  1. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is involved.

In an interview on France24, David Crane of the inquiry team describes how “Caesar” was brought to meet them by “his handler, his case officer.” The expression “case officer” usually refers to the CIA. This would be a common expression for Professor Crane who previously worked in the Defense Intelligence Agency. The involvement of the CIA additionally makes sense since there was a CIA budget of $1 billion for Syria operations in 2013. Crane’s “Syria Accountability Project” is based at Syracuse University where the CIA actively recruits new officers despite student resistance.

Why does it matter if the CIA is connected to the “Caesar” story? Because the CIA has a long history of disinformation campaigns. In 2011, false reports of viagra fueled rape by Libyan soldiers were widely broadcast in Western media as the U.S. pushed for a military mandate. Decades earlier, the world was shocked to hear about Cuban troops fighting in Angola raping Angolan women. The CIA chief of station for Angola, John Stockwell, later described how they invented the false report and spread it around the world.  The CIA was very proud of that disinformation achievement. Stockwell’s book, In Search of Enemies, is still relevant.

  1. The accusers portray simple administrative procedures as mysterious and sinister.

The Carter Ruck inquiry team falsely claimed there were about 11,000 tortured and killed detainees. They then posed the question: Why would the Syrian government photograph and document the people they just killed?  The Carter Ruck Report speculates that the military hospital photographed the dead to prove that the “orders to kill” had been followed. The “orders to kill” are assumed.

A more logical explanation is that dead bodies were photographed as part of normal hospital / morgue procedure to maintain a file of the deceased who were received or treated at the hospital. The same applies to the body labeling / numbering system. The Carter Ruck report suggests there is something mysterious and possibly sinister in the coded tagging system.  But all morgues need to have a tagging and identification system.

  1. The photos have been manipulated.

Many of the photos at the SAFMCD website have been manipulated. The information card and tape identity are covered over and sections of documents are obscured. It must have been very time-consuming to do this for thousands of photos. The explanation that they are doing this to “protect identity” is not credible since the faces of victims are visible. What are they hiding?

  1. The Photo Catalog has duplicates and other errors.

There are numerous errors and anomalies in the photo catalog as presented at the SAFMCD website. For example, some deceased persons are shown twice with different case numbers and dates. There are other errors where different individuals are given the same identity number.

Researcher Adam Larson at A Closer Look at Syria website has done detailed investigation which reveals more errors and curious error patterns in the SAFMCD photo catalog.

9. With few exceptions, Western media uncritically accepted and promoted the story.

The Carter Ruck report was labeled “Confidential” but distributed to CNN, the Guardian and LeMonde. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour gushed over the story as she interviewed three of the inquiry team under the headline “EXCLUSIVE: Gruesome Syria photos may prove torture by Assad regime.” Critical journalism was replaced by leading questions and affirmation. David Crane said “This is a smoking gun.” Desmond de Silva “likened the images to those of holocaust survivors.”

The Guardian report was titled “Syrian regime document trove shows evidence of ‘industrial scale’ killing of detainees” with the subtitle, “Senior war crimes prosecutors say photographs and documents provide ‘clear evidence’ of systematic killing of 11,000 detainees”

One of the very few skeptical reports was by Dan Murphy in the Christian Science Monitor. Murphy echoed standard accusations about Syria but went on to say incisively, “the report itself is nowhere near as credible as it makes out and should be viewed for what it is: A well-timed propaganda exercise funded by Qatar, a regime opponent who has funded rebels fighting Assad who have committed war crimes of their own.”

Unfortunately that was one of very few critical reports in the mainstream media. In 2012, foreign affairs journalist Jonathan Steele wrote an article describing the overall media bias on Syria. His article was titled “Most Syrians back Assad but you’d never know from western media.” The media campaign and propaganda has continued without stop. It was in this context that the Carter Ruck Report was delivered and widely accepted without question.

  1. Politicians have used the Caesar story to push for more US/NATO aggression. 

Politicians seeking direct U.S. intervention for “regime change” in Syria were quick to accept and broadcast the “Caesar” story. They used it to demonize the Assad government and argue that the U.S. must act so as to prevent “another holocaust,” “another Rwanda,” “another Cambodia.”

When Caesar’s photos were displayed at the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress, Chairman Ed Royce said “It is far past time that the world act…. It is far past time for the United States to say there is going to be a safe zone across this area in northern Syria.”

The top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is Eliot Engel. In November 2015 he said, “We’re reminded of the photographer, known as Caesar, who sat in this room a year ago, showing us in searing, graphic detail what Assad has done to his own people.” Engel went on to advocate for a new authorization for the use of military force.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger is another advocate for aggression against Syria. At an event at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in July 2015, he said, “If we want to destroy ISIS we have to destroy the incubator of ISIS, Bashar al-Assad.”

The irony and hypocrisy is doubly profound since Rep. Kinzinger has met and coordinated with opposition leader Okaidi who is a confirmed ally of ISIS. In contrast with Kinzinger’s false claims, it is widely known that ISIS ideology and initial funding came from Saudi Arabia and much of its recent wealth from oil sales via Turkey. The Syrian Army has fought huge battles against ISIS, winning some but losing others with horrific scenes of mass beheading carried out by ISIS.

  1. The Human Rights Watch assessment is biased.

HRW has been very active around Syria. After the chemical attacks in greater Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, HRW rushed a report which concluded that, based on a vector analysis of incoming projectiles, the source of the sarin carrying rockets must have been Syrian government territory. This analysis was later debunked as a “junk heap of bad evidence” by highly respected investigative journalist Robert Parry.

HRW’s assumption about the chemical weapon rocket flight distance was faulty. Additionally it was unrealistic to think you could determine rocket trajectory with 1 percent accuracy from a canister on the ground, especially from a canister on the ground that had deflected off a building wall.

In spite of this, HRW stuck by its analysis which blamed the Assad government. HRW Director Ken Roth publicly indicated dissatisfaction when an agreement to remove Syrian chemical weapons was reached. Roth wanted more than a “symbolic” attack on Syrian government forces.

Regarding the claims of “Caesar,” HRW seems to be the only non-governmental organization to receive the full set of photo files from the custodian. To its credit, HRW acknowledged that nearly half the photos do not show what has been claimed for two years: they show dead Syrian soldiers and militia along with scenes from crime scenes, car bombings, etc.

But HRW’s bias is clearly shown in how it handles this huge contradiction. Amazingly, HRW suggests the incorrectly identified photographs support the overall claim. They say, “This report focuses on deaths in detention. However other types of photographs are also important. From an evidentiary perspective, they reinforce the credibility of the claims of Caesar about his role as a forensic photographer of the Syrian security forces or at least with someone who has access to their photographs.” (HRW, p31) This seems like saying if someone lies to you half the time that proves they are truthful.

The files disprove the assertion that the files all show people who were tortured and killed. The photographs show a wide range of deceased persons, from Syrian soldiers to Syrian militia members to opposition fighters to civilians trapped in conflict zones to regular deaths in the military hospital. There may be some photos of detainees who died in custody after being tortured, or who were simply executed. We know that this happened in Iraqi detention centers under U.S. occupation. Ugly and brutal things happen in war times. But the facts strongly suggest that the “Caesar” account is basically untrue or a gross exaggeration.

It is striking that the HRW report has no acknowledgment of the war conditions and circumstances in Syria. There is no acknowledgment that the government and Syrian Arab Army have been under attack by tens of thousands of weaponized fighters openly funded and supported by many of the wealthiest countries in the world.

There is no hint at the huge loss of life suffered by the Syrian army and supporters defending their country. The current estimates indicate from 80,000 to 120,000 Syrian soldiers, militia and allies having died in the conflict. During the three years 2011-2013, including the period covered by the “Caesar” photos, it is estimated that over 52,000 Syrian soldiers and civilian militia died versus 29,000 anti-government forces.

HRW had access to the full set of photographs including the Syrian army and civilian militia members killed in the conflict. Why did they not list the number of Syrian soldiers and security forces they identified? Why did they not show a single image of those victims?

HRW goes beyond endorsing the falsehoods in the “Caesar story”; HRW suggests the cataloguing is only a partial listing. On page 5, the report says, “Therefore, the number of bodies from detention facilities that appear in the Caesar photographs represent only a part of those who died in detention in Damascus.”

On the contrary, the Caesar photographs seem to mostly show victims who died in a variety of ways in the armed conflict. The HRW assertions seem to be biased and inaccurate.

  1. The legal accusations are biased and ignore the supreme crime of aggression.

The Christian Science Monitor journalist Dan Murphy gave an apt warning in his article on the Carter Ruck report about “Caesar.” While many journalists treated the prosecutors with uncritical deference, he said, Association with war crime prosecutions is no guarantor of credibility – far from it. Just consider Luis Moreno Ocampo’s absurd claims about Viagra and mass rape in Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya in 2011. War crimes prosecutors have, unsurprisingly, a bias towards wanting to bolster cases against people they consider war criminals (like Assad or Qaddafi) and so should be treated with caution. They also frequently favor, as a class, humanitarian interventions.”

The Carter Ruck legal team demonstrated how accurate Murphy’s cautions could be. The legal team was eager to accuse the Syrian government of “crimes against humanity” but the evidence of “industrial killing,” “mass killing,” “torturing to kill” is dubious and much of the hard evidence shows something else.

In contrast, there is clear and solid evidence that a “Crime against Peace” is being committed against Syria. It is public knowledge that the “armed opposition” in Syria has been funded, supplied and supported in myriad ways by various outside governments. Most of the fighters, both Syrian and foreign, receive salaries from one or another outside power. Their supplies, weapons and necessary equipment are all supplied to them. Like the “Contras” in Nicaragua in the 1980’s, the use of such proxy armies is a violation of customary international law.

It is also a violation of the UN Charter which says “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other matter inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”.

The government of Qatar has been a major supporter of the mercenaries and fanatics attacking the sovereign state of Syria. Given that fact, isn’t it hugely ironic to hear the legal contractors for Qatar accusing the Syrian government of “crimes against humanity”?

Isn’t it time for the United Nations to make reforms so that it can start living up to its purposes? That will require demanding and enforcing compliance with the UN Charter and International Law.

Rick Sterling is an independent research/writer and member of Syria Solidarity Movement.  He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com .  

 




The Ever-Curiouser MH-17 Case

Exclusive: The shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine has served as a potent propaganda club against Russia but the U.S. government is hiding key evidence that could solve the mystery, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The curious mystery surrounding the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, gets more curious and more curious as the U.S. government and Dutch investigators balk at giving straightforward answers to the simplest of questions even when asked by the families of the victims.

Adding to the mystery Dutch investigators have indicated that the Dutch Safety Board did not request radar information from the United States, even though Secretary of State John Kerry indicated just three days after the crash that the U.S. government possessed data that pinpointed the location of the suspected missile launch that allegedly downed the airliner, killing all 298 people onboard.

