Stefania Maurizi on How Julian Assange Changed Journalism

The Italian journalist and longtime media partner of WikiLeaks speaks with Dennis J. Bernstein and Randy Credico about the implications of Assange’s struggle against U.S. extradition. 

By Dennis J Bernstein and Randy Credico
KPFA Flashpoints 

Julian Assange was back in court twice last week, and will return to a high British court next month for the major legal battle of his life. It will determine whether the U.S. is allowed to extradite the WikiLeaks publisher to the U.S. for prosecution.

In the first of a series of extradition hearings on May 2, Assange appeared in court via video screen. He seemed composed and focused and ready to fight. He told the British High Court: “I do not wish to surrender for extradition. I’m a journalist winning many, many awards and protecting many people.” The next procedural hearing is scheduled for May 30 and another substantive hearing for early June.

Stefania Maurizi  is an investigative journalist for the Italian daily la Repubblica  and the author of two books; “Dossier WikiLeaks: Segreti Italiani” and “Una Bomba, Dieci Storie.” She has for years worked closely with Assange on some of the most significant WikiLeaks releases including “Collateral Murder.” Maurizi also worked closely with Glenn Greenwald on the files about Italy of Edward Snowden, who blew the whistle on National Security Agency surveillance. 

On May 2, right after Assange’s high court appearance, Maurizi told us that she fears for the health and welfare of Assange. She said she also fears for what it might mean to other journalists and whistleblowers if Assange is convicted in a U.S. court for his crucial work with whistleblowers, which has been used widely by news organizations.    

Dennis Bernstein: Stefania Maurizi, I’d like you to start by giving us your gut reaction to what we have seen so far in terms of the treatment of Julian in recent days.

Stefania MauriziFor me it has been really shocking to witness how Julian Assange has declined in the last nine years.  I have been able to see changes in Julian’s health and psychology.  It was so sad, and no one could do anything. I could report on it and expose it but the other media and public opinion did absolutely nothing to make the government understand how terrible his treatment was.  And all this is happening not in Russia, not in North Korea, this is happening in London, in the heart of Europe.  I now realize how little we can do in our democracy.  If you look at what has happened to high-profile whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, and an important publisher like Assange, who had the courage to publish these important revelations, what did your democracy do to save them, to treat them in a human way? Chelsea Manning was put in prison for seven years, where she tried to commit suicide twice.  Now she is back in prison.  Edward Snowden was forced to leave the U.S.  Julian Assange has spent nine years in detainment and no one did anything.  We were reporting, we were denouncing, we were exposing how seriously his health was declining.  Nothing happened.

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Dennis Bernstein:  You’ve worked very closely with Julian Assange in Italy.  You were in a sense a co-publisher in getting out crucial documentation.  Could you talk about why you consider Assange not only a publisher, but one of the most important publishers of our time?

Stefania MauriziI started working with WikiLeaks in 2009 when very few people knew about them.  They hadn’t yet published important documents like “Collateral Murder” or the “War Logs.”  I immediately saw that they were going to start a revolution. And that is what has happened: They have changed journalism. Their model of journalism spread and we see now leaks everywhere.  We see this model of collaborative media partnership used by many media, like the Panama Papers Consortium. In addition, you have to realize the importance of what they have revealed.  They have revealed the true face of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have revealed the inner working of U.S. diplomacy, for example, how they put pressure on Italian prosecutors who were trying to convict 23 Americans, almost all CIA agents, responsible for the extraordinary renditions here in Italy. Or they published revelations of how the U.S. forced the Italian government to purchase a Lockheed jet fighter.  This information is now available to everyone.  You can see how The Washington Post used emails to investigate the [Jamal] Khashoggi murder and they were able to do so because they had the courage to publish these files. Even in the case of the Panama Papers, only the journalists inside the partnership can access the original files.  WikiLeaks made these files fully accessible to everyone, so that every journalist, ever activist, every scholar, every citizen can be empowered by this information free of charge.  That is the revolution.

Dennis Bernstein:  Chelsea Manning is now in jail, refusing to cooperate with the grand jury.  This is someone who spent so much time in solitary confinement. One of the key collaborations had to do with the activities of the U.S. government in Central America, destabilizing, undermining governments.  Now they say they never get involved.  If you look at the documentation in the context of the current attempt by [U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela] Elliot Abrams to destabilize Venezuela, here comes WikiLeaks again.

Stefania MauriziAbsolutely.  Whenever we have a scandal, we can go to the WikiLeaks website and search for any pertinent information.  The information they publish continues to inform the public. They are now paying a huge price. I myself feel guilty because I was able throughout the past 10 years to work on all these documents, to verify them and publish them without any risk.  Julian and WikiLeaks are paying a huge price and all the editors are silent.  People accuse me of acting as an activist.  I am not acting as an activist, I am speaking out because I feel uncomfortable when I see how professional journalists have all sorts of protection and are not facing imprisonment or extradition.

Randy Credico: The last time I saw you was in December of 2017.  I had seen Julian three months earlier and his health had declined noticeably in those few months.  Now that he is in jail, is he able to see doctors?  What is his physical health like at this point?

Stefania MauriziI am not sure whether he is able to see visitors.  It is a very strict regime, there are very strict rules for suspected terrorists.  He spends most of his time completely alone.  This comes after spending the last seven years at the embassy almost entirely alone, apart from occasional visits.  So you can imagine how his forced isolation is affecting his health.

Randy Credico: I look at the sentence that judge Deborah Taylor handed down: a year in jail for allegedly skipping bail.  Can you go into the bogus charges that were never filed against Julian, and how they were perpetuated with the assistance of the Crown Prosecution Service?

Stefania MaurizioThree years had passed since the Swedish case was closed.  No journalistic organization had ever tried to access these documents.  Thousands of journalists had covered the case but no one had the facts clear.  At that point I realized that it was important from a journalistic point of view to try to access the documentation.  These documents allow us to establish important facts, such as that it was the U.K. that advised the Swedish prosecutors against questioning Assange in London.  The whole case began with this refusal by the Swedish prosecutor.  Now we know that behind this decision there was the Crown Prosecution Service.  Let’s not forget that this agency is the very same agency which is in charge of deciding whether to extradite Julian Assange to the U.S. now. The Crown Prosecution Service entered the case at the very beginning and they advised the Swedish prosecutor against questioning Assange in London.  Julian Assange never refused to be questioned, he refused to be extradited because he was convinced that the extradition to Sweden could pave the way for his extradition to the U.S. 

Now we see that he was right. 

And it was the Crown Prosecution Service which advised the Swedish prosecutor against dropping the case in 2013.  At that time the Swedish prosecutor considered to drop the case but the Crown Prosecution Service was against this possibility.

Finally, it was the Crown Prosecution Service who destroyed crucial emails about the case, even though the case is still ongoing.  I am still fighting in the U.K. tribunal because I want to access these documents and fill in the gaps.  Now the Swedish prosecutor is evaluating whether to open this case once again.  The statute of limitations is in August 2020.  There is a massive campaign about Julian being a rapist.  After one or two years of this campaign, who will care about Julian Assange being extradited to the U.S.?  That is a possible scenario.

Dennis Bernstein:  Again, Julian had his first hearing today [May 2, 2019] regarding extradition to the United States.  He looked okay but he is definitely in danger. Stefania, what responsibility do we have as journalists to stand up?  According to Daniel Ellsberg, if they go after Julian and Chelsea the way they want to in the United States, it is the end of journalism.

Stefania MauriziAbsolutely.  This case is about whether the press is allowed to publish documents like the video “Collateral Murder,” which records war crimes and whether the press is allowed to publish documents about the NSA spying on world leaders, whether the press is allowed to publish documents on Guantanamo Bay.  We saw what happened after 9/11: habeas corpus came to an end with Guantanamo, the Fourth Amendment [of the U.S. Constitution] was trampled by the NSA.  Now they want to destroy the First Amendment and they will do it using Julian Assange. They will not go after The New York Times or The Washington Post.

Dennis Bernstein:  Wouldn’t you say that part of the genius of WikiLeaks was the ability to guarantee anonymity?  The reason why Assange has been successful and all these major journalistic organizations were willing to work with him is because of this process he created to guarantee anonymity.

Stefania Maurizi: Julian Assange understands technology and he understands the nature of power.  Most geeks know very little about power, about empire.  Thanks to his knowledge in the technology field, we have this platform. But let’s not forget that WikiLeaks is in trouble now not because they have this platform, but because they have the courage to publish.  It is not enough to get the documents.  Most newsrooms hide such documents.  One of the journalists at The Washington Post had the video “Collateral Murder” and he didn’t publish it.  WikiLeaks did.  It is not enough to have the platform: you have to have the integrity and the courage to publish.  The New York Times didn’t publish the important story that the NSA was intercepting the communications of U.S. citizens for more than a year.   For years The New York Times didn’t want to use the word “torture,” preferring instead “enhanced interrogation.”  The reason the U.S. authorities are hostile toward WikiLeaks and Julian Assange is because they publish what the U.S. media and many other media don’t want to publish.

Dennis Bernstein: Would you like to do a shout-out from one courageous woman there in Italy to a woman who became a woman in solitary confinement and was arrested again on International Women’s Day?

Stefania Maurizi: I feel a huge debt of gratitude because I have worked on Chelsea Manning’s documents for years.  I supported her defense fund, I wrote to her in prison.  I have tried to explain to my readers why she is tremendously courageous. I really would like to see her go free because I cannot accept that one of the most important journalistic sources of all time is again in prison.

Dennis Bernstein: Both Randy and I are extremely grateful for your work, Stefania Maurizi, investigative journalist for la Repubblica and author of “Dossier WikiLeaks,”  which describes the power of a courageous publisher like Julian Assange, who has worked with extraordinary sources to get information out which we would otherwise never have heard.

Listen to the interview on KPFA.

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

Randy Credico is an American perennial political candidate, comedian, radio host, activist and the former director of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice.

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US Executive Power and the ‘State of Exception’

After decades of global integration, Dan Steinbock sees imperial presidential policies based on “national security interests” producing majestic mistakes.

How Carl Schmitt Took Over the White House

By Dan Steinbock
Special to Consortium News            

As the controversial German jurist Carl Schmitt saw it in the interwar Third Reich, legal order ultimately rests upon the decisions of the sovereign, who alone can meet the needs of an “exceptional” time, transcending the law so that order can then be reestablished. “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception,” he wrote. “All law is situational law.”

In post-Weimar Germany, such ideas contributed to the eclipse of liberal democracy. Following Sept. 11, 2001, similar arguments renewed neoconservative interest in Schmitt and the “state of exception.” In this world the status quo is in a permanent state of exception, as enemies — “adversaries, others and strangers” — will unite “us” against “them.”

In this view, the U.S. response to 9/11 was not unusual because liberal wars are “exceptional.” Rather, it was a manifestation of ever-more violent types of war within the very attempt to fight wars that would end “war” as such.

Similarly, it is politically expedient to legitimize a trade war and other political battles in the name of “national security,” which allows the sovereign to redefine a new order on the basis of a state of exception. Subsequently, a new national security strategy redefines “friends” as “enemies” and “us” as victims who are thus justified to seek justice from our “adversaries” — “them.”

The logic of the state of exception leaves open the question how the White House could establish such a trade war as a sovereign, when such trade wars have not been supported by most of President Donald Trump’s constituencies and have been opposed by much of the Congress and by most Americans.

Unitary Executive Theory

What looms behind the Schmittian White House is a tradition of conservative thought relying on the unitary executive theory in American constitutional law, which deems that the president possesses the power to control the entire executive branch.

The first administration to make explicit reference to the “unitary executive” was the Reagan administration. Typically, the practice has evolved since the 1970s, when President Richard Nixon decoupled the U.S. dollar from the Bretton Woods gold standard and trade deficits began to rise.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 allowed the George W. Bush administration to make the unitary executive theory a common feature of signing statements, particularly in the execution of national-security decisions, which divided Capitol Hill and were opposed by most Americans.

In the case of Trump, the need for inflated unitary executive power arose with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which restricted the president’s strategic maneuverability to operate with the Republican Congress in 2017-18 but permitted actions that required only executive power, typically in tax and trade policy.

In this view, efforts at a U.S.-Sino trade compromise may prove more challenging than anticipated, as evidenced by the extended truce talks. Even a trade compromise may prove unlikely to deter subsequent bilateral technology wars, which have been heralded by U.S. actions in the case of Huawei and longstanding efforts to sustain American primacy in 5G technologies. As U.S. production capacity has been offshored since the 1980s, such efforts rely on national security considerations.

If the trade war is less about trade than about a U.S. effort at economic and strategic primacy, no “concession” may prove enough for the Trump White House, which may be more likely to re-define the status quo on the basis of a national emergency.

‘Costly, Mysterious Wars’

The idea of the “imperial presidency” in America is hardly new, as historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. demonstrated in the Nixon era:

“The weight of messianic globalism was indeed proving too much for the American Constitution .… In fact, the policy of indiscriminate global intervention, far from strengthening American security, seemed rather to weaken it by involving the United States in remote, costly and mysterious wars.”

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Ostensibly moderate administrations, including that of President Barack Obama, have conformed to this rule. During Obama’s first term in office, America expanded its military presence in Afghanistan and increased drone missile strikes across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The administration also deployed the military to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean, engaged in a sustained bombing operation in Libya, and deployed U.S. Special Forces in Central Africa. In these cases, Obama decided to use force without congressional approval.

During the past half century, amid a series of asset bubbles, a slate of new foreign interventions, the Iraq War debacle and the $22 trillion U.S. sovereign debt, the imperial presidency has become a target of broader criticism. But why has it grown even harder to challenge?

Certainly, one critical force has been campaign finance and the increasing role of “big money” in American politics. In particular, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down a federal prohibition on independent corporate campaign expenditures, paved the way for corporate power to override democratic power in the White House.

At the same time, the ultra-rich have begun to play a more active part in politics, with serious consequences for American democracy, as many American political scientists have warned.

In the new status quo, neither 20th century American Empire nor 21stcentury Third Reich is needed for majestic policy mistakes. Imperial Presidency will do. Indeed, even the sovereign’s executive power may suffice.

Emergency Powers in Time of Peace

The uses of executive power are likely to go far beyond the current rivalry  for artificial intelligence (AI), as evidenced by Trump’s efforts to re-define, re-negotiate or reject major U.S. trade deals on the basis of national security. By the same token, foreign investment reviews will be overshadowed by national security considerations.

As postwar multilateralism has been replaced with unilateralism, the White House sees itself in international strategic competition with other great powers, particularly Russia and China, yet old allies – including Europe and Japan – are not excluded.

Since the U.S. Constitution ensures the president a relatively broad scope of emergency powers that may be exercised in the event of crisis, exigency or emergency circumstances (other than natural disasters, war, or near-war situations), it matters how the White House chooses to apply its definition of a “state of exception.”

Under the current, wide definition, it is prudent to expect escalated international trade disputes between the U.S. and other members of the World Trade Organization, even against the WTO itself. Citing diffuse national security reasons, the White House defends its tariffs under the GATT Article XXI; the so-called national security exception.

There is a big difference between the repercussions of such executive decisions in the postwar era and the early 21stcentury. In the past, policy mistakes could penalize the U.S. economy and democracy. After half a century of increasing global interdependency, they can derail global economic prospects.

Dr. Dan Steinbock is the founder and director of Difference Group and has served at the India, China and America Institute (U.S.), Shanghai Institute for International Studies (China) and the EU Center (Singapore). For more, visit the Difference Group

This commentary draws in part from his new analysis, “U.S.-Sino Futures,” released by Chinese Quarterly of International Studies (CQISS).

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In Upcoming Elections EU Parliament Faces a Long List of Enemies

Attilio Moro explains why the EU’s only directly elected legislative body is mounting such an energetic voter-turnout campaign. 

By Attilio Moro 
in Brussels
Special to Consortium News

As the EU approaches what are considered to be the most important elections in the history of its parliament — between May 22 and 26 — the EU has never had so many enemies.

The list starts with U.S. President Donald Trump and extends to the Brexiters in the UK. It goes from Andrze Duda, the Polish premier, to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban; from the Czech Republic’s Prime Minster Andrej Babis to the Romanian government.

Italy also makes the list. Its unofficial prime minister, Matteo Salvini, has been advocating, until he took office, the exit from the euro and possibly from the EU altogether. Other anti-EU leaders include Austrian Prime Minister Norbert Hofer, who assumed office on an anti-European platform, and France’s Marine Le Pen.

There is also the AFD Party in Germany and a score of sizable anti-EU minorities in almost all European countries.

The most aggressive of all has been Donald Trump, who went well beyond his “American First” slogan in calling EU countries the trade “enemy” of the U.S. Under his watch, EU-U.S. relations have never been so bad.

Divisions with EU

The Trump administration’s divisions with the EU seem to involve everything, from NATO (Europeans have to pay more, Trump keeps saying) to Iran (Washington trying to block Europe from dealing with Teheran); from trade (too many German cars in the U.S.) to the environment (Trump backed out of the collective reduction of Co2, as internationally agreed in Paris).

Trump has given confidence and strength to Brexiteers and every possible type of EU dissident, to the point that Poland’s Duda has openly defied the EU Commission’s demand to abolish the illiberal law allowing his government to appoint the justices of the Supreme Court.

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Hungary’s Orban could defy the European immigration policy by refusing to take in one single migrant (Trump is building a wall, after all). And, contrary to the “European spirit of openness” (and against the wishes of many of George Soros’s friends in Brussels) — Orban in 2018 managed to force most of operations of the private university in Budapest funded by the Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist to move to Vienna.

The Czech Republic’s Babis, the richest man in the country, continues to flout warnings from Brussels about his violations of press freedom and the independence of the judiciary.

Romania is displaying the most conspicuous insubordination in the case of Laura Kovesi, its former chief prosecutor, who oversaw the convictions of thousands of politicians, officials and businesspeople. Now Bucharest, which is holding the rotating presidency of the EU until the end of June, is trying to prevent Kovesi from leading the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office, which will begin functioning in 2020. Romania’s justice minister has been smearing her in letters to his EU counterparts and the government briefly subjected her to a travel ban. The only government that opposes her nomination is her own.

Sovereignism

The ideology that unifies most of the European “enemies” of the EU is sovereignism, the idea that national interests should come before those of Europe and that sharing wealth doesn’t imply sharing policies and values.

In line with Trump, Sovereignists don’t believe that the problems of the modern world can be dealt with through a multilateral approach. They will win, according to most estimates, a sizeable share of the seats in the EU Parliament later this month.