Although Kerry claimed that the U.S. government knew the location almost immediately, Dutch investigators now say they hope to identify the spot sometime “in the second half of the year,” meaning that something as basic as the missile-launch site might remain unknown to the public more than two years after the tragedy.

The families of the Dutch victims, including the father of a Dutch-American citizen, have been pressing for an explanation about the slow pace of the investigation and the apparent failure to obtain relevant data from the U.S. and other governments.

I spent time with the family members in early February at the Dutch parliament in The Hague as opposition parliamentarians, led by Christian Democrat Pieter Omtzigt, unsuccessfully sought answers from the government about the absence of radar data and other basic facts.

When answers have been provided to the families and the public, they are often hard to understand, as if to obfuscate what information the investigation possesses or doesn’t possess. For instance, when I asked the U.S. State Department whether the U.S. government had supplied the Dutch with radar data and satellite images, I received the following response, attributable to “a State Department spokesperson”: “While I won’t go into the details of our law enforcement cooperation in the investigation, I would note that Dutch officials said March 8 that all information asked of the United States has been shared.”

I wrote back thanking the spokesperson for the response, but adding: “I must say it seems unnecessarily fuzzy. Why can’t you just say that the U.S. government has provided the radar data cited by Secretary Kerry immediately after the tragedy? Or the U.S. government has provided satellite imagery before and after the shootdown? Why the indirect and imprecise phrasing? …

“I’ve spent time with the Dutch families of the victims, including the father of a U.S.-Dutch citizen, and I can tell you that they are quite disturbed by what they regard as double-talk and stalling. I would like to tell them that my government has provided all relevant data in a cooperative and timely fashion. But all I get is this indirect and imprecise word-smithing.”

The State Department spokesperson wrote back, “I understand your questions, and also the importance of the view of these families so devastated by this tragedy. However, I am going to have to leave our comments as below.”

Propaganda Value

This lack of transparency, of course, has a propaganda value since it leaves in place the widespread public impression that ethnic Russian rebels and Russian President Vladimir Putin were responsible for the 298 deaths, a rush to judgment that Secretary Kerry and other senior U.S. officials (and the Western news media) encouraged in July 2014.

Once that impression took hold there has been little interest in Official Washington to clarify the mystery especially as evidence has emerged implicating elements of the Ukrainian military. For instance, Dutch intelligence has reported (and U.S. intelligence has implicitly confirmed) that the only operational Buk anti-aircraft missile systems in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, were under the control of the Ukrainian military.

In a Dutch report released last October, the Netherlands’ Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) reported that the only anti-aircraft weapons in eastern Ukraine capable of bringing down MH-17 at 33,000 feet belonged to the Ukrainian government.

MIVD made that assessment in the context of explaining why commercial aircraft continued to fly over the eastern Ukrainian battle zone in summer 2014. MIVD said that based on “state secret” information, it was known that Ukraine possessed some older but “powerful anti-aircraft systems” and “a number of these systems were located in the eastern part of the country.”

The intelligence agency added that the rebels lacked that capability: “Prior to the crash, the MIVD knew that, in addition to light aircraft artillery, the Separatists also possessed short-range portable air defence systems (man-portable air-defence systems; MANPADS) and that they possibly possessed short-range vehicle-borne air-defence systems. Both types of systems are considered surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Due to their limited range they do not constitute a danger to civil aviation at cruising altitude.”

One could infer a similar finding by reading a U.S. “Government Assessment” released by the Director of National Intelligence on July 22, 2014, five days after the crash, seeking to cast suspicion on the ethnic Russian rebels and Putin by noting military equipment that Moscow had provided the rebels. But most tellingly the list did not include Buk anti-aircraft missiles. In other words, in the context of trying to blame the rebels and Putin, U.S. intelligence could not put an operational Buk system in the rebels’ hands.

So, perhaps the most logical suspicion would be that the Ukrainian military, then engaged in an offensive in the east and fearing a possible Russian invasion, moved its Buk missile systems up to the front and an undisciplined crew fired a missile at a suspected Russian aircraft, bringing down MH-17 by accident.

That was essentially what I was told by a source who had been briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts in July and August 2014. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “Flight 17 Shoot-Down Scenario Shifts” and “The Danger of an MH-17 Cold Case.”]

But Ukraine is a principal participant in the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which has been probing the MH-17 case, and thus the investigation suffers from a possible conflict of interest since Ukraine would prefer that the world’s public perception of the MH-17 case continue to blame Putin. Under the JIT’s terms, any of the five key participants (The Netherlands, Ukraine, Australia, Belgium and Malaysia) can block release of information.

The interest in keeping Putin on the propaganda defensive is shared by the Obama administration which used the furor over the MH-17 deaths to spur the European Union into imposing economic sanctions on Russia.

In contrast, clearing the Russians and blaming the Ukrainians would destroy a carefully constructed propaganda narrative which has stuck black hats on Putin and the ethnic Russian rebels and white hats on the U.S.-backed government of Ukraine, which seized power after a putsch that overthrew elected pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22, 2014.

Accusations against Russia have also been fanned by propaganda outlets, such as the British-based Bellingcat site, which has collaborated with Western mainstream media to continue pointing the finger of blame at Moscow and Putin – as the Dutch investigators drag their heels and refuse to divulge any information that would clarify the case.

Letter to the Families

Perhaps the most detailed – although still hazy – status report on the investigation came in a recent letter from JIT chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke to the Dutch family members. The letter acknowledged that the investigators lacked “primary raw radar images” which could have revealed a missile or a military aircraft in the vicinity of MH-17.

Ukrainian authorities said all their primary radar facilities were shut down for maintenance and only secondary radar, which would show commercial aircraft, was available. Russian officials have said their radar data suggest that a Ukrainian warplane might have fired on MH-17 with an air-to-air missile, a possibility that is difficult to rule out without examining primary radar which has so far not been available. Primary radar data also might have picked up a ground-fired missile, Westerbeke wrote.

“Raw primary radar data could provide information on the rocket trajectory,” Westerbeke’s letter said. “The JIT does not have that information yet. JIT has questioned a member of the Ukrainian air traffic control and a Ukrainian radar specialist. They explained why no primary radar images were saved in Ukraine.” Westerbeke said investigators are also asking Russia about its data.

Westerbeke added that the JIT had “no video or film of the launch or the trajectory of the rocket.” Nor, he said, do the investigators have satellite photos of the rocket launch.

“The clouds on the part of the day of the downing of MH17 prevented usable pictures of the launch site from being available,” he wrote. “There are pictures from just before and just after July 17th and they are an asset in the investigation.” According to intelligence sources, the satellite photos show several Ukrainian military Buk missile systems in the area.

Why the investigation’s data is so uncertain has become a secondary mystery in the MH-17 whodunit. During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on July 20, 2014, three days after the crash, Secretary Kerry declared, “we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”

But this U.S. data has never been made public. In the letter, Westerbeke wrote, “The American authorities have data, that come from their own secret services, which could provide information on the trajectory of the rocket. This information was shared in secret with the [Dutch] MIVD.” Westerbeke added that the information may be made available as proof in a criminal case as an “amtsbericht” or “official statement.”

Yet, despite the U.S. data, Westerbeke said the location of the launch site remains uncertain. Last October, the Dutch Safety Board placed the likely firing location within a 320-square-kilometer area that covered territory both under government and rebel control. (The safety board did not seek to identify which side fired the fateful missile.)

By contrast, Almaz-Antey, the Russian arms manufacturer of the Buk systems, conducted its own experiments to determine the likely firing location and placed it in a much smaller area near the village of Zaroshchenskoye, about 20 kilometers west of the Dutch Safety Board’s zone and in an area under Ukrainian government control.

Westerbeke wrote, “Raw primary radar data and the American secret information are only two sources of information for the determination of the launch site. There is more. JIT collects evidence on the basis of telephone taps, locations of telephones, pictures, witness statements and technical calculations of the trajectory of the rocket. The calculations are made by the national air and space laboratory on the basis of the location of MH17, the damage pattern on the wreckage and the special characteristics of the rockets. JIT does extra research on top of the [Dutch Safety Board] research. On the basis of these sources, JIT gets ever more clarity on the exact launch site. In the second half of the year we expect exact results.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to stonewall a request from Thomas J. Schansman, the father of Quinn Schansman, the only American citizen to die aboard MH-17, to Secretary Kerry to release the U.S. data that Kerry has publicly cited.

Quinn Schansman, who had dual U.S.-Dutch citizenship, boarded MH-17 along with 297 other people for a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014. The 19-year-old was planning to join his family for a vacation in Indonesia.

In a letter to Kerry dated Jan. 5, 2016, Thomas J. Schansman noted Kerry’s remarks at a press conference on Aug. 12, 2014, when the Secretary of State said about the Buk anti-aircraft missile suspected of downing the plane: “We saw the take-off. We saw the trajectory. We saw the hit. We saw this aeroplane disappear from the radar screens. So there is really no mystery about where it came from and where these weapons have come from.”

Although U.S. consular officials in the Netherlands indicated that Kerry would respond personally to the request, Schansman told me this week that he had not yet received a reply from Kerry.

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




Kerry’s Secret War Plan for Syria

Secretary of State Kerry urged President Obama to launch secret missile attacks inside Syria without admitting the U.S. role, a plan that Obama rejected, according to a new report cited by Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

Jeffrey Goldberg’s newly published book-length article on Barack Obama and the Middle East includes a major revelation that brings Secretary of State John Kerry’s Syrian diplomacy into sharper focus: it reports that Kerry has sought on several occasions without success over the past several months to get Obama’s approval for cruise missile strikes against the Syrian government.

That revelation shows that Kerry’s strategy in promoting the Syrian peace negotiations in recent months was based on much heavier pressure on the Assad regime to agree that President Bashar al-Assad must step down than was apparent. It also completes a larger story of Kerry as the primary advocate in the administration of war in Syria ever since he became Secretary of State in early 2013.

Goldberg reports that “on several occasions” Kerry requested that Obama approve missile strikes at “specific regime targets,” in order to “send a message” to Assad – and his international allies – to “negotiate peace.” Kerry suggested to Obama that the U.S. wouldn’t have to acknowledge the attacks publicly, according to Goldberg, because Assad “would surely know the missiles’ return address.”

Goldberg reports that Kerry had “recently” submitted a “written outline of new steps to bring more pressure on Assad.” That is obviously a reference to what Kerry referred to in Senate testimony in February as “significant discussions” within the Obama administration on a “Plan B” to support the opposition that would be more “confrontational.” Kerry made no effort in his testimony to hide the fact that he was the chief advocate of such a policy initiative.

But Goldberg’s account makes it clear that Obama not only repeatedly rejected Kerry’s requests for the use of force, but also decreed at a National Security Council meeting in December that any request for the use of military force must come from his military advisers in an obvious rebuff to Kerry. Immediately after Kerry had suggested that a “Plan B” was under discussion in the administration, it was a senior Pentagon official who dismissed the idea that any confrontational move was under consideration, including the well-worn idea of a “no-fly zone.”