They will be supported by a substantial share of the European public opinion (mainly right-wing) which is at odds with what they consider to be an EU immigration policy that is too permissive.

They will also be supported by plenty who feel that the EU institutions, including the EU Parliament, are bureaucratic and remote from ordinary people, while too close to the lobbies. They have a point. Around 15 thousand lobbyists are active in Brussels. It is not a mystery that they are very influential in the EU Parliament.

Recently, it turned out that the EU’s liberal party, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, or ALDE, received hundreds of thousands of  euros in donations from Google, Bayer, Microsoft, Uber, Syngenta and Deloitte.

The leftists of the GUE/NGL and the Greens both fiercely oppose corporate lobbying. But with those two exceptions, there is good reason to believe that all the other major political groups have received this much money and more.

One of the most striking cases of EU corporate influence is that of Bayer-Monsanto, which managed last year to renew its European license for the weed killer, Roundup, which has been defined by leading research institutions as an endocrine disrupter with links to cancer.

In addition to corporate corruption, anti-EU sentiment includes those opposed to the neoliberal economic policies (privatizations of public companies, cuts in social spending, deregulation) imposed in the last 20 years by the EU institutions, which not only failed to revive the economy but brought southern European countries to the brink of bankruptcy.

Despite the widespread frustrations, most European citizens consider the EU as vital in the era of globalization. And a reasonable percentage of the European constituency will turn out to elect their delegates to Brussels.

But the EU Parliament senses the threat it is facing and is running an unprecedented voter turnout campaign. In every European airport now, huge (and very expensive) billboards inform travelers of what the EU has done for their country.

Had parliamentarians arranged more transparency in the way they do business, or had they passed a proposal that has been languishing for decades for passage – which would oblige lobbies to register — that might have been more effective than billboards.

Attilio Moro is a veteran Italian journalist who was a correspondent for the daily Il Giorno from New York and worked earlier in both radio (Italia Radio) and TV. He has travelled extensively, covering the first Iraq war, the first elections in Cambodia and South Africa, and has reported from Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan and several Latin American countries, including Cuba, Ecuador and Argentina. Presently, he is a correspondent on European affairs based in Brussels.

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Orwellian Cloud Hovers Over Russia-gate

Ray McGovern calls out the void of evidence at the heart of the Senate hearing with Attorney General Barr on Wednesday.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

George Orwell would have been in stitches Wednesday watching Attorney General William Barr and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee spar on Russia-gate.  The hearing had the hallmarks of the intentionally or naively blind leading the blind with political shamelessness.

From time to time the discussion turned to the absence of a legal “predicate” to investigate President Donald Trump for colluding with Russia.  That is, of course, important; and we can expect to hear a lot more about that in coming months.

More important: what remains unacknowledged is the absence of an evidence-based major premise that should have been in place to anchor the rhetoric and accusations about Russia-gate over the past three years.  With a lack of evidence sufficient to support a major premise, any syllogism falls of its own weight.

The major premise that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee and gave WikiLeaks highly embarrassing emails cannot bear close scrutiny. Yes, former CIA Director John Brennan has told Congress he does not “do evidence.” In the same odd vein, Brennan’s former FBI counterpart James Comey chose not to “do evidence” when he failed to seize and inspect the DNC computers that a contractor-of-ill-repute working for the DNC claimed were hacked by Russia.

Call us old fashioned, but we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) still “do evidence” — and, in the case at hand, forensic investigation.  For those who “can handle the truth,” the two former NSA technical directors in VIPS can readily explain how the DNC emails were not hacked — by Russia or anyone else — but rather were copied and leaked by someone with physical access to the DNC computers.

We first reported hard forensic evidence to support that judgment in a July 2017 memorandum for the president. Substantial evidence that has accumulated since then strengthens our confidence in that and in related conclusions.  Our conclusions are not based on squishy “assessments,” but rather on empirical, forensic investigations — evidence based on fundamental principles of science and the scientific method.

Bizarre, Medieval

All “serious” members of the establishment, including Barr, his Senate interrogators, and the “mainstream media” feel required to accept as dogma the evidence-free conventional wisdom that Russia hacked into the DNC.  If you question it, you are, ipso facto, a heretic — and a “conspiracy theorist,” to boot.

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Again, shades of Orwell and his famous “two plus two equals five.”  Orwell’s protagonist in “1984,” Winston Smith, imagines that the State might proclaim that “two plus two equals five” is fact.  Smith wonders whether, if everybody believes it, does that make it true?

Actually, the end goal is not to get you to parrot that two plus two equals five. The end goal is to make it so you’d never even consider that two plus two could equal anything other than five.

During the entire Barr testimony Wednesday, no one departed from the safe, conventional wisdom about Russian hacking.  We in VIPS, at least, resist the notion that this makes it true.  We shall continue to insist that two and two is four, and point out the flaws in any squishy “Intelligence Community Assessment” that concludes, even “with high confidence,” that the required answer is “five.”

Doubtful Dogma

Wednesday’s Senate hearing brought a painful flashback to a similarly widely-held, but evidence-free dogma — that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the U.S. attacked that country. It gets worse: Many of the same people who promoted the spurious claims about WMD are responsible for developing and proclaiming the dogma about Russian hacking into the DNC.  The Oscar for his performance in the role of misleader goes, once again, to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, whose “credits” go back to the WMD fiasco in which he played a central role.

Before the war on Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put Clapper in charge of analysis of satellite imagery, the most definitive collection system for information on WMD.  In his memoir, Clapper admits, with stomach-churning nonchalance, that intelligence officers, including me, were so eager to help [spread the Cheney/Bush claim that Iraq had a ‘rogue WMD program’] that we found what wasn’t really there.” [Emphasis added]

Last November as Clapper was hawking his memoir at the Carnegie Endowment I had a chance during the Q and A to pursue him on that and on Russia-gate.  I began:

“You confess [in Clapper’s book] to having been shocked that no weapons of mass destruction were found.  And then, to your credit, you admit, as you say here [quoting from the book], ‘the blame is due to intelligence officers, including me, who were so eager to help [the administration make war on Iraq] that we found what wasn’t really there.’”

“Now fast forward to two years ago.  Your superiors were hell bent on finding ways to blame Trump’s victory on the Russians.  Do you think that your efforts were guilty of the same sin here?  Do you think that you found a lot of things that weren’t really there?  Because that’s what our conclusion is, especially from the technical end.  There was no hacking of the DNC; it was leaked, and you know that because you talked to NSA.”

Evidence

Back to the Senate hearing on Wednesday: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), during a line of questioning about evidence of obstruction of justice, asked the attorney general if he personally reviewed the underlying evidence in the Mueller report.

 “No,” said Barr, “We accepted the statements in the report as factual record.  We did not go underneath it to see whether or not they were accurate.  We accepted it as accurate.”

Harris: You accepted the report as evidence?  You did not question or look at the underlying evidence?

Barr: We accepted the statements in the report and the characterization of the evidence as true.”

Harris: “You have made it clear that you did not look at the evidence.”

It was crystal clear on Wednesday that Barr had bigger fish to fry, as well as protective nets to deflect incoming shells.  He is likely to be preoccupied for weeks answering endless questions about his handling of the Mueller report. It is altogether possible, though, that in due course he plans to look into the origins of Russia-gate and the role of Clapper, Brennan and Comey in creating and promoting the evidence-free dogma that Russia hacked into the DNC — and, more broadly, that, absent Russia’s support, Trump would not be president.

For the moment, however, we shall have to live with “The Russians Still Did It, Whether Trump Colluded or Not.”  There remains an outside chance, however, that the truth will emerge, perhaps even before November 2020, and that, this time, the Democrats will be shown to have shot themselves in both feet.

For further background, please see:

VIPS Fault Mueller Probe, Criticize Refusal to Interview Assange

VIPS: Mueller’s Forensics-Free Findings

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He was a CIA analyst for 27 years, with special expertise on Russia, and prepared The President’s Daily Brieffor Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan.  He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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First-Hand Account of Protecting the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington

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

‘Focused on Sovereignty and Peace’

By Dennis J. Bernstein
Special to Consortium News

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

Dennis Bernstein: Where exactly are you now Kevin Zeese?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Venezuela: Failed Coup Argues for New Approach

The Trump administration should set aside its disinformation campaign and start looking at reality, says Fulton Armstrong.

By Fulton Armstrong
Special to Consortium News

The Trump administration’s approach to Venezuela have both policy and intelligence failure written all over them. But its spokesmen continue to think that louder condemnations of President Nicolás Maduro and macho threats will somehow work. They can huff and puff as furiously as they want, but some houses – even houses run by less-than-competent authoritarian leaders – aren’t so easily blown down.

Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaidó’s coup attempt on Tuesday was doomed from the start.  Whether he and his Washington backers were simply deluding themselves, or whether Maduro’s guys masterfully tricked them, they naively thought the military high command would hoist Guaidó on their shoulders and carry him to Miraflores Palace as president. 

What happened instead was a huge – potentially fatal in political terms – embarrassment for Guaidó and the U.S. government. 

For Guaidó’s Venezuelan mentor, Leopoldo López – founder of the “Popular Will” party – the escapade ended with an ignominious run into the Chilean Embassy (and later to the Spanish embassy) with his wife and daughter, after having been freed from house arrest by Guaidó’s forces.  López is young and still has many political lives ahead of him but, for the man who has directed the violent protests to oust Maduro beginning in 2013, dinner conversation Tuesday night could not have been pleasant.

This is yet another U.S. intelligence failure.  Secretary of State (and former CIA Director) Mike Pompeo’s statements to the media that, “We had the most senior leader come across yesterday and leave Maduro” and “We had dozens of others, military, depart Maduro’s forces” – appears to confirm that the coup was, as many suspect, a U.S. operation.

But the analytical foundation of this covert action was so shaky that even Pompeo’s defectors couldn’t make a whit of difference.  Was the U.S. intelligence community enthralled by the putschists, or was this a case, yet again, such as in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, of the agencies contorting its “analysis” to please the policymakers?  Instead of telling “truth to power,” as intel types claim they do, did they just capitulate again?

Cuban Capers

The administration’s intelligence on Cuba’s role in Venezuela also appears to be deeply flawed.  Senior officials make wild allegations about the number and role of Cuban advisors in the country without a shred of evidence.  It’s difficult to hide 25,000 Cuban military “goons” in a freewheeling country like Venezuela for 20 years, as the administration claims. 

I was U.S. national intelligence officer for Latin America when all (repeat: all) 15 intelligence agencies resisted the efforts of John Bolton, now U.S. national security advisor, to manipulate intelligence on Cuba with allegations (still unfounded 17 years later) that the island had a biological weapons program.  I’ve witnessed Bolton’s ire. I fear for those Venezuelans who’ve frustrated his grand schemes for their country.

After failing to overthrow the Venezuelan government in “Operación Libertad,” as they named this coup attempt, Pompeo did at least succeed in overthrowing some of the truth.  He alleged that Maduro tried to leave the country and had to be persuaded by Russia to stay, which Maduro denied. Maybe this sort of disinformation worked for him at CIA. But Pompeo sullied the office of secretary of state with it  – even for a department that brands senior Venezuelan officials with such middle-school epithets as “lackeys” and “thugs.”  Vice President Mike Pence’s ending to his Tweet endorsing the coup – “Vayan con Diós”– seems based on bad intelligence about Venezuela’s mindset as well.  Saying “Go with God” doesn’t exactly work with people who’re suffering from, among other things, U.S. sanctions.

Is the Intelligence Community the Enabler?

Serious analysts surely know that the failed coup comes on the heels of a long string of failed attempts to provoke Maduro into doing something so horrific that either the military ousts him or the administration gets its pretext for its oft-threatened military action.  The U.S. dared Maduro to harm U.S. diplomats and, after he didn’t, the State Department withdrew the potential martyrs from Caracas.  The administration dared him to attack a humanitarian shipment entering from Colombia in February, but again he let the U.S. down.  (The only danger resulted from a Molotov cocktail, thrown by “opposition” gangs that set a truck full of food on fire.) Washington dared Maduro to arrest Guaidó after he returned from that debacle, but he didn’t. 

But the Trump administration’s red-line is the survival itself of  the “ex-Maduro Regime” (as the administration calls it).  For a White House that made a huge deal over President Barack Obama’s failure to act when his red-line in Syria was crossed, Maduro remaining in power is infuriating (and embarrassing).  That fury is compounded by the administration’s inability to retaliate against China, Russia, North Korea, and others for supporting Maduro. These are countries that can fight back. 

Whether the U.S. decides to launch military attacks of any nature against Venezuela is the big question.  Based on the administration’s frustration and bad intelligence it appears to be going down that road. If U.S. officials were to let precedent (such as the thousands of innocent people killed in Panama in 1989 to remove one drug-dealer, Manuel Noriega) and common sense guide them (instead of installing an untested oppositionist with a checkered past like Guaidó to replace Maduro), they’d focus instead on diplomatic efforts to start a negotiation aimed at finding a peaceful outcome. 

But the Trump administration has worked hard to block negotiations. It has directed Guaidó to reject any form of talks, and it has discouraged U.S. allies in Europe and Latin America from supporting them.  It added Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza to a sanctions list usually reserved for narco-traffickers, serial human rights violators, and truly odious types because, it seems, he was making progress channeling energies toward a diplomatic, negotiated solution.

The U.S. military can destroy the “ex-Maduro regime” with its high-tech weaponry, and the Venezuelan High Command would come out with its hands up. Many people would rush toward U.S. vehicles full of food and goodies.  But no gun is going to resolve the Venezuelan mess. 

An Internal Matter

Venezuela has a Venezuelan problem, of which former President Hugo Chávez and Maduro are symptoms.  Their predecessors were not the democrats that the Trump team would have us believe they were – another intelligence failure – and Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López are not the moral equivalents of our Founding Fathers as the Trump people claim. 

Unfortunately, there are no white hats in Venezuela, just varying shades of dark gray.  That’s why the U.S. position should focus on process – negotiations, compromise, institution-building – rather than foregone results such as the installation of someone like Guaidó.

For analysts a tenet of faith is that good analysis will contribute to good policy.  The Trump administration should set aside its disinformation campaign and start looking at reality, even if the intelligence community is no longer free to do so. 

Negotiations are absolutely essential to achieving an outcome less catastrophic than U.S. policy is currently taking us toward.

Fulton Armstrong is a former U.S. national intelligence officer for Latin America, and a former staff member of the National Security Council and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.




Dear Social Media Judges: Don’t Forget the Fundamentals of a Fair Trial

Julian Assange’s Australian lawyer and his EU advisor say the publisher should not be tried in social media and must be given a fair hearing in court. 

 

By Greg Barns and Lisanne Adam
Special to Consortium News

On Thursday this week WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will face a London court. This hearing relates to the request by the United States to extradite Assange to that country to face a computer hacking charge carrying a maximum penalty of five years. No doubt social media will be alive with commentary, support, abuse and everything in between concerning Assange’s plight.

When, after almost seven years, on April 11, 2019, Assange was arrested on Ecuadorian soil and taken into custody by U.K. police, social media exploded with the pro- and anti-Assange forces countering each other, and there has been a deluge of commentary about WikiLeaks and Assange the man. But much of what passes for comment about Assange on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook ignores some fundamental issues and facts about this extraordinary case. It is important to restate them in the hope, vain though it may be, that social media comment about Assange and WikiLeaks is at least well informed and deals with what is actually at stake in his case.

There is firstly the issue of Assange’s breaching bail in 2012 and seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. This was never a case of an individual seeking to flee from justice. To see Assange’s actions in this light is to ignore the fundamental right every person has to seek asylum if they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on political opinion. In his case the fear was Sweden would detain him and then hand him over to the United States. Sweden refused to assure him it would not.  We must also remember that Assange did not “hide” in the embassy, like a fugitive. He was detained because he had no choice — leave and be arrested was not a viable option.

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It is also essential that Assange’s right to a fair trial be respected. The opinions on his arrests, his alleged (mis-)conduct and his persona has essentially involved many on social media engaging in the classic “trial by media.”  The ongoing discussions about this on media platforms got divided in two camps: Assange is either a villain who deserves what he got or a hero who disclosed information that the public had a right to know.

Trial by Twitter

Assange’s case has, and is being decided upon by millions of social media judges around the world who are finding him guilty of hacking, espionage and sexual misconduct. And many of these same social media judges are deliberating on Assange’s extradition fight and the role of Sweden and the United States. Moreover, his trial on social media leads inevitably to the persecution by non-state actors in the form of harassment to WikiLeaks, Assange and to those close to him.

One issue is of particular concern. It is particularly troubling that many on social media are misleading others into thinking that there are legal proceedings afoot in Sweden today. This assertion is simply wrong. Assange has never been charged in Sweden, the investigation into the alleged sexual misconduct was closed, twice. There are only two live issues before the courts, leaving aside the sentencing for breach of bail. They are, the extradition request and the accompanying charges brought by the U.S. in respect of which there is a real possibility that once on U.S. soil, Assange will face an inhumane and degrading treatment, torture and an unfair trial. It is to be expected Assange will receive a similar treatment as his collaborator, Chelsea Manning, who is currently detained due to her unwillingness to testify to a grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks.

We simply say this to social media participants. Don’t judge Assange’s case on its presentation in the political arena, in the news or in the analysis of others on social media. Moreover, don’t let the procedure in Assange’s trial set a dangerous precedent for future, similar cases. The legal proceedings involving him must be decided by an impartial judge respecting and following the rule of law.  His case has to be judged fairly on the merits and on actual evidence rather than on conspiracy theories or political games. The right to a fair trial entails the right to defend oneself, access to a lawyer, a hearing with an impartial judge and the respect to all the procedural requirements to minimize the risk on other potential breaches of fundamental rights. There is no exception to these fundamental rights in Assange’s case. Respecting Assange’s fair trial and the rule of law, will benefit justice.

Greg Barns is a barrister in Australia and Australian legal adviser to Julian Assange. Lisanne Adam is a consultant on EU human rights law based in Melbourne, Australia.

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PATRICK LAWRENCE: The US Moves on Iran’s Oil Market as an Expression of an Irrational Foreign Policy

Patrick Lawrence gauges the backfiring potential of Pompeo’s withdrawal on Thursday of U.S. sanction waivers from eight major importers. 

A Decisive Defeat in Long-Running
Battle with Foreign Policy Minders

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement last week that no importer of Iranian oil will henceforth be exempt from U.S. sanctions is as risky as it is misguided. The withdrawal of waivers as of this Thursday effectively gives eight importers dependent on Iranian crude — India, Japan, South Korea, China, Turkey, Taiwan, Italy, and Greece — 10 days’ notice to adjust their petroleum purchases. This is now a full-court press: The intent is to cut off Iran’s access to any oil market anywhere as part of the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. “We are going to zero,” Pompeo said as he disclosed the new policy.