Kerry’s campaign for cruise missile strikes actually began soon after he became secretary in February 2013. At that point Assad was consolidating his military position, while al-Nusra Front (Al Qaeda’s affiliate0 and its extremist allies were already in a dominant position within the armed opposition, according to U.S. intelligence. It was hardly a favorable situation for trying to build an opposition force that could be the instrument of the negotiated settlement he had in mind.

At Kerry’s urging Obama signed a secret presidential “finding” in May 2013 for a covert CIA operation the objective of which was to provide enough support to the rebels so they wouldn’t lose, but not enough so they would win. But that was a compromise measure that Kerry believed would be inadequate to support a negotiated settlement.

He wanted much more, an urgent program of aid to the opposition, and he resorted to a shady bureaucratic tactic to advance his aim. Beginning in March 2013 and throughout that spring, the armed opposition accused the Assad regime of using Sarin gas against opposition population centers on several occasions. The evidence for those accusations was highly doubtful in every case, but Kerry seized on them as a way of putting pressure on Obama.

In June 2013, he went to the White House with a paper assuming the truth of the accusations and arguing that, if the United States did not “impose consequences” on Assad over his supposed use of chemical weapons, he would view it as “green light” to continue using them. At a National Security Council meeting that month, Kerry urged shipments of heavy weapons to the rebels as well as U.S. military strikes, but Obama still said no.

After the Aug. 21, 2013 Sarin attack in the Damascus area, Kerry was the leading figure on Obama’s national security team arguing that Obama had to respond militarily. But after initially agreeing to a set of U.S. missile strikes on regime targets, Obama decided against it. One of the reasons was that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper acknowledged to him privately that the intelligence was not a “slam dunk,” according to Goldberg’s account.

In lieu of a missile strike, however, Obama agreed in October 2013 to a very risky major escalation of military assistance to the Syrian opposition. That fall the Pentagon sold 15,000 U.S. TOW anti-tank missiles to the Saudis, and throughout 2014, the Saudis doled them out to armed groups approved by the United States. Dispensing anti-tank missiles was a reckless policy, because it was recognized by then that many of the groups being armed were already fighting alongside Nusra Front in the northwest. The missiles were crucial to the capture of all of Idlib province by the Nusra-led “Army of Conquest” in April 2015.

Kerry was ready to take a risk on Nusra Front and its allies becoming unstoppable in order to jump-start his strategy of diplomatic pressure on Assad. But Kerry overplayed his hand. The Assad regime and Iran feared that the newly strengthened military force under Nusra Front control might break through to take over the Alawite stronghold of Latakia province. They prevailed on Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene with Russian airpower.

As the Russian campaign of airstrikes began to push back the extremist-led military forces and even threaten their lines of supply, Kerry’s strategy to pressure the Assad regime to make a major diplomatic concession became irrelevant.

Kerry’s demands for U.S. cruise missile strikes became even more insistent. Without them, he argued, he couldn’t get the Russians to cooperate with his peace negotiations plan. Goldberg quotes a “senior administration official” as saying, “Kerry’s looking like a chump with the Russians, because he has no leverage.”

Obama, who had already succumbed in 2014 to domestic political pressure to begin bombing the Islamic State, saw no reason to get into even deeper war in Syria in support of Kerry’s plan – especially under the new circumstances. Assad was not likely to step down, and in case, the war would only end if Nusra Front and its Salafist-jihadi allies were no longer able to get the heavy weapons they need to fight the regime.

The real origin of the present Syrian peace negotiations is thus Kerry’s ambition to pursue the illusory aim of winning a diplomatic victory in Syria by much greater pressure on the Assad regime. Ironically, in setting in motion the military build-up of an Al-Qaeda-dominated armed opposition, Kerry sowed the seeds of the military reversal that ensured the failure of his endeavor. As a result he became the rather pathetic figure shown in Goldberg’s account pleading in vain for yet another US war in Syria.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.[This article originally appeared in Middle East Eye at http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/kerry-sought-missile-strikes-force-syrias-assad-step-down-1087172884#sthash.oK5k5IX9.dpuf]




What’s the Matter with John Kerry?

From the Archive: As a young warrior and senator, John Kerry stood up to politicians who spread propaganda that got people killed. But, as a Secretary of State in his 70s, Kerry has become what he once challenged, Robert Parry reported in 2014.

By Robert Parry (Originally published on April 14, 2014)

On Feb. 1, 2013, when John Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, there might have been some reason to hope that the former Vietnam veteran against the war and the man who conducted serious investigations of U.S. national security crimes in the 1980s would bring some integrity and maturity to U.S. foreign policy, especially the need to avoid exaggerations and deceptions in pursuit of American interests.

After all, Kerry personally experienced the horrors of a war fought on false pretenses as a young Navy officer patrolling the rivers of South Vietnam. After winning the Silver Star, he returned home from the war and spoke eloquently against it, making his first significant mark as a public figure.

I got to know Kerry when I was an Associated Press reporter covering President Ronald Reagan’s secret operations in Central America and found Kerry to be one of the few members of Congress with the courage to follow the facts into some very dark corners of U.S. government actions, including complicity with death squads, terrorists and drug traffickers.

But Kerry soon learned there was a political price to pay for courage and honesty. For his efforts to get at hard truths, such as Reagan’s tolerance for cocaine smugglers in his beloved Nicaraguan Contra operation, Kerry was targeted by the right-wing press, especially The Washington Times, but also by smug mainstream outlets. For his investigative efforts, Newsweek’s Conventional Wisdom Watch dubbed Kerry a “randy conspiracy buff.” [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

So, when Kerry was eying a run for the White House in 2002, his political handlers persuaded him to vote to give President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq. And, after Kerry won the Democratic nomination in 2004, he chose to airbrush out of his résumé all his honorable actions against the Vietnam War and in standing up to Reagan’s crimes. When he accepted the nomination, he snapped off a corny salute and declared, “reporting for duty.”

After losing to Bush partly because Kerry shied away from confronting the ugly smears against his war record, including Republicans passing out “Purple Heart Band-Aids” to mock his war wounds Kerry retreated back to the Senate where he repackaged himself as a bipartisan figure who cultivated Republican friends, such as neocon Sen. John McCain, a fellow Vietnam vet and — after 2008 — another failed nominee for President.

Which Kerry?

So, it wasn’t’ clear which John Kerry would be “reporting for duty” when he got his “dream job” as Secretary of State. Would we see a return of the brave and honest John Kerry of the 1970s and 1980s, or would it be the political weather vane that swung to the prevailing winds as we saw since the 1990s?

When Kerry took over at Foggy Bottom, there was a desperate need for adult supervision of U.S. diplomacy globally. President Barack Obama’s disastrous decision to staff much of his national security team with “a team of rivals” including Bush holdover Robert Gates at Defense, Hillary Clinton (a neocon-lite) at State and military officers like neocon-favorite Gen. David Petraeus meant that U.S. foreign policy deviated little from the broad outlines of Bush’s neocon interventionism.

Though some of the big-name neocons had left government to work at influential think tanks or write op-ed articles for the Washington Post, there was a substantial stay-behind force, especially at State where Hillary Clinton shielded them and even promoted some, like Victoria Nuland who became department spokesperson.

The rhetoric changed a bit. The phrase “war on terror” was “out,” but much of its substance remained “in,” including drone killings. There was also a subtle change in how to justify “regime change” wars. It would be “democracy promotion” and “responsibility to protect,” not “preemptive wars” and claims about WMD.

Indeed, perhaps the most significant evolution in U.S. foreign policy in Obama’s first term was the merger between the neocons and the liberal “humanitarian” interventionists. In effect, the ever-skillful neocons forged an alliance with these liberal hawks, the likes of Samantha Power and Susan Rice who were key advisers to Obama.

The chief tactical change was to rely on U.S.-funded “non-governmental organizations” to stir up disruptive protests against a target government. Then, when security forces struck back often clumsily and even brutally the “regime changers” could assert a “responsibility to protect” or “R2P.”

The new battlefield of this global propaganda warfare would be the release of YouTube videos showing (or purporting to show) atrocities committed by some embattled government against “innocent civilians.” The competition was to make these videos “go viral” and stir up emotional reactions that would prompt demands from average people to “do something.”

Hawkish Clinton

Clinton’s State Department had been unapologetically hawkish. In 2009, Clinton joined with Gates and Petraeus to mousetrap Obama into a “surge” of 30,000 troops for Afghanistan, what turned out to be a pointless “counterinsurgency” campaign that got about 1,000 more U.S. troops killed without changing the conflict’s strategic arc toward failure.

In 2009-2010, Clinton also joined in ratcheting up the confrontation with Iran in line with the interests of Israel and the neocons. Clinton’s aggressiveness was encouraged, in part, by her State Department secretly engineering the elevation of Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano to head the International Atomic Energy Agency. The malleable Amano was in the U.S. government’s back pocket, ready to be pulled out as necessary to “prove” Iran’s bad faith regarding its nuclear program.

With Amano securely in place, Clinton spiked a solution to the Iranian nuclear dispute that had been arranged by the leaders of Brazil and Turkey at Obama’s urging. Instead of that deal which called for Iran surrendering most of its nuclear material in exchange for processed nuclear plates for medical research, Clinton opted for more sanctions against — and more tensions with — Iran, just as the neocons wanted.

But the clearest example of this new strategy was Libya where the forces of Muammar Gaddafi responded to violent protests, spearheaded by Islamic extremists based in the east around Benghazi, by launching a counteroffensive aimed at eliminating the “terrorist” threat.

However, guided by Secretary of State Clinton and foreign policy advisers Power and Rice, Obama was persuaded to commit U.S. and European forces supposedly to protect the civilian population in eastern Libya. But this “R2P” became just another excuse to undertake “regime change” against Gaddafi.

The West’s widespread bombing campaign, combined with covert military support for the rebels, devastated Gaddafi’s military and paved the way for a rebel victory. After being captured, Gaddafi was tortured and murdered, while Secretary Clinton was caught on video happily receiving the news of Gaddafi’s demise.

The Libyan “victory” was short-lived, however, as the country fell into chaos and under the sway of extremists. On Sept. 11, 2012, Islamic terrorists overran the U.S. consulate in Benghazi (housing a large CIA station) and killed four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Clinton called the incident her worst moment as Secretary of State.

Kerry: Old vs. New

So, when John Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton on Feb. 1, 2013, the State Department was in need of a responsible adult who would rein in the department’s penchant for stirring up trouble and then looking on helplessly as the chaos spun out of control.

But which Kerry would show up? The young Kerry who recognized how belligerent talk and playing with facts could end up getting lots of innocent people killed or the older Kerry who had trimmed his sails and learned to go with the prevailing winds, regardless of the dangers to the world?