Nobody is going to zero. The administration’s move will further damage the Iranian economy, certainly, but few outside the administration think it is possible to isolate Iran as comprehensively as Pompeo seems to expect. Turkey immediately rejected “unilateral sanctions and impositions on how to conduct relations with neighbors,” as Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu put it in a Twitter message. China could do the same, if less bluntly. Other oil importers are likely to consider barter deals, local-currency transactions, and similar “workarounds.” In the immediate neighborhood, Iraq is so far ignoring U.S. demands that it cease purchasing natural gas and electricity from Iran.

Insights on Overreach

There are a couple of insights to be gleaned from this unusually aggressive case of policy overreach.

First, the new turn in the administration’s Iran policy appears to mark a decisive defeat for President Donald Trump in his long-running battle with his foreign policy minders. It is now very unlikely Trump will achieve any of his policy objectives, a number of which represent useful alternatives to the stunningly shambolic strategies advanced by Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and other zealots in the administration.

Weakened by relentless “Russia-gate” investigations, for instance, the president has little chance now of improving ties with Moscow or negotiating with adversaries such as Iran and North Korea, as he has long advocated.

In a Face the Nation interview Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tehran would be open to bilateral talks under the right conditions. It was the second time in a week that Zarif made this point. But those around Trump, not least Bolton and Pompeo, are sure to block any such prospect—or sabotage talks if they do take place, as they did Trump’s second summit with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, in late February.  

Second, this administration’s foreign policy has steadily assumed an irrational character that may be unprecedented in U.S. history. This is perilous. The administration’s near-paranoiac hostility toward Pyongyang and Moscow are cases in point. So is its evident indifference to alienating longstanding allies across the Atlantic and in Asia. As of this week, however, Pompeo’s  “down to zero” policy makes Iran the most immediate danger.

Persian Gulf Chokepoint

Iranian officials, including Zarif, now threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz, chokepoint of the Persian Gulf, if Iranian tankers are prevented from passing through it. This is an indirect warning that the Iranian military could confront the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which operates in the Gulf and adjacent waters.

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A sharp spike in oil prices is another danger with which the administration now lands itself. Taken together, U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and Iran are intended to take roughly 2 million barrels of oil a day out of the market.

Saudi Arabia has pledged to make up the lost supply, but many analysts question its ability to sustain an increase in output given the advancing depletion of its long-productive Ghawar field. Spare capacity among producers is already wafer-thin. Do we need to risk another oil crisis, given the flagging global economy? 

Trump’s foreign policy minders also risk alienating allies — South Korea, Japan, India, the Europeans — whose cooperation the U.S. needs on numerous other policy questions. In the case of China, the administration puts progress on a nearly complete trade deal and Beijing’s leverage with North Korea in jeopardy.

There are other cases demonstrating the Trump administration’s apparently thorough indifference to collateral damage and the animosity of allies. Since the U.S. abandoned the Paris climate pact and the 2015 accord governing Iran’s nuclear program, the Europeans have hardly contained their anger; they are openly furious now about the tightened sanctions against Iran. The South Koreans, frustrated with Washington’sintransigent stance toward Pyongyang, now search for ways to engage the North despite many layers of UN and U.S–imposed sanctions.

The question is why this administration’s foreign policies are so amateurish and discombobulated. Corollary question: Why is the president surrounded by policy advisers so thoroughly at odds with those of his objectives that are worthwhile?

Trump arrived in Washington an outsider: This is where answers to these questions begin. This limited the New York dealmaker to a shallow pool from which to build his administration. His never-ending Russia-gate problem further handicaps him. This administration is among the most opaque in recent history, so certainties as to its internal workings are hard to come by. But Trump may not have chosen his foreign policy team so much as its members have been imposed upon him.

However his advisers arrived in the administration, they are a toxic combination of neoconservatives, many drawn from the Heritage Foundation, and evangelical Christians. Bolton is emblematic of the former, Pompeo of the latter. This is the current complexion of American foreign policy.

Zealots and Crusaders

Both camps are populated with zealots and crusaders; both cultivate irrational world views rooted in extremist ideology and sentiment. Bolton’s obsession is the restoration of unchallenged U.S. supremacy. Pompeo is said to view adversaries such as North Korea and Iran as George W. Bush did: The U.S. is in an “end times” war with Gog and Magog, biblical manifestations of the evil abroad in the world.

To be clear, there is more wrong than right in the president’s foreign policy thinking. He was self-evidently behind the decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and the announcement in March that Washington recognizes Israeli jurisdiction over the Golan Heights.

“This is very important strategically for victory, heights, because you’re up high, very important,” Trump said over the weekend. “Fifty-two years ago this started [when Israel captured Golan from Syria in the 1967 war] and I did it quickly. Done. It’s all done.”

It is unlikely anything is all done in connection with the embassy move and the Golan Heights decision. Both run diametrically counter to international law and both have significantly damaged U.S. credibility in the Middle East. Trump, in short, makes his own miscalculations, and they are as grave as any made by the Pompeo–Bolton axis. There are few wise heads in this administration.

At the same time, Trump’s desire to negotiate with adversaries — Russia, Iran, North Korea — is entirely defensible. But the “down to zero” Iran policy to take effect this week can be read as a signal of the president’s failure to counter the foreign policy Manicheans who surround him.

There may be skirmishes to come, but the battle is over. We must now watch as extremist ideologues accelerate America’s already evident decline as a global power — along with its increasing isolation.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

 

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Consortium News’ Record on Russiagate—How CN Covered the ‘Scandal’: No. 7: ‘Russiagate Is No Watergate or Iran-Contra’

Many comparisons have been made between Russiagate and the earlier scandals of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but the similarities are at best superficial, explained Robert Parry on June 28, 2017.

On CNN last week Carl Bernstein astonishingly said that the Mueller report uncovered a scandal bigger than Watergate. No one died in either Watergate or Russiagate. But they did in Iran-Contra, when the Reagan White House skirted Congress’ decision to cut off funding for the Contras, which led to many more deaths in Nicaragua. It was a scandal uncovered by CN’s founder Bob Parry for the Associated Press. Parry, who was ahead of the pack in debunking Russiagate, filed this report for CN on June 28, 2017.

Russiagate Is No Watergate or Iran-Contra

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News

Russia-gate, the sprawling investigation into whether Russia meddled in last year’s U.S. election, is often compared to the two big political scandals of the latter half of the Twentieth Century, Watergate and Iran-Contra. Sometimes you even hear that Russia-gate is “bigger than Watergate.”

Yet what is perhaps most remarkable about those two Twentieth Century scandals is how little Official Washington really understands them – and how these earlier scandals significantly contrast, rather than compare, with what is unfolding now.

Although the historical record is still incomplete on Watergate and Iran-Contra, the available evidence indicates that both scandals originated in schemes by Republicans to draw foreign leaders into plots to undermine sitting Democratic presidents and thus pave the way for the elections of Richard Nixon in 1968 and Ronald Reagan in 1980.

As for Russia-gate, even if you accept that the Russian government hacked into Democratic emails and publicized them via WikiLeaks, there is still no evidence that Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Kremlin to do so. By contrast, in the origins of Watergate and Iran-Contra, it appears the Nixon and Reagan campaigns, respectively, were the instigators of schemes to enlist foreign governments in blocking a Vietnam peace deal in 1968 and negotiations to free 52 American hostages in Iran in 1980.

Though Watergate is associated directly with the 1972 campaign – when Nixon’s team of burglars was caught inside the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate building – Nixon’s formation of that team, known as the Plumbers, was driven by his fear that he could be exposed for sabotaging President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks in 1968 in order to secure the White House that year.

After Nixon’s narrow victory over Vice President Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 election, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover informed Nixon that Johnson had a secret file, complete with wiretapped phone calls, detailing the Nixon campaign’s backchannel messages to South Vietnamese officials convincing them to boycott Johnson’s Paris peace talks. Later, Nixon learned that this incriminating file had disappeared from the White House.

So, in 1971, after the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, which recounted the lies that had been used to justify the Vietnam War through 1967, Nixon fretted that the missing file about his peace-talk gambit in 1968 might surface, too, and would destroy him politically. Thus, he organized the Plumbers to find the file, even contemplating fire-bombing the Brookings Institution to enable a search of its safe where some aides thought the missing file might be found.

In other words, Watergate wasn’t simply a break-in at the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972, in pursuit of useful political intelligence and Nixon’s ensuing cover-up; the scandal had its origins in a far worse scandal, the derailing of peace talks that could have ended the Vietnam War years earlier and saved the lives of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and possibly more than 1 million Vietnamese.

Iran-Contra Parallels

Similarly, the Iran-Contra scandal exploded in 1986 with revelations that President Reagan had authorized secret arms sales to Iran with some of the profits going to fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, but the evidence now indicates that the connections between Reagan’s team and Iran’s revolutionary regime traced back to 1980 when emissaries from Reagan’s campaign worked to stymie President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 American hostages then held in Iran.

According to multiple witnesses, including former Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs Nicholas Veliotes, the pre-election contacts led to the opening of a weapons pipeline to Iran (via Israel), after Reagan was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981, which was the precise moment when Iran finally released the American hostages after 444 days.