There are times at the end of a politician’s career when the person reverts back to an earlier, more idealistic self, though more often a deeply compromised politician just continues doing what’s been learned over the decades of political survival.

It’s now clear that John Kerry fell into the latter approach. He did undertake a quixotic pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, perhaps hoping that success in such an impossible undertaking would be the “crown jewel” of his career, compensating for his 2004 defeat.

But Kerry also let himself be turned into a hand puppet for the neocons and R2Pers who had gained bureaucratic control of State and were set on escalating confrontations with Syria and Iran by essentially following the “regime change” blueprint designed by Vice President Dick Cheney and the neocons in the Bush-43 administration.

Influential neocons and R2Pers took command of key positions in 2013, as Kerry moved from Capitol Hill to Foggy Bottom and Obama entered his second term. Neocon Victoria Nuland was promoted from State Department spokesperson to Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. Susan Rice became National Security Adviser, and Samantha Power took over as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

The Sarin Attack

So, when a mysterious Sarin attack occurred outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, the State Department was eager to jump to the conclusion that the Syrian government was responsible. Despite doubts among U.S. intelligence analysts, Kerry chose not to ask too many questions or press for hard evidence.

Like a replay of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident that gave President Lyndon Johnson an excuse to escalate the war in Vietnam which a few years later put Kerry on a Swift Boat in rivers slicing through Vietnamese jungles Kerry hyped the case against Syria.

Kerry’s Aug. 30 speech bordered on the hysterical in its tone as he repeatedly insisted that “we know” the Syrian government was responsible for the Sarin attack, though he refused to release any evidence that could be independently evaluated.

His speech was accompanied by a four-page “Government Assessment” that also offered no verifiable proof and looked to be an attempt to evade a more formal National Intelligence Estimate, a consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community which would have had to reveal any dissents from analysts. The “Government Assessment” simply ignored any challenges to the emerging “group think.”

Kerry then took his belligerent message to Congress, where at one hearing his wife, heiress Teresa Heinz, sat behind him as he urged a military assault on Syria. Accompaniment by a spouse is usually reserved for confirmation hearings and is virtually unheard of when an official is seeking something as grave as launching a war.

Yet, while Kerry’s wife was there, no one from the U.S. intelligence community was sitting near Kerry, presumably because a senior intelligence representative might have drawn a question about whether all U.S. analysts were onboard in blaming the Syrian government for the attack. The inconvenient answer would have been no.

Such a presence also might have stirred memories of CIA Director George Tenet sitting behind Secretary of State Colin Powell on Feb. 5, 2003, as Powell delivered his deceptive speech on Iraq’s WMD.

While Kerry pounded the war drums, the two other witnesses at the table with him, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, were much more circumspect and somber. The tableau suggested that the Pentagon was less enthusiastic about war than Kerry and his diplomats.

Putin’s Interference

The U.S. bombing campaign against Syria was finally averted when President Obama accepted a deal proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin that called for Syria surrendering its chemical weapons even as President Bashar al-Assad continued to deny any involvement in the Aug. 21 attack.

Obama’s decision not to bomb Syria was treated as a betrayal by the neocons and the R2Pers. The editorial pages of the Washington Post and other leading newspapers were filled with criticism of Obama’s lack of resolve.

But Obama seemed, briefly at least, to be working cooperatively with Putin to resolve some dangerous crises in the Middle East. Putin also helped arrange an interim agreement with Iran to impose constraints on its nuclear program but not eliminate its ability to use nuclear technological for peaceful purposes.

That move, too, infuriated the American neocons as well as Saudi Arabia and Israel which have long been trying to enlist the U.S. military in a massive bombing campaign against Iran, with hopes that the devastation could lead to more “regime change.”

In November 2013, Kerry again showed up as an abettor of more confrontation with Iran. Dispatched to Geneva to sign the interim accord, Kerry consulted with the French, who were carrying water for their wealthy patrons in Saudi Arabia, and inserted some last-minute language which derailed the signing agreement. I’m told Obama then instructed Kerry to return to Geneva and sign the deal, which Kerry finally did.

These twin defeats infuriated the neocons who escalated their op-ed campaign against Obama’s foreign policy of “appeasement.” Key neocons also took aim at Putin by putting in their sights a country of particular sensitivity to Russia, neighboring Ukraine.

Aiming at Ukraine

In late September, as the neocon drive for bombing Syria was petering out, neocon Carl Gershman, president of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), penned a Washington Post op-ed that called Ukraine “the biggest prize” and expressed hope that “Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

NED was founded in 1983 essentially to carry out the sorts of activities that traditionally were done by the CIA, i.e., supporting activists, “journalists” and other operatives who would be useful in destabilization campaigns against troublesome governments, all in the name of “democracy promotion.” NED’s annual report listed a staggering 65 projects in Ukraine.

By fall 2013, Kerry’s State Department was committed to prying Ukraine loose from Russia’s orbit, all the better to weaken Putin (and drive a wedge between him and Obama). At the forefront of this effort was Victoria Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century which famously pushed the case for invading Iraq.

The Kagans are not just neocons but neocon royalty who can place op-eds in major newspapers at the snap of a finger. I’ve known Robert Kagan since he headed the Reagan administration’s State Department propaganda office on Central America. He was the guy who told me that my skeptical reporting on the Reagan administration’s claims could lead to me being “controversialized.”

Robert’s brother, Frederick, was an architect of both the Iraq War “surge” and the Afghan War “surge.” Indeed, in his memoir, Duty, former Defense Secretary Gates says Frederick Kagan was the one who sold him on the Afghan “surge,” which was then essentially imposed on Obama by his willful “team of rivals” Gates, Clinton and Petraeus in 2009.

By late 2013, Nuland, aided and abetted by Kerry’s chum Sen. John McCain, was encouraging western Ukrainian protesters to challenge Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych over his refusal to sign a deal with Europe that would have included harsh austerity imposed by the International Monetary Fund. Yanukovych had opted for a more generous $15 billion aid package from Moscow.

Stirring Up Discontent

On Dec. 13 in a speech at the National Press Club, Nuland reminded Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested more than $5 billion in Ukraine’s “European aspirations” with the goal of taking “Ukraine into the future that it deserves,” i.e., out of the Russian orbit and into a Western one.

Why the United States should be spending such large sums of money to create political turmoil in Ukraine has never been fully explained, short of the emotional appeals based on YouTube videos of attractive young people who took part in mass and sometimes violent demonstrations in Kiev’s Maidan square against Yanukovych.

Clearly, it is true that all the Ukrainian governments that have held power since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 have been marred by corruption, but much of that was driven by the U.S.-prescribed “shock therapy” of “free market” extremism that allowed a handful of well-connected “oligarchs” to plunder the nation’s wealth.

Yet, the U.S. policy prescription is to apply IMF “austerity,” which further punishes the average citizen while leaving the “oligarchs” largely untouched.

As Nuland, McCain and other neocons stoked the fires of protest against Yanukovych, Ukrainian neo-Nazis moved to the front of the demonstrations, engaging in increasingly violent clashes with police. On Feb. 20, another murky incident occurred in which snipers opened fire and killed a number of protesters and police. The U.S. government and Western media immediately put the blame on Yanukovych although he denied giving such an order.

The Coup

On Feb. 21, Yanukovych sought to tamp down the violence by agreeing to an accord brokered by three European countries in which he agreed to reduce his powers, accept an early election so he could be voted out of office, and withdraw police forces. That last concession, however, prompted the neo-Nazi militias to overrun government buildings and force Yanukovych to flee for his life.

Then, without following constitutional procedures and with neo-Nazi storm troopers patrolling the buildings a rump parliament immediately “impeached” Yanukovych and elected Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who had been Nuland’s choice to run the country. Far-right parties also were given four ministries in recognition of their crucial role in providing the armed militias who carried out the coup.

Rather than provide any objective coverage of events, the U.S. news media, led by the New York Times and Washington Post, behaved more as state propaganda organs, pushing the U.S. government’s version and especially playing down the role of the neo-Nazis from Svoboda and the Right Sektor. Since the presence of swaggering neo-Nazis in the Maidan clashed with the preferred image of idealistic democratic youth, the brown shirts were essentially whited-out of the picture.

Only occasionally, in passing, do the major U.S. newspapers find themselves forced to mention the neo-Nazis: either while mocking “Russian propaganda” or when interviewing some of these rightists in other context. For instance, on April 6, the New York Times published a human-interest profile of a Ukrainian hero named Yuri Marchuk who was wounded in clashes around Kiev’s Maidan square in February.

If you read deep into the story, you learn that Marchuk was a Svoboda leader from Lviv, which if you did your own research you would discover is a neo-Nazi stronghold where Ukrainian nationalists hold torch-light parades in honor of World War II Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. Without providing that context, the Times does mention that Lviv militants plundered a government arsenal and dispatched 600 militants a day to do battle in Kiev.

Marchuk also described how these well-organized militants, consisting of paramilitary brigades of 100 fighters each, launched the fateful attack against the police on Feb. 20, the battle where Marchuk was wounded and where the death toll suddenly spiked into scores of protesters and about a dozen police.

Marchuk later said he visited his comrades at the occupied City Hall. What the Times doesn’t mention is that City Hall was festooned with Nazi banners and even a Confederate battle flag as a tribute to white supremacy.

The Times touched on the inconvenient truth of the neo-Nazis again on April 12 in an article about the mysterious death of neo-Nazi leader Oleksandr Muzychko, who was killed during a shootout with police on March 24. The article quoted a local Right Sektor leader, Roman Koval, explaining the crucial role of his organization in carrying out the anti-Yanukovych coup.

“Ukraine’s February revolution, said Mr. Koval, would never have happened without Right Sector and other militant groups,” the Times wrote. Yet, whenever that reality is mentioned by independent journalists it is denounced as “Russian propaganda.”

New Cold War?

As tensions ratcheted up between the United States and Russia amid talk of a new Cold War there was a desperate need for a mature voice on the American side who would acknowledge some of the legitimate concerns of Moscow and the Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east and south who had just witnessed neo-Nazis spearhead a coup against a democratically elected president from their region.

Kerry — who witnessed first-hand in Vietnam the kind of bloodbath that can result when the United States locks itself in to a one-sided propagandistic view of another country’s complex reality — could have been that person. Instead, Kerry behaved like a neocon adolescent.

When the people of Crimea voted understandably and overwhelmingly to bail out of the failed Ukrainian state and rejoin Russia, Kerry insisted that it was a case of Russian aggression, declaring “you just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.”

Kerry, of course, voted in 2002 to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in pursuit of hidden WMD stockpiles that didn’t exist, but the mainstream U.S. press corps politely left out that troubling fact while reporting Kerry’s denunciation of Russia.

President Obama joined in with a slap at the Crimean referendum, calling it “sloppily organized.” But he made no mention of the “sloppily organized” impeachment of Yanukovych, which is what precipitated the secession by the people of Crimea.

Also not surprisingly, with the coup regime in Kiev nearly bankrupt and unable to fund pensions and other social services, Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the Donetsk area have begun to mount their own resistance to the imposition of undemocratic authority from Kiev. Of course, in this case, the U.S. news media treats the protesters as either delusional clowns or puppets of Moscow.

Again, someone like the young Kerry might have spoken up about the danger from unintended consequences when arrogant U.S. officials interfere in the internal affairs of another country. The young Kerry might have pondered how the Nuland-Gershman strategy of destabilizing Ukraine actually helps either the Ukrainians or the American people.

So far, the scheme holds the possibility of civil war in Ukraine, disastrous economic trouble for Europe (with fallout for the U.S. economy, too) and another splurge of U.S. military spending as bellicose politicians cut back even more on domestic priorities.

The younger Kerry might have been wise enough to cool the rhetoric and redirect the narrative into a realistic discussion that could resolve the crisis. For instance, it wouldn’t have been very hard to insist that the Feb. 21 agreement be enforced with Yanukovych possibly serving in a ceremonial capacity until new elections could select a new president, rather than the U.S. and the EU immediately embracing a neo-Nazi-led coup.

But the older Kerry is behaving much like the older generation of Cold Warriors did in the 1960s when they insisted that there was no choice other than a U.S. military intervention in Vietnam, that the lives of tens of thousands of young American men and millions of Vietnamese was a small price to pay to stop some imaginary dominoes from toppling. South Vietnam had to be kept in the “free world.”

Yet, rather than the dovish warrior of his youth, Kerry has become a hawkish diplomat in his old age, refusing to see the other side’s case and eager to take extreme positions that are sure to get more young people killed. John Kerry in his 20s was a much wiser man than John Kerry in his 70s.

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).




Clinton’s Email Hypocrisy

Hillary Clinton imposed a double-standard on emails as Secretary of State, one for her underlings and one for herself, and now she’s using double-talk to excuse her behavior, writes Bart Gruzalski.

By Bart Gruzalski

Hillary Clinton’s smooth-talking subterfuges about her email server continued in the debate on March 9. Univision’s Jorge Ramos raised the issue: “When you were Secretary of State you wrote 104 emails in your private server that the government now says contained classified information according to the Washington Post and others. That goes against a memo you personally sent to employees in 2011 directing all of them to use official email precisely because of security concerns. So it seems that you issued one set of rules for yourself and a different set of rules for employees at the State Department.”

After asking who approved her private server, Ramos asked the memorable question: “If you get indicted will you drop out?”

The key line in Clinton’s response: “Here’s the cut-to-the-chase fact: I did not send any emails marked ‘classified’ at the time.” We’ve heard that line over and over again the past weeks.   Ramos asked his question again: “If you get indicted would you drop out?” Hillary: “Oh, for goodness, it’s not gonna happen. I’m not even going to answer that question.”

By continually claiming that none of her emails were marked “classified,” Clinton has convinced many of her supporters that she is innocent of putting classified information at risk: Her parsing of words — “marked classified” rather than simply “classified” — continues to work for her.

We have excellent reasons for doubting that Hillary “never sent classified emails.” Hillary stated clearly that she was “well aware of the classification requirements.” The Washington Post discovered the email equivalent of a “smoking gun” when it reported that Clinton had written three-quarters of the classified emails herself. That undermined her defense that they weren’t “marked” classified. If any should have been marked “classified,” It was her job to label them.

Under pressure by Fox host Bret Baier on March 7, Hillary added that it was the State Department’s job to classify the emails she sent out. The suggestion that it was the State Department’s job to classify her outgoing emails is ludicrous. No one else had the access to her private server. In her 2011 email to State Department employees, she shows that she is aware of the dangers of using a private server.

Hillary will undoubtedly continue to dance around questions involving her email. Even if she is forced to testify before a grand jury, her grand jury testimony will remain sealed. Those who are asking her the hard questions in public need to ask very simple and direct questions that leave her no wiggle room. One such question: “Did you ever originate emails containing top secret information?”

Clinton has tried to sidestep the email brouhaha by pointing out that Colin Powell, who was Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, used a private email address. The critical difference is that Powell did not use a home server. The potential security breach is not created by using a private email address, but by sending and keeping emails on a private home server.

Hillary will have to become an unparalleled Clintonesque wordsmith to keep the waters muddied. She may wave off a direct question, saying she’s answered it already (she hasn’t answered the one above) and asking for the “next question.” That response is already losing its effectiveness.

Regardless of what the FBI and Justice Department do, it’s hard to imagine what will protect Hillary from being indicted in the forum of public opinion. Hillary did send classified emails. That was part of her job as Secretary of State. She should not have used a home server which allowed classified information to be hacked. That too was her responsibility as Secretary of State.

Professor Emeritus Bart Gruzalski specialized in ethics, has published three books and over fifty articles, including online publications at Consortiumnews, Truthout’s Speakout, Counterpunch, and PolicyMic. EMAIL ADDRESS: bartgruzalski@gmail.com




Trump’s Fear of a ‘Brokered’ Convention

Exclusive: The Republican establishment’s last-ditch battle to stop Donald Trump may come down to whether convention rules can be rewritten, as ex-CIA analyst Peter W. Dickson explains.

By Peter W. Dickson

The spectacle of a deadlocked Republican convention and perhaps a nomination “bought” or brokered in Cleveland in July is a prospect that pundits have begun to take seriously as the primary and caucus contests have unfolded over the past month.

It is a scenario that particularly threatens front-runner Donald Trump, who has acknowledged that if he doesn’t wrap up a majority of the delegates before the convention, he will be at “a disadvantage.” And there is little doubt that the GOP power-brokers who see him as not electable (as well as a threat to the party establishment) are exploring ways to stop him at the convention and, if necessary, to “steal” the nomination from him.

Since the 11 state contests on Super Tuesday (March 1) were not winner-take-all contests, Trump was unable to drive his chief competitors, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, out of the race. With pluralities in seven states, Trump won 240 delegates, far short of the 300 delegates that pundits had predicted before the fury over Trump’s evasive remarks about an endorsement from white nationalist David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan.

Trump’s main rivals were able to meet minimum thresholds to collect delegates in many of the Super Tuesday contests. But Trump regained his momentum in the March 8 contests, winning three – Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii – while Cruz prevailed in Idaho.

Yet there is a key Republican convention rule, known as Rule 40, which could hand Trump the nomination on a silver platter because it limits the number of nominees while prohibiting certain attempts to steal the nomination away from a front runner.

The purpose of this rule was to help ensure the coronation of a clear front runner and to give a presumptive nominee a celebratory sendoff into the general election. Prior to the 2012 convention, this rule required a candidate to have won a plurality of delegates in at least five states to have his or her name put into nomination at the convention.

However, once Mitt Romney secured enough delegates to win the 2012 nomination, his supporters (especially key adviser-operative Ben Ginsburg) got this rule revised to block any person from being nominated at the convention unless he or she had won a majority of delegates in at least eight states. (Part of Romney’s reasoning was to freeze out a major floor demonstration of support for libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and thus to present to the nation watching on TV a united party rallying behind the former Massachusetts governor.)

In addition to prohibiting the recording of any delegates won by candidates who failed to meet the eight-state threshold, Rule 40 barred delegates from promoting a groundswell on the convention floor for any person who did not participate in the state contests. Thus, the rule prevents a modern-day replay of the “We Want Willkie” selection of Wendell Willkie at the 1940 Republican convention. (Ironically, that would now rule out a stealth establishment strategy to mount a “Romney, Romney” uprising at the convention in Cleveland.)

It remains to be seen if and when Trump and his rivals can secure majorities of the delegates in eight states. Trump has met that threshold in seven of the 15 states in which he has won the most votes, meaning he is just one state short of the threshold.

Cruz has won the most votes in seven states and secured a majority of delegates in four states: Idaho, Kansas, Maine and Texas. In other words, the Texas senator is halfway there. But Rubio and Kasich have made little or no progress thus far, with the former only getting a majority of delegates for Puerto Rico.

The opportunity to secure a majority of a state’s delegates becomes easier after March 15 when states can conduct “winner-take-all” primaries. That means the candidates will only need pluralities to win the 20 winner-take-all contests (all outside the South except Florida) to be held on or after March 15. (Another five states will give the top vote-getter a majority of their delegates.)

The number of delegates to be awarded under those rules total 960 which are almost 40 percent of all the delegates at the convention. The current situation would seem to favor Trump and Cruz as the ones most likely to exceed the eight-state threshold.

Even if Rubio and Kasich win their winner-take-all home states of Florida and Ohio, respectively, on March 15, it will be a formidable challenge in a four-man race for them to win a majority of delegates in eight states without a strong swing of support in their favor. So, it is not entirely out of the question that Trump alone or perhaps Trump and Cruz could end up being the only nominees at the convention, with all the Rubio and Kasich delegates effectively set to the side uncounted.

This outcome would mean that the magic figure – a simple majority – to win the nomination would drop below the stated requirement of 1,237 delegates. The practical effect of Rule 40, in wiping out the delegates won by candidates who cannot meet the threshold, makes a first-ballot victory a virtual certainty if there are only one or two candidates who are able to get their names placed in nomination.

Of course, there is the possibility that Republican Party leaders, who are mounting a frantic stop-Trump movement, might move to modify Rule 40 before the convention. North Dakota National Committeeman Curly Haugland, a member of the RNC Rules Committee, told The Daily Caller on Tuesday that there will be an attempt to change Rule 40 to open the convention to any candidate who has won any delegates.

Such a rule change, however, would have to be placed before the convention, meaning that it would need a majority of the delegates to pass, a difficult hurdle if Trump controls most of the votes. But if he doesn’t, the maneuver could open a path for denying him the nomination on the first ballot and then steering the prize to another candidate on subsequent ballots, i.e., a “brokered” convention.

If a last-minute rule change is engineered to block Trump – or even just proposed for a vote on the convention floor – Trump and his supporters might throw the proceedings into chaos reminiscent of the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968. Or Trump could decide to run as an independent as he has suggested he would do if he is “not treated fairly.”

Historical Precedents

Though there are few recent historical examples of a brokered GOP convention – the last seriously contested Republican convention was in 1976 when California Gov. Ronald Reagan challenged but lost to sitting President Gerald Ford – floor fights were far more common in earlier eras when the party bosses held sway.

In that context, it’s well worth revisiting a pivotal, even iconic moment in the Republican Party’s long history when the young party held its second national convention in 1860, at “the Wigwam” in Chicago. Arguably, it was the most consequential presidential convention of all time, resulting in the dramatic nomination of a “dark horse” candidate named Abraham Lincoln whose nomination was undeniably “bought” via a pivotal bargain reached in a smoke-filled hotel room well past midnight, only hours before the balloting began.