Some key players in the 1980 Reagan-Iran contacts reappeared four years later at the start of direct (again secret) U.S. arms shipments to Iran in 1985, which also involved Israeli middlemen. These key players included Iranian CIA operative Cyrus Hashemi, former CIA clandestine services chief Theodore Shackley, Reagan’s campaign chief and then-CIA Director William Casey, and former CIA Director and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

In other words, the Iran-Contra weapons shipments of 1985-86 appear to have been an outgrowth of the earlier shipments dating back to 1980 and continuing under Israeli auspices until the supply line was taken over more directly by the Reagan administration in 1985-86.

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Thus, both the Watergate scandal in 1972 and the Iran-Contra Affair in 1986 could be viewed as “sequels” to the earlier machinations driven by Republican hunger to seize the enormous powers of the U.S. presidency. However, for decades, Official Washington has been hostile to these underlying explanations of how Watergate and Iran-Contra began.

For instance, The New York Times, the so-called “newspaper of record,” treated the accumulation of evidence regarding Nixon’s 1968 peace-talk gambit as nothing more than a “rumor” until earlier this year when a scholar, John A. Farrell, uncovered cryptic notes taken by Nixon’s aide H.R. Haldeman, which added another piece to the mosaic and left the Times little choice but to pronounce the historical reality finally real.

Grasping the Watergate Narrative

Still, the Times and other major news outlets have failed to factor this belated admission into the larger Watergate narrative. If you understand that Nixon did sabotage President Johnson’s Vietnam War peace talks and that Nixon was aware that Johnson’s file on what LBJ called Nixon’s “treason” had disappeared from the White House, the early “Watergate tapes” from 1971 suddenly make sense.

Nixon ordered White House chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger to locate the missing file but their search came up empty. Yet, some Nixon aides thought the file might be hidden at the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank in Washington. So, in his desperate pursuit of the file, Nixon called for a break-in at Brookings, possibly even fire-bombing the building as a cover for his team of burglars to slip in amid the confusion and rifle the safe.

The old explanation that Nixon simply wanted to find some file related to Johnson’s 1968 pre-election Vietnam bombing halt never made sense given the extreme steps that Nixon was prepared to take.

The relevant portions of Nixon’s White House tapes include an entry on June 17, 1971, coincidentally one year to the day before the Watergate burglars were caught. Nixon summoned Haldeman and Kissinger to the Oval Office and pleaded with them again to locate the file.

“Do we have it?” Nixon asked Haldeman. “I’ve asked for it. You said you didn’t have it.”

Haldeman: “We can’t find it.”

Kissinger: “We have nothing here, Mr. President.”

Nixon: “Well, damn-it, I asked for that because I need it.”

Kissinger: “But Bob and I have been trying to put the damn thing together.”

Haldeman: “We have a basic history in constructing our own, but there is a file on it.”

Nixon: “Where?”

Haldeman: “[Presidential aide Tom Charles] Huston swears to God that there’s a file on it and it’s at Brookings.”

Nixon: “Bob? Bob? Now do you remember Huston’s plan [for White House-sponsored break-ins as part of domestic counter-intelligence operations]? Implement it.”

Kissinger: “Now Brookings has no right to have classified documents.”

Nixon: “I want it implemented. Goddamn-it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.”

Haldeman: “They may very well have cleaned them by now, but this thing, you need to “

Kissinger: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Brookings had the files.”

Haldeman: “My point is Johnson knows that those files are around. He doesn’t know for sure that we don’t have them around.”

But Johnson did know that the file was no longer at the White House because he had ordered his national security adviser, Walt Rostow, to remove it in the final days of Johnson’s presidency.

Forming the Burglars

On June 30, 1971, Nixon again berated Haldeman about the need to break into Brookings and “take it [the file] out.” Nixon suggested using former CIA officer E. Howard Hunt to conduct the Brookings break-in.

“You talk to Hunt,” Nixon told Haldeman. “I want the break-in. Hell, they do that. You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them in. Just go in and take it. Go in around 8:00 or 9:00 o’clock.”

Haldeman: “Make an inspection of the safe.”

Nixon: “That’s right. You go in to inspect the safe. I mean, clean it up.”

For reasons that remain unclear, it appears that the Brookings break-in never took place (nor did the fire-bombing), but Nixon’s desperation to locate Johnson’s peace-talk file was an important link in the chain of events that led to the creation of Nixon’s burglary unit under Hunt’s supervision. Hunt later oversaw the two Watergate break-ins in May and June of 1972.

While it’s possible that Nixon was still searching for the file about his Vietnam-peace sabotage when the ill-fated Watergate break-ins occurred a year later, it’s generally believed that the burglary was more broadly focused, seeking any information that might have an impact on Nixon’s re-election, either defensively or offensively.

However, if you think back on 1971 when the Vietnam War was tearing the country apart and massive antiwar demonstrations were descending on Washington, Nixon’s desperation to locate the missing file suddenly doesn’t seem quite so crazy. There would have been hell to pay if the public learned that Nixon had kept the war going to gain a political advantage in 1968.

Through 1972 – and the early days of the Watergate scandal – former President Johnson had stayed silent about Nixon’s sabotage of the Paris peace talks. But the ex-President became livid when – after Nixon’s reelection in 1972 – Nixon’s men sought to pressure Johnson into helping them shut down the Watergate investigation, in part, by noting that Johnson, too, had deployed wiretaps against Nixon’s 1968 campaign to obtain evidence about the peace-talk sabotage.

While it’s not clear whether Johnson would have finally spoken out, that threat to Nixon ended two days after Nixon’s second inaugural when on Jan. 22, 1973, Johnson died of a heart attack. However, unbeknownst to Nixon, Johnson had left the missing file, called “The X-Envelope,” in the care of Rostow, who – after Johnson’s death – gave the file to the LBJ presidential library in Austin, Texas, with instructions that it be kept under wraps for at least 50 years. (Rostow’s instructions were overturned in the 1990s, and I found the now largely declassified file at the library in 2012.)

So, with the “The X-Envelope” squirreled away for more than two decades at the LBJ library and with the big newspapers treating the early sketchy reports of Nixon’s peace-talk sabotage as only “rumors,” Watergate remained a scandal limited to the 1972 campaign.

Still, Nixon’s cover-up of his campaign’s role in the Watergate break-in produced enough clear-cut evidence of obstruction of justice and other offenses that Nixon was forced to resign on Aug. 9, 1974.

A Failed Investigation

The 1979-81 hostage confrontation with Iran was not nearly as devastating a crisis as the Vietnam War but America’s humiliation during the 444-day-long ordeal became a focus of the 1980 election, too, with the first anniversary of Iran’s seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran coincidentally falling on Election Day 1980.

President Carter’s failure to gain freedom for the 52 embassy personnel turned what had been a close race into a landslide for Ronald Reagan, with Republicans also gaining control of the U.S. Senate and ousting some of the most influential Democratic senators.

In 1984, Reagan won reelection in another landslide, but two years later ran afoul of the Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s secret arms sales to Iran and diversion of profits to the Contras “broke” in November 1986 but focused only on Reagan’s 1985-1986 arms sales and the diversion. Still, the scandal’s crimes included violations of the Arms Export Control Act and the so-called Boland Act’s prohibitions on arming the Contras as well as perjury and obstruction of justice. So there was the prospect of Reagan’s impeachment.

But – from the start of Iran-Contra – there was a strong pushback from Republicans who didn’t want to see another GOP president driven from office. There was also resistance to the scandal from many mainstream media executives who personally liked Reagan and feared a public backlash if the press played an aggressive role similar to Watergate.

And, moderate Democrats, such as Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana who co-chaired the congressional investigation, sought to tamp down the Iran-Contra fires and set up firebreaks to prevent the investigation from spreading to related crimes such as the Reagan administration’s protection of Contra cocaine traffickers.

“Ask about the cocaine,” pleaded one protester who was dragged from the Iran-Contra hearing room, as the congressional investigators averted their eyes from such unseemly matters, focusing instead on stilted lectures about the Congress’s constitutional prerogatives.

It was not until 1990-91 that it became clear that secret U.S.-approved arms shipments to Iran did not start in 1985 as the Iran-Contra narrative claimed but traced back to 1981 with Reagan’s approval of arms sales to Iran through Israel.

Reagan’s politically risky move of secretly arming Iran immediately after his inauguration and the hostage release was nearly exposed when one of the Israeli flights strayed into Soviet airspace on July 18, 1981, and crashed or was shot down.

In a PBS interview nearly a decade later, Nicholas Veliotes, Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, said he looked into the incident by talking to top administration officials.

“It was clear to me after my conversations with people on high that indeed we had agreed that the Israelis could transship to Iran some American-origin military equipment,” Veliotes said.

In checking out the Israeli flight, Veliotes came to believe that the Reagan camp’s dealings with Iran dated back to before the 1980 election. “It seems to have started in earnest in the period probably prior to the election of 1980, as the Israelis had identified who would become the new players in the national security area in the Reagan administration,” Veliotes said. “And I understand some contacts were made at that time.”

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However, in 1981, Veliotes said, the State Department issued misleading press guidance to cover the administration’s tracks and the Washington media failed to follow up. Thus, the U.S.-Israeli arms pipeline to Iran stayed secret from the American people until November 1986 when — despite Reagan’s long-running insistence that he would never trade arms with a terrorist state like Iran — the operation was exposed.

When I re-interviewed Veliotes in 2012, he said he couldn’t recall who the “people on high” were who had described the informal clearance of the Israeli shipments of U.S.-manufactured weapons, but he indicated that “the new players” were the young neoconservatives who were working on the Reagan campaign, many of whom later joined the administration as senior political appointees.

Documents that I discovered at the Reagan presidential library revealed that Reagan’s neocons at the State Department, particularly Robert McFarlane and Paul Wolfowitz, initiated a policy review in 1981 to allow Israel to undertake secret military shipments to Iran.

McFarlane and Wolfowitz also maneuvered to put McFarlane in charge of U.S. relations toward Iran and to establish a clandestine U.S. back-channel to the Israeli government outside the knowledge of even senior U.S. government officials.

Another Failed Investigation

In 1991, faced with the accumulating evidence of a prequel to the Iran-Contra scandal, Congress grudgingly agreed to take a look at these so-called “October Surprise” allegations. But Republicans, then led by President George H.W. Bush and his White House team, mounted an aggressive cover-up to “spike” the story.

And, with the congressional inquiry largely in the hands again of Rep. Hamilton, the Democrats timidly folded their tent despite a growing body of evidence that the Reagan team was indeed guilty.

Much of that evidence flowed into the House Task Force in December 1992 when President George H.W. Bush had already been defeated for reelection and the Democrats were looking forward to their renewed control of Washington. So, instead of giving a careful review to the new evidence, the House Task Force ignored, disparaged or buried it.

The late-arriving material included sworn testimony on Dec. 18, 1992, from David Andelman, the biographer of French intelligence chief Alexandre deMarenches, describing how deMarenches had confided that he had helped arrange the Republican-Iranian contacts. Andelman, an ex-New York Times and CBS News correspondent, said that while he was working on deMarenches’s autobiography, the arch-conservative spymaster admitted arranging meetings between Republicans and Iranians about the hostage issue in the summer and fall of 1980, with one meeting held in Paris in October.

Andelman said deMarenches ordered that the secret meetings be kept out of his memoirs because the story could otherwise damage the reputations of his friends, William Casey and George H.W. Bush. Andelman’s testimony corroborated longstanding claims from a variety of international intelligence operatives about a Paris meeting involving Casey and Bush. But the Task Force report brushed this testimony aside, paradoxically terming it “credible” but then claiming it was “insufficiently probative.”

The Task Force’s report argued that Andelman could not “rule out the possibility that deMarenches had told him he was aware of and involved in the Casey meetings because he, deMarenches, could not risk telling his biographer he had no knowledge of these allegations.”

In the last weeks of the investigation, the House investigators also received a letter from former Iranian President Bani-Sadr detailing his behind-the-scenes struggle with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his son Ahmad over their secret dealings with the Reagan campaign. But the House investigators dismissed Bani-Sadr’s first-hand account as hearsay and thus also lacking “probative value.”

I later unearthed some of the evidence in unpublished Task Force files. However, in the meantime, Official Washington had dismissed the “October Surprise” and other Iran-Contra-connected scandals, like Contra drug trafficking, as conspiracy theories.

The Russian Report

Ironically, another piece of late-arriving evidence was a January 1993 report from a national security committee of the Russian parliament about the Kremlin’s intelligence data confirming that key Republicans, including George H.W. Bush and William Casey, had met with Iranian officials in Europe regarding the hostages during the 1980 campaign.

Hamilton had requested the Russian assistance before the U.S. election in 1992, but the report was not sent until there were only two weeks left in George H.W. Bush’s presidency.

Lawrence Barcella, who served as the Task Force chief counsel, later told me that so much incriminating evidence arrived late that he asked Hamilton to extend the inquiry for three months but that Hamilton said no (although Hamilton told me that he had no recollection of denying Barcella’s request).

The other fatal flaw of the House investigation was that it left much of the actual investigating up to President George H.W. Bush’s White House counsel’s office and the State Department, although Bush was one of the chief suspects and, in 1991-92, was running for re-election, a campaign that would have been derailed if the 1980 October Surprise allegations were confirmed.

The naivete of this decision was underscored years later when I located a memo at Bush’s presidential library stating that the State Department had informed the White House counsel’s office that Casey had traveled to Madrid in 1980, corroborating a key October Surprise allegation.

The confirmation of Casey’s trip was passed along by State Department legal adviser Edwin D. Williamson to Associate White House Counsel Chester Paul Beach Jr. in early November 1991, just as the October Surprise inquiry was taking shape, according to Beach’s “memorandum for record” dated Nov. 4, 1991.

Williamson said that among the State Department “material potentially relevant to the October Surprise allegations [was] a cable from the Madrid embassy indicating that Bill Casey was in town, for purposes unknown,” Beach noted.

Two days later, on Nov. 6, 1991, Beach’s boss, White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, arranged an inter-agency strategy session and explained the need to contain the congressional investigation into the October Surprise case. The explicit goal was to ensure the scandal would not hurt President Bush’s reelection hopes in 1992.

In 2013, when I interviewed Hamilton about the Beach memo, he lamented that the Madrid information had not been shared with his investigation, saying “you have to rely on people” in authority to comply with information requests.

“We found no evidence to confirm Casey’s trip to Madrid,” Hamilton told me. “We couldn’t show that. The [George H.W. Bush] White House did not notify us that he did make the trip. Should they have passed that on to us? They should have because they knew we were interested in that.”

Asked if knowledge that Casey had traveled to Madrid might have changed the Task Force’s dismissive October Surprise conclusion, Hamilton said yes, because the question of the Madrid trip was key to the task force’s investigation.

Not Moving the Needle

However, the Madrid trip revelation and other post-investigation disclosures failed to move the needle on Official Washington’s disdain for the October Surprise story.

The later disclosures included a 1993 interview in Tel Aviv in which former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said he had read the 1991 book, October Surprise, by Carter’s former National Security Council aide Gary Sick, which made the case for believing that the Republicans had intervened in the 1980 hostage negotiations to disrupt Carter’s reelection.

With the topic raised, one interviewer asked, “What do you think? Was there an October Surprise?”

“Of course, it was,” Shamir responded without hesitation. “It was.”

And, there were other corroborating statements as well. In 1996, for instance, while former President Carter was meeting with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Arafat in Gaza City, Arafat tried to confess his role in the Republican maneuvering to block Carter’s Iran-hostage negotiations.

“There is something I want to tell you,” Arafat said, addressing Carter in the presence of historian Douglas Brinkley. “You should know that in 1980 the Republicans approached me with an arms deal [for the PLO] if I could arrange to keep the hostages in Iran until after the [U.S. presidential] election,” Arafat said, according to Brinkley’s article in the fall 1996 issue of Diplomatic Quarterly.

In 2013, after the movie “Argo” appeared regarding an early facet of the Iran-hostage crisis, former Iranian President Bani-Sadr elaborated on his account of Republican overtures to Iran in 1980 and how that secret initiative prevented release of the hostages.

In a Christian Science Monitor commentary, Bani-Sadr wrote, “Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan had organized a clandestine negotiation which prevented the attempts by myself and then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 U.S. presidential election took place. The fact that they were not released tipped the results of the election in favor of Reagan.”

Then, Bani-Sadr added a new detail, that “two of my advisors, Hussein Navab Safavi and Sadr-al-Hefazi, were executed by Khomeini’s regime because they had become aware of this secret relationship between Khomeini, his son Ahmad, … and the Reagan administration.” [For more details on the October Surprise case, see Robert Parry’s Trick or Treason and America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Compare and Contrast

So how do Watergate and Iran-Contra compare and contrast with Russia-gate? One key difference is that in Watergate in 1972-73 and Iran-Contra in 1985-86, you had clear-cut crimes (even if you don’t want to believe the two “prequels” from 1968 and 1980, respectively).

In Watergate, five burglars were caught inside the DNC offices on June 17, 1972, as they sought to plant more bugs on Democratic phones. (An earlier break-in in May had installed two bugs, but one didn’t work.) Nixon then proceeded to mount a cover-up of his 1972 campaign’s role in funding the break-in and other abuses of power.

In Iran-Contra, Reagan secretly authorized weapons sales to Iran, which was then designated a terrorist state, without informing Congress, a violation of the Arms Export Control Act. He also kept Congress in the dark about his belated signing of a related intelligence “finding.” And the creation of slush funds to finance the Nicaraguan Contras represented an evasion of the U.S. Constitution.

There was also the attendant Iran-Contra cover-up mounted both by the Reagan White House and later the George H.W. Bush White House, which culminated in Bush’s Christmas Eve 1992 pardons of six Iran-Contra defendants as special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was zeroing in on possible indictment of Bush for withholding evidence.

By contrast, Russia-gate has been a “scandal” in search of a specific crime. President Barack Obama’s intelligence chieftains have alleged – without presenting any clear evidence – that the Russian government hacked into the emails of the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta and released those emails via WikiLeaks and other Internet sites. (The Russians and WikiLeaks have both denied the accusations.)

The DNC emails revealed that senior Democrats did not maintain their required independence regarding the primaries by seeking to hurt Sen. Bernie Sanders and help Clinton. The Podesta emails pulled back the curtain on Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street banks and on pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation.

Hacking into personal computers is a crime, but the U.S. government has yet to bring any formal charges against specific individuals supposedly responsible for the hacking of the Democratic emails. There also has been no evidence that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians in the hacking.