Lincoln’s campaign manager David Davis “stole” the Republican nomination away from the icon of the Eastern Establishment, the famous New York Sen. William Seward. Defying the fastidious Lincoln’s repeated instructions from his home in Springfield, Illinois, not to cut any “bargains” or make “any contracts that will bind me,” Davis did just that and more, such as packing the arena with supporters given unauthorized tickets.

The turning point came when Davis made promises to the Pennsylvania delegation to get it to dump its favorite-son candidate (Simon Cameron) and flip to Lincoln on the second ballot. This stalled Seward’s powerful surge toward a majority of the delegates and brought an end to his anticipated coronation before the start of the fourth ballot.

The Seward supporters were livid. For Lincoln’s physical safety, Davis and his team fired off eight telegrams (preserved in the Lincoln papers at the Library of Congress) begging him to spurn numerous pleas that he come to Chicago to accept the nomination.

Despite his dismay over the wheeling and dealing, Lincoln suggested to Sen. Joshua Giddings any “conditions” (i.e. deals or promises) made at the convention were “honorable ones.” But Lincoln did make some appointments in line with Davis’s promises. For the sake of party unity, Lincoln appointed Cameron as Secretary of War, although he was sacked after nine months and replaced by Davis’s former Kenyon College classmate, Edwin Stanton.

Lincoln scholars, especially biographers, have long steered attention away from what happened at the Chicago convention. The revelation that Lincoln – a Christ-like figure after his assassination on Good Friday 1865 – needed a “kingmaker” like Davis takes away from the majestic trajectory of Lincoln’s life from humble origins to his martyrdom for a just cause: the salvation of the Union and the abolition of slavery.

Obviously, the nomination rules have changed dramatically from Lincoln’s days or even Willkie’s days – with party primaries and caucuses giving a much more prominent say to rank-and-file Republicans. This “democratizing” of the selection process has allowed a wealthy outsider like Trump to charge to the front of the race, running against the party insiders and spurning the financial backing of the powerful GOP “donor class.”

Now, the Republican establishment is hurling millions of dollars into anti-Trump campaign advertising to blunt Trump’s popular appeal while counting on his three remaining challengers to block Trump’s path to a clear majority of the delegates. That would make possible a convention scenario in which rules might be rewritten to open the floor to more choices.

Besides the delegates selected by voters, the GOP establishment will have 168 non-elected delegates, primarily members of the Republican National Committee (RNC) who can vote. But unlike the 712 “super-delegates” at the Democratic convention, they will not be free to vote as they wish to thwart a particular nominee and are supposed to support the candidate who won the most votes in their state.

Still, the key fight at the Republican convention beginning July 18 may be over the rules governing who is eligible to be nominated and what might happen if no one can win on the first ballot.

Peter W. Dickson is a retired CIA political-military analyst and the author of Old Kenyon and Lincoln’s Kenyon Men. Copyright © Peter W. Dickson, 2016




Clinton Still Hides Her Speeches

After serving as Secretary of State and before starting her run for President, Hillary Clinton amassed millions of dollars in speaking fees from big banks and corporate interests with business before the federal government – and she won’t say what she said, as Marjorie Cohn points out.

By Marjorie Cohn

Hillary Clinton refuses to make public the transcripts of her speeches to big banks, three of which were worth a total of $675,000 to Goldman Sachs. She says she would release the transcripts “if everybody does it, and that includes Republicans.” After all, she complained, “Why is there one standard for me, and not for everybody else?”

As the New York Times editorial board pointed out, “The only different standard here is the one Mrs. Clinton set for herself, by personally earning $11 million in 2014 and the first quarter of 2015 for 51 speeches to banks and other groups and industries.”

Hillary Clinton is not running in the primaries against Republicans, who, the Times noted, “make no bones about their commitment to Wall Street deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.” She is running against Bernie Sanders, “a decades-long critic of Wall Street excess who is hardly a hot ticket on the industry speaking circuit,” according to the Times.

Why do voters need to know what Hillary told the banks? Because it was Wall Street that was responsible for the 2008 recession, making life worse for most Americans. We need to know what, if anything, she promised these behemoths. There is an old saying: I Scratch Your Back, You Scratch Mine.

Clinton has several super PACs, which have recently donated $25 million to her campaign, $15 million of which came from Wall Street. Big banks and large contributors don’t give their money away for nothing. They expect that their interests will be well served by those to whom they donate.

Clinton recently attended an expensive fundraiser at Franklin Square Capital, a hedge fund that gives big bucks to the fracking industry. Two weeks later, her campaign announced her continuing support for the production of natural gas, which comes from fracking.

Sanders opposes fracking. He said, “Just as I believe you can’t take on Wall Street while taking their money, I don’t believe you can take on climate change effectively while taking money from those who would profit off the destruction of the planet.”

Bernie’s “Political Revolution”

Sanders has no super PACs. His campaign has received 4 million individual contributions, that average $27 each. Perhaps Rupert Murdoch multiplied that amount by $100 in setting $2,700 a head as the entrance fee for Clinton’s latest campaign gala?

Sanders has called for a “political revolution” that “takes on the fossil fuel billionaires, accelerates our transition to clean energy, and finally puts people before the profits of polluters.” He would retrain workers in the fossil fuel industries for clean energy jobs.

Sanders reminds us that the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, and 99 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent. Unlike Clinton, he says healthcare is a right – not a privilege – and college and university tuition should be free.

Sanders and Congressman John Conyers introduced legislation to allocate $5.5 billion to states and communities to create employment programs for African-American youth. They say, “instead of putting military style equipment into police departments . . . we [should] start investing in jobs for the young people there who desperately need them.”

How will we pay for all that? “If we cut military spending and corporate welfare, we would have more than enough money to meet America’s needs,” Sanders wrote in his 1997 book, Outsider in the House. “This nation currently spends $260 billion a year on defense, even though the Cold War is over,” not counting “$30 billion spent annually on intelligence or the $20 billion in defense-related expenditures hidden away in our federal spending on energy,” he added.

Today, with all the wars our government is prosecuting, that figure is nearly $600 billion.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Follow her on twitter at @marjoriecohn.




Mystery of the Civil War’s Camp Casey

From the Archive: U.S. history is distorted by the prism of race, even the Civil War, which was fought over slavery but then enshrined white heroes when Jim Crow racism quickly asserted itself, a reality relevant to Black History Month and to Chelsea Gilmour’s investigation into the mystery of Camp Casey.

By Chelsea Gilmour (Originally published on Feb. 26, 2015)

As much as Virginia loves its Civil War history, chronicling and commemorating almost every detail, Camp Casey isn’t one of the places that gets glorified or even remembered. Located somewhere in what’s now Arlington County, just miles from the White House and U.S. Capitol, Camp Casey was where regiments of African-American troops were trained to fight the Confederacy to end slavery.

While not the largest Union base for training U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), Camp Casey was one of the few located within the boundaries of a Confederate state. Yet, despite its historical significance, or perhaps because of it, Camp Casey has been largely lost to history.

In the decades after the war, as the white power structure reasserted itself across the South including in Virginia, the narrative of the Blue and the Grey took hold, two white armies battling heroically over conflicting interpretations of federal authority, brother against brother. Though slavery was surely an issue, African-Americans were pushed into the background, almost as bystanders.

In Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, statues of Southern heroes were erected seemingly everywhere. One city street called Monument Avenue is lined with statues starting with one to Gen. Robert E. Lee (erected in 1890) and then (between 1900 and 1925) others to Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Navy Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury and President Jefferson Davis.

If you drive north toward Washington along I-95, you see a gigantic Confederate battle flag flying next to the highway near Fredericksburg, the site of a Confederate victory in 1862, as well as frequent historical markers remembering not only battles but skirmishes. Across Virginia, there are eight national parks dedicated to Civil War battles and events.

The honors bestowed on Confederate leaders reach even into Arlington and Alexandria, though Union forces maintained control of those areas throughout the war. In 1920, at the height of Jim Crow segregation, parts of Route One, including stretches through or near black neighborhoods, were named in honor of Jefferson Davis, an avowed white supremacist who wanted to continue slavery forever. (In 1964, during the Civil Rights era, Davis’s name was added to an adjacent part of Route 110 near the Pentagon.)

Throughout Arlington itself, there are markers designating where Union forts and battlements were located. But there are no markers remembering Camp Casey, where the 23rd USCT regiment was trained and outfitted to go south to fight for African-American freedom, and where other USCT units bivouacked and drilled on their marches south. Even Camp Casey’s precise location has become something of a mystery with county historians offering conflicting accounts.

That haziness itself raises troubling questions, since Camp Casey arguably was the most historically significant Civil War site in Arlington. It was not just some static fort that never was attacked but an active training ground for hundreds of African-Americans to take up arms against the historic crime of black enslavement.

Camp Casey’s Role

Named after Major General Silas Casey, who oversaw the training of new recruits near Washington, Camp Casey was in operation from 1862-1865 and served as an important rendezvous point for Union troops, accommodating some 1,800 soldiers. It also housed prisoners of war and included a hospital.

General Casey wrote the Infantry Tactics for Colored Troops in 1863, differentiating the training procedures for colored troops based on the racist notion that black soldiers were not as well equipped for combat or to follow orders, and would need to be spurred in order to fight as valiantly as whites.

To give an idea of Camp Casey’s significance as a USCT base, a letter from the camp dated Aug. 2, 1864, directs Colonel Bowman of the 84th Pennsylvania volunteers to forward all recruits for the colored regiments in the Army of the Potomac to the recruiting rendezvous at Camp Casey instead of Camp Distribution as previously directed.

There were 138 African-American units serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, making up about one-tenth of the federal forces by the war’s end in April 1865, and at least 16 of those USCT regiments spent time at Camp Casey from 1864-1865, including the 6th, the 29th, and the 31st.

Camp Casey was the recruiting and training camp for the 23rd Regiment U.S. Colored Infantry with many recruits coming from Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, Virginia, slave country about halfway between Washington and Richmond. In line with the standards of the time, USCT soldiers were not as well trained as white troops, were not given the best equipment, and were not paid as well.

USCT soldiers also faced hostility and mistrust from some white Northern troops, meaning that they often were not placed on the front lines but got assigned to “fatigue duty,” such as accompanying wagons and moving supplies. Nevertheless, USCT regiments battled heroically in several major clashes near the war’s end and faced special dangers not shared by their white Northern comrades.

When blacks were admitted into the Union Army, Confederate President Jefferson Davis instituted a policy that refused to treat them as soldiers but rather as slaves in a state of insurrection, so they could be murdered upon capture or sold into slavery. The USCT soldiers were trained to expect no mercy and no quarter if wounded or captured.

In accordance with that Confederate policy, U.S. Colored Troops did face summary executions when captured in battle. When a Union garrison at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, was overrun by Confederate forces on April 12, 1864, black soldiers were shot down as they surrendered. Similar atrocities occurred at the Battle of Poison Springs, Arkansas, on April 18, 1864, and the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, Virginia, on July 30, 1864. In one of the most notorious massacres of black Union soldiers, scores were executed in Saltville, Virginia, on Oct. 2, 1864.

Bravery Under Fire

When the 23rd USCT was dispatched to join the battle against General Robert E. Lee’s vaunted Army of Northern Virginia, one of Union General George Meade’s staff officers wrote in a demeaning letter about them: “As I looked at them my soul was troubled and I would gladly have seen them marched back to Washington. We do not dare trust them in battle. Ah, you may make speeches at home, but here, where it is life or death, we dare not risk it.”

However, on May 15, 1864, the 23rd USCT engaged in what may have been the first clash between Lee’s army and black troops. A chronology of the 23rd’s history cites Noel Harrison at Mysteries & Conundrums describing how the 23rd came to the support of an Ohio cavalry unit confronting a Confederate force southeast of Chancellorsville.

According to an account uncovered by historian Gordon C. Rhea, one of the Ohio cavalrymen wrote, “It did us good to see the long line of glittering bayonets approach, although those who bore them were Blacks, and as they came nearer they were greeted by loud cheers.” The 23rd charged toward the Confederate position causing the Southern troops to withdraw, suffering several dead.

But the lack of faith in the African-American soldiers’ commitment and skill would play a decisive role in the disastrous Battle of the Crater. The 23rd and 29th USCT regiments, both of which spent time at Camp Casey, were part of Union General Ambrose Burnside’s Fourth Division, which was comprised of nine USCT regiments.

These regiments (the 23rd, the 29th, the 31st, the 43rd, the 30th, the 39th, the 28th, the 27th, and the 19th) were to lead the charge against Confederate defenses after a Union-crafted mine explosion blew an enormous crater under Confederate lines. Plans were changed, however, at the last minute when General Meade refused to allow the USCT to lead the advance.

Instead, the war-weary white troops commanded by General James Ledlie (a notorious drunk, whose lack of presence, much less leadership, during the battle was notable) led the way. Instead of charging around the crater, as the U.S. Colored Troops had been trained to do, the unprepared white replacements surged into the crater and were unable to get out. Union troops piled in on top of each other and were completely stuck, serving as easy targets for the Confederate soldiers above.

Finally, the USCT were called forth and served as a last stand against Confederate troops. Since they had initially been trained for the operation, they knew to avoid the crater and search for higher ground. But by that point, the botched attempt to take Petersburg had deteriorated into a massacre.

Lt. Robert K. Beecham, who had helped organize the USCT 23rd regiment, wrote about the soldiers’ bravery: “The black boys formed up promptly. There was no flinching on their part. They came to the shoulder like true soldiers, as ready to face the enemy and meet death on the field as the bravest and best soldiers that ever lived.”

According to the National Park Service, 209 USCT soldiers were killed in the battle with 697 wounded and 421 missing. The 23rd USCT from Camp Casey suffered the heaviest losses, with 74 killed, 115 wounded, and 121 missing. Confederate troops murdered a number of the USCT soldiers as they sought to surrender.

After the Battle of the Crater, soldiers from the 23rd were among the Union troops to enter the Confederate capital of Richmond after it fell and were present for General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

The Mystery of Camp Casey

Arlington historians have various takes on why the history of Camp Casey has been so neglected with even its precise location a mystery. The Arlington Historical Society’s stance is that it is not unusual to have lost a camp’s location, since Arlington and Alexandria were both heavily fortified during the Civil War and there were many camps located throughout the area.

Further, unlike a fort, which would consist of a large physical construction, most training camps had tents pitched in a field with only a few solid wood-framed buildings.

But Franco Brown, a historian with the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington, had a different take on why its location has been mostly lost to history. Calling Camp Casey “one of the biggest mysteries of the Civil War,” he has spent the past eight years researching Camp Casey and had encountered many of the same difficulties that I did in finding definitive information.

While acknowledging that Camp Casey was not the biggest USCT base (Camp Penn in Pennsylvania and Camp Nelson in Kentucky were more important training locations), Brown said Camp Casey was largely lost to history because it wasn’t significant to the state’s dominant historians. They favored the conventional narrative of the Civil War, the storyline of two white armies, brothers fighting brothers.

“This information [about Camp Casey] does not want to be out, it is part of their power,” Brown said.

Brown said a key factor to consider when questioning how Camp Casey could have been ignored is to look at the attitudes of Virginians and the South after the war. At the war’s conclusion, resentments ran high, and it would have been particularly galling to Southerners loyal to the Confederacy to acknowledge that there were African-American soldiers actively training on Virginian soil to fight for the North.

“After the war you get things like the KKK, which was started by five Confederate generals,” Brown said, “and they don’t want mixing of the races. The South is still mad about the Civil War. The South is still mad at the black man, because he helped win the Civil War.”

This explanation takes into account the realities of Virginia’s society and culture following the war and, in many ways, continuing to today. While there may be some truth to the argument that the story of Camp Casey was simply lost in the chaos following the war, it isn’t hard to imagine a concerted effort by resentful whites to diminish the role of black soldiers during the war.

Where Was It?

There even remains the question: where was Camp Casey? When I set out to try to solve that mystery, I found remarkably little information and some of it was conflicting. The National Archives in Washington had little about the camp, mostly letters and muster rolls, and it wasn’t until I asked the Arlington Historical Society’s official historians that they seemed to give the matter much thought.

As far as the exact location of Camp Casey, there are a couple of conclusions. One thing seems certain, that it was located on or near Columbia Pike, then the main thoroughfare from Northern Virginia to Washington D.C.

Some letters from the time suggest that the camp was within sight of the Custis-Lee Mansion overlooking the Potomac River (now known as Arlington House above Arlington National Cemetery). That and other references to landmarks, including its supposed proximity to Freedman’s Village, led some historical investigators to place Camp Casey on the south side of Columbia Pike, not far from the Long Bridge which crossed into Washington.

An advertisement on Sept. 5, 1865, from the Daily National Republican, a Washington, D.C. newspaper in circulation from 1862-1866, announced the sale of government buildings at Camp Casey situated “about one and one-half miles from Long Bridge.”

Jim Murphy of the Historical Society explained, “We think it [Camp Casey] would have been between the Long Bridge and Fort Albany, in a field in what is currently the [south] parking lot of the Pentagon. […] We concluded it was located there after going through letters and dispatches from the camp that discuss the colored troops training next to a field.” (Long Bridge was located near today’s I-395’s 14th St. Bridge across the Potomac, and Fort Albany was just south of the current Air Force Memorial on Columbia Pike.) [To see a Civil War-era map of the area with some of the landmarks, click here.]

The Pentagon-parking-lot location would likely have put it within sight of the Custis-Lee mansion and would place it close to Freedman’s Village, a semi-permanent community for African-Americans freed by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation who escaped the Confederacy and were settled on a portion of Lee’s plantation on the north side of Columbia Pike.

But Franco Brown cites other evidence in letters from the soldiers placing Camp Casey in the vicinity of Hunter’s Chapel, which no longer exists but was then located at the intersection of Glebe Road and Columbia Pike, about two miles further southwest from the location cited in the newspaper ad.

Brown also has a contemporaneous lithographic depiction that puts Camp Casey on a bluff near an area that looks to be around the intersection of what is now Glebe Road and Walter Reed Drive. “This area is at the highest apex of the surrounding land,” Brown said.

Brown also noted that the lithograph shows a tall tower in the distant left-hand background, the Fairfax Seminary, which still stands today as the Virginia Theological Seminary, about four miles further south in Alexandria.

Thus, he concluded that “the general vicinity [of Camp Casey] is likely between the present day locations of Glebe Road, Walter Reed Drive, Columbia Pike, and Route 50 [Arlington Boulevard].” Brown said he is confident in this conclusion saying, “I’ve got it within 500 yards of the original location.”

Brown’s location would place Camp Casey about three miles from the Long Bridge, among Fort Albany, Fort Berry and Fort Craig. There is also the possibility that Camp Casey involved several military way stations stretching along Columbia Pike, all known collectively as Camp Casey, which might explain the disparate descriptions of its location. [For an overview map of the forts in the Washington area, click here.]

Though Arlington County has no plans to honor Camp Casey (or even work to ascertain its exact location), county officials have responded to public pressure to acknowledge Freedman’s Village, where Sojourner Truth lived and worked for a time.

Freedman’s Village gave freed slaves refuge both during the Civil War and for decades later (until it was razed in 1900). In 2015, Arlington dedicated a new bridge on Washington Boulevard that crosses over Columbia Pike as “Freedman’s Village Bridge.”

It is a much deserved (albeit meager) recognition of the historic area which became a Freedom Trail for African-Americans, both those escaping slavery by heading northward and those marching southward as soldiers to end it.

Chelsea Gilmour, a lifelong resident of Arlington, Virginia, is an assistant editor at Consortiumnews.com.




Behind FBI’s Data-Access Fight with Apple

FBI Director James Comey gained his reputation for integrity by standing up to George W. Bush’s White House on a domestic spying issue but the fight was more tactical than principled, raising doubts about his current dispute with Apple over government accessing encrypted phone data, writes ex-FBI official Coleen Rowley.

By Coleen Rowley

Knowing even a little of James Comey’s post 9/11 background, it becomes rather hard to believe the FBI Director is sincerely leveling with the American public in his latest quest to compel Apple (and other encrypted communication companies) to create a mechanism for government access, that he is solely motivated by his desire to “look the (San Bernardino) survivors in the eye” and tell them the FBI has followed up on all investigative leads.

It should be recalled that Comey gained his reputation for legal integrity based on one dramatic night (in March 2004), during his 20 months as deputy attorney general, confronting Bush Administration officials in Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room. Even though almost no one understood “what the Ashcroft ‘hospital showdown’ on NSA spying was all about” until a couple weeks after Comey was confirmed as FBI Director in July 2013 — see this article that seems to finally piece it all together — it was known that no Justice Department official, including Comey, generally opposed the illegal warrantless monitoring program that went into effect just days after the 9/11 attacks.

Except for a few whistleblowers, the only internal debate that developed was how to do it. In addition to the illegal “Presidential Program” monitoring of Americans, Comey supported and signed off on the George W. Bush Administration’s torture tactics as well as years-long indefinite detentions that denied some American citizens their right to counsel and other constitutional rights.

But Comey’s reputation as a man of law, albeit mostly false, preceded him. Other than some grilling about the torture he had approved of, almost none of the hard questions I suggested in this New York Times opinion piece for Judiciary Committee senators were asked of Comey during his Senate confirmation hearings. Maybe Apple could still ask him some of them!

If the FBI Director is truly concerned about the “proper balance” in upholding the law as well as effectively investigating crimes, reducing terrorism and helping crime victims, how could he let himself fall so far off balance after 9/11? What integrity exists in going along with the Bush Administration when it “went to the (lawless) dark side” and when it ginned up war on Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and which has only served to increase worldwide terrorism that led to the terrible creation of ISIS, all of which served to inspire the San Bernardino shooters?

Don’t Comey and his colleagues who shilled for war on Iraq, who support the other “regime changes” and aerial bombing campaigns targeting Syria, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan and other countries of the Mideast, understand how blowback works?!

I would think it would indeed be hard for any official who went along with the architects of the illegal wars and the Middle East destabilization plans to face the poor victims of the ensuing blowback whether or not able to get into terrorists’ phones after an attack.

Maybe most disingenuous of all is Comey’s new assertion that he is not trying to set a precedent. Does he not know that the government’s “Plan B” secret agenda to create “work-a-rounds” to defeat encryption recently came to light? Does he expect us to believe that he was not part of the secret White House meeting last fall where senior national security officials ordered agencies to find ways to counter encryption software and gain access to the most heavily protected user data on the most secure consumer devices, including Apple Inc.’s?

If it’s only a “narrow” legal issue at play, then why has the FBI Director spent so much time lately giving scary speeches that law enforcement is “going dark,” arguing that encrypted private communications are inherently dangerous, that the government needs ways to counter such privacy?

The truth is that there is little likelihood, from everything we already know about the San Bernardino couple’s lack of actual connectedness to Islamic extremist groups, that the Apple iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters holds any real clues to future attacks. Comey is good to mention, in his Lawfare piece, this potential for nothing of value residing on this particular Apple phone. Yet he disingenuously claims the legal issue is a narrow one when the only reason the case has been seized upon is due to the public relations impact of the San Bernardino shootings as the best example to open the door.

FBI and Justice Department Dspeakers were previously more honest pointing to the wider danger of child predators, serial killers, members of criminal organizations along with terrorists all potentially able to freely communicate via secure encryption, to justify the need to establish a wider precedent.

Speaking of opening the door to wider applications, we should recall what was said after National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures informed Americans about the massive data collection taking place and after the subsequent discovery that key intelligence officials lied when they tried to justify their illegal monitoring by claiming that the bulk collection of mostly non-relevant data had proven effective in preventing terrorist attacks.

Officials ultimately could only come up with one flimsy example showing how their bulk collection, despite being able to defeat privacy worldwide and despite billions of dollars spent, had detected a taxi driver sending $8,500 in “material support” to Somalia. Some of us have tried for years to refute the notion that adding more hay to the haystack somehow helps to find the needle but nothing has deterred the FBI from its haystack mindset.

It sent a Deputy Assistant Director to inform the Judiciary Committee of just the opposite, that in that one Somalian case, “In order to find the needle, … we needed the haystack.” Some Senators then seized upon this upside-down logic to justify the NSA’s massive data collection.

So I cannot help be skeptical that, instead of a narrow focus to get phone companies to help the government in discrete terrorism investigations where probable cause exists, it’s actually their admitted mindset of wanting to create ever bigger haystacks, by vacuuming up more and more communication data, that fuels the government’s drive to defeat communication privacy. In fact it was exactly that mindset behind the extension (beyond any common sense interpretation) of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which Comey and others supported and helped engineer, just a few months after the famous hospital room standoff.

Although the Patriot Act section on its face permitted only the collection of records deemed “relevant” to an “authorized” national security case, these government officials secretly decided and were able to get the FISA court’s secret approval, to stretch that narrow language to mean collection of all phone records, whether relevant or not.

Despite the above reasons for skepticism, I would nonetheless agree that unbreakable encrypted criminal communications do pose serious problems for law enforcement and serious issues for society as a whole. Since he’s leading the charge, I only wish the current FBI Director could be more honest about his past and current actions some of which were egregiously illegal and counterproductive, helping increase the level of terrorism in the world.

For James Comey is undoubtedly correct when he writes, “It should be resolved by the American people deciding how we want to govern ourselves in a world we have never seen before. We shouldn’t drift to a place — or be pushed to a place by the loudest voices — because finding the right place, the right balance, will matter to every American for a very long time.”

He should know.

Coleen Rowley is a retired FBI agent and former chief division counsel in Minneapolis. [This item first appeared at HuffingtonPost.]




Sanders the ‘Realist’; Hillary the ‘Neocon’

Exclusive: Sen. Sanders finds himself on the defensive in his uphill primary fight against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in part because he shies away from defining himself as a “realist” and asking if she is a “neocon,” writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Hillary Clinton has scored points against Bernie Sanders by tagging him as a “single-issue candidate” who harps again and again on income inequality. Though the “single-issue” charge is false the Vermont Senator actually addresses a wide range of topics from global warming to health care to college costs Clinton’s attack line has been effective nonetheless

It works, in part, because Sanders shies away from thorough discussions about his views on foreign policy while Clinton can tout her résumé as a globetrotter both as First Lady and Secretary of State.

Sanders also has left himself open to attacks from neoconservatives and liberal interventionists that he is a “closet realist.” For instance, The Washington Post’s David Ignatius wrote recently: “Is Bernie Sanders a closet foreign policy ‘realist’? Reading his few pronouncements on foreign policy, you sense that he embraces the realists’ deep skepticism about U.S. military intervention.”

But what if Sanders came out of the closet and “confessed” to being a “realist” while posing the alternative question: Is Hillary Clinton a “closet neocon” who is seen by key neocons as “the vessel” in which they have placed their hopes for extending their power and expanding their policies? Might that question reenergize Sanders’s suddenly flagging campaign and force Clinton to venture beyond a few talking points on foreign policy?

Rather than largely ceding the field to Clinton except in noting her Iraq War vote while he opposed that disastrous war of choice Sanders could say, “yes, I’m a realist when it comes to foreign policy. I’m in line with early presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson who warned about the dangers of foreign entanglements. While I believe America should lead in the world, it should not go ‘abroad in search of monsters to destroy,’ as John Quincy Adams wisely noted.

“I’m also in agreement with Dwight Eisenhower who warned about the dangers to the Republic from the Military-Industrial Complex and I agree with John Kennedy who recognized the many legitimate concerns of Third World countries emerging from colonialism. I have learned from my own years in Congress that there’s no faster way to destroy a Republic than to behave as an Empire.”

Hiding Facts

Sanders could note, too, that the other way to destroy a Republic is to use the secrecy stamp too liberally, to hide too many key facts from the American people, not because of legitimate national security concerns but because it’s easier to manipulate a public that is fed a steady diet of propaganda. The American people, he might say, are citizens deserving respect, not mushrooms kept in the dark and fertilized.

On that point, Sanders might even note that he and Hillary Clinton may be in agreement, since the former Secretary of State’s team has complained that some of her infamous emails are now being classified retroactively in what her aides complain is an exercise in over-classification. Of course, the key reason for Clinton using a private server was to keep her communications hidden from later public scrutiny.

If Sanders is asked about specifics regarding where the line is between legitimate secrets and propagandistic manipulation, he could cite how President George W. Bush played games with intelligence by hyping claims about Iraq’s WMD and Saddam Hussein’s ties to Al Qaeda.

Or Sanders could note the case of the sarin-gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, which almost drew President Barack Obama into a full-scale war in Syria.

If indeed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible as the Obama administration claimed and the mainstream U.S. news media repeats endlessly then the U.S. government should present the evidence to the American people. Or, if one of the jihadist rebel groups was behind the attack trying to trick the U.S. into joining the war on the jihadist side lay that evidence out even if it means admitting to a rush-to-judgment against Assad’s forces. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.”]

Similarly, on the issue of Ukraine: if the former government of President Viktor Yanukovych was at fault for the Maidan sniper attacks on Feb. 20, 2014, as was widely alleged at the time, put forward the evidence. If the snipers were extremists among the Maidan protesters trying to create a provocation as more recent evidence suggests give those facts to the American people.

The same applies to the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. Yes, the suggestion that Russia was responsible has proved to be an effective propaganda club to beat Vladimir Putin over the head, but if the tragedy was really the fault of some element of the U.S.-backed Ukrainian regime and if U.S. intelligence knows that fess up. Stop the game-playing.

Who’s in Charge?

It should not be the job of the U.S. government to mislead and confuse the American people. That reverses the proper order of a Republic in which “We the People” are the sovereigns and government officials are the servants.

Sanders might say, too, that he realizes neoconservatives believe in tricking the American people to support preordained policies that the neocons have cooked up in one of their think tanks, as happened with the Iraq War and the Project for the New American Century.

But a Sanders administration, he might say, would show respect for the citizenry, putting the people back in charge and putting the think tanks which live off the largesse of the Military-Industrial Complex back in their subordinate place.

Yes, it’s true that such a call for democracy, truth and pragmatism would infuriate the mainstream media, which has largely accepted its role as a propaganda organ for the neocons. But Sanders could take on that fight, much as Donald Trump has on the Republican side.

It was Trump who finally confronted the Republican Party with the reality about George W. Bush’s negligence prior to the 9/11 attacks and his deceptions about Iraq’s WMD. So far, it appears that the Republican base can handle the truth.

The GOP establishment’s frantic efforts to sustain the fictions that Bush “kept us safe” and his supposed sincerity in believing his WMD falsehoods fell flat in South Carolina where Trump trounced the Republican field and forced Bush’s brother Jeb to drop out of the race.

Does Sanders have the courage to believe that the Democratic base is at least as ready for the truth about Hillary Clinton’s entanglement in the serial deceptions that have justified a host of U.S. imperial wars, including the current ones in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria? Sanders might even respond to the accusations that he is a “closet realist” by not just admitting to his foreign policy pragmatism but asking whether Hillary Clinton is a “closet neocon.”

After all, Robert Kagan, who co-founded the neocon Project for the American Century, told The New York Times in 2014 that he hoped that his neocon views which he now prefers to call “liberal interventionist” would prevail in a possible Hillary Clinton administration.

Secretary of State Clinton named Kagan to one of her State Department advisory boards and promoted his wife, neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who oversaw the provocative “regime change” in Ukraine in 2014.

The Times reported that Clinton “remains the vessel into which many interventionists are pouring their hopes” and quoted Kagan as saying: “I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy.   If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.”

Indeed, with populist billionaire Donald Trump seizing control of the Republican race with victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, the neocons may find themselves fully siding with Hillary Clinton’s campaign as it becomes the last hope for their interventionist strategies. Ironically, too, many “realists” and anti-war activists may find Trump’s rejection of neocon orthodoxy and readiness to cooperate with Moscow to resolve conflicts more appealing than Clinton’s hopped-up belligerence.

Obviously, many anti-war Democrats would prefer that Sanders step forward as their champion and offer a cogent explanation about how the neocons and liberal hawks have harmed U.S. and world interests by spreading chaos across the Middle East and now into North Africa and Europe. But that would require Sanders embracing the word “realist” and asking whether his rival is a “neocon.”

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).