Lacking any precise evidence of this cyber-crime or of a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, Obama’s Justice Department holdovers and now special prosecutor Robert Mueller have sought to build “process crimes,” around false statements to investigators and possible obstruction of justice.

Railroading Flynn

In the case of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, acting Attorney General Sally Yates used the archaic Logan Act of 1799 to create a predicate for the FBI to interrogate Flynn about a Dec. 29, 2016 conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, i.e., after Trump’s election but before the Inauguration.

The Logan Act, which has never resulted in a prosecution in 218 years, was enacted during the period of the Alien and Sedition Acts to bar private citizens from negotiating on their own with foreign governments. It was never intended to apply to a national security adviser of an elected President, albeit before he was sworn in.

But it became the predicate for the FBI interrogation — and the FBI agents were armed with a transcript of the intercepted Kislyak-Flynn phone call so they could catch Flynn on any gaps in his recollection, which might have been made even hazier because he was on vacation in the Dominican Republic when Kislyak called.

Yates also concocted a bizarre argument that the discrepancies between Flynn’s account of the call and the transcript left him open to Russian blackmail although how that would work – since the Russians surely assumed that Kislyak’s calls would be monitored by U.S. intelligence and thus offered them no leverage with Flynn – was never explained.

Still, Flynn’s failure to recount the phone call precisely and the controversy stirred up around it became the basis for an obstruction of justice investigation of Flynn and led to President Trump’s firing Flynn on Feb. 13.

Trump may have thought that tossing Flynn overboard to the circling sharks would calm down the sharks but the blood in the water only excited them more. According to then-FBI Director James Comey, Trump talked to him one-on-one the next day, Feb. 14, and said, “‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Trump’s “hope” and the fact that he later fired Comey have reportedly led special prosecutor Mueller to look at a possible obstruction of justice case against Trump. In other words, Trump could be accused of obstructing what appears to have been a trumped-up case against Flynn.

Of course, there remains the possibility that evidence might surface of Trump or his campaign colluding with the Russians, but such evidence has so far not been presented. Or Mueller’s investigation might turn over some rock and reveal some unrelated crime, possibly financial wrongdoing by Trump or an associate.

(Something similar happened in the Republican investigation of the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attack, a largely fruitless inquiry except that it revealed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent and received official emails over a private server, which Comey decried during last year’s campaign as “extremely careless” but not criminal.)

Curb the Enthusiasm

Another contrast between the earlier scandals (Watergate and Iran-Contra) and Russia-gate is the degree of enthusiasm and excitement that the U.S. mainstream media and congressional Democrats have shown today as opposed to 1972 and 1986.

Though The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein aggressively pursued the Watergate scandal, there was much less interest elsewhere in major news outlets until Nixon’s criminality became obvious in 1973. Many national Democrats, including DNC Chairman Bob Strauss, were extremely hesitant to pursue the scandal if not outright against it.

Similarly, although Brian Barger and I at The Associated Press were pursuing aspects of Iran-Contra since early 1985, the big newspapers and networks consistently gave the Reagan administration the benefit of the doubt – at least before the scandal finally burst into view in fall 1986 (when a Contra-supply plane crashed inside Nicaragua and a Lebanese newspaper revealed U.S. arms shipments to Iran).

For several months, there was a flurry of attention to the complex Iran-Contra scandal, but the big media still ignored evidence of a White House cover-up and soon lost interest in the difficult work of unraveling the convoluted networks for arms smuggling, money laundering and cocaine trafficking.

Congressional Democrats also shied away from a constitutional confrontation with the popular Reagan and his well-connected Vice President George H.W. Bush.

After moving from AP to Newsweek in early 1987, I learned that the senior executives at Newsweek, then part of The Washington Post Company, didn’t want “another Watergate”; they felt another such scandal was not “good for the country” and wanted Iran-Contra to go away as soon as possible. I was even told not to read the congressional Iran-Contra report when it was published in October 1987 (although I ignored that order and kept trying to keep my own investigation going in defiance of the wishes of the Newsweek brass until those repeated clashes led to my departure in June 1990).

So, perhaps the biggest similarity between Russia-gate and Watergate is that Richard Nixon and Donald Trump were both highly unpopular with the Washington establishment and thus had few influential defenders, while an important contrast with Iran-Contra was that Reagan and Bush were very well liked, especially among news executives such as Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham who, by all accounts, did not care for the uncouth Nixon. Today, the senior executives of The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major news outlets have made no secret of their disdain for the buffoonish Trump and their hostility toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In other words, what is driving Russia-gate – for both the mainstream news media and the Democrats – appears to be a political agenda, i.e., the desire to remove Trump from office while also ratcheting up a New Cold War with Russia, a priority for Washington’s neoconservatives and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks.

If this political drama were playing out in some other country, we would be talking about a “soft coup” in which the “oligarchy” or some other “deep state” force was using semi-constitutional means to engineer a disfavored leader’s removal.

Of course, since the ongoing campaign to remove Trump is happening in the United States, it must be presented as a principled pursuit of truth and a righteous application of the rule of law. But the comparisons to Watergate and Iran-Contra are a stretch.

The late investigative reporter Robert Parry, the founder of Consortium News, broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. 




UK Israel Lobby Adds Muscle as US Lobby Weakens

British politics are being plunged into a stifling silence on the longest example of mass human rights abuses sanctioned by the West in modern history, writes Jonathan Cook.

By JonathanCook
Jonathan-Cook.net

For decades it was all but taboo to suggest that pro-Israel lobbies in the United States such as AIPAC used their money and influence to keep lawmakers firmly in check on Israel-related issues — even if one had to be blind not to notice that that was exactly what they were up to.

When back in February U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar pointed out the obvious – that U.S. lawmakers were routinely expected to submit to the lobby’s dictates on Israel, a foreign country – her colleagues clamored to distance themselves from her, just as one might have expected were the pro-Israel lobby to wield the very power Omar claimed.

But surprisingly Omar did not – at least immediately – suffer the crushing fate of those who previously tried to raise this issue. Although she was pressured into apologizing, she was not battered into complete submission for her honesty.

She received support on social media, as well as a wavering, muted defense from Democratic grandee Nancy Pelosi, and even a relatively sympathetic hearing from a few prominent figures in the U.S. Jewish community.

The Benjamins Do Matter

Omar’s comments have confronted – and started to expose – one of the most enduring absurdities in debates about U.S. politics. Traditionally it has been treated as anti-Semitic to argue that the pro-Israel lobby actually lobbies for its chosen cause – exactly as other major lobbies do, from the financial services industries to the health and gun lobbies – and that, as with other lobbies enjoying significant financial clout, it usually gets its way.

Omar found herself in the firing line in February when she noted that what mattered in U.S. politics was “It’s all about the Benjamins” – an apparent reference to the 1997 Puff Daddy song of the same name in which Benjamins refer to $100 bills. She later clarified that AIPAC leverages funds over congressional and presidential candidates.

The claim that the pro-Israel lobby isn’t really in the persuasion business can only be sustained on the preposterous basis that Israeli and U.S. interests are so in tune that AIPAC and other organizations serve as little more than cheerleaders for the two countries’ “unbreakable bond.” Presumably on this view, the enormous sums of money raised are needed only to fund the celebrations.

Making the irrefutable observation that the pro-Israel lobby does actually lobby on Israel’s behalf, and very successfully, is typically denounced as anti-Semitism. Omar’s comments were perceived as anti-Semitic on the grounds that she pointed to the canard that Jews wield outsized influence using money to sway policymaking.

Allegations of anti-Semitism against her deepened days later when she gave a talk in Washington, D.C., and questioned why it was that she could talk about the influence of the National Rifle Association and Big Pharma but not the pro-Israel lobby – or “the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

That pro-Israel lobbyists – as opposed to Jews generally – do have dual loyalty seems a peculiar thing to deny, given that the purpose of groups like AIPAC is to rally support for Israel in Congress.

Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a key backer of Republican candidates for the presidency, has never hidden his passion not only for Israel but specifically for the ultra-nationalist governments of Benjamin Netanyahu.

In fact, he is so committed to Netanyahu’s survival that he spent nearly $200 million propping up an Israeli newspaper over its first seven years – all so he could assist the prime minister of a foreign country.

Similarly, Haim Saban, one of the main donors to Democratic presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, has made no secret of his commitment to Israel. He has said: “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.”

Might Saban and Adelson’s “Benjamins” have influenced the very pro-Israel – and very anti-Palestinian – positions of Democratic and Republican presidential candidates? You would have to be supremely naïve or dishonest to claim not.

‘No Bernie-Like Approach’

This point really should be beyond doubt by now. This month The New York Times published an unprecedented essay in which author Nathan Thrall quoted political insiders and lobbyists making plain that, as one would expect, the pro-Israel lobby uses its money to pressure congressional candidates to toe the lobby’s line on Israel.

Some of the lobby’s power operates at the level of assumption about what Jewish donors expect in return for their money. According to the Times, some three-quarters of all donations over $500,000 to the major political action committee supporting Democratic nominees for the U.S. Senate race in 2018 were made by Jews.

Though many of those donors may not rate Israel as their main cause, a former Clinton campaign aide noted that the recipients of this largesse necessarily tailor their foreign policy positions so as not to antagonize such donors. As a result, candidates avoid even the mild criticism of Israel adopted by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Democratic party’s challenger to Clinton in the 2016 presidential race and a primary contender for 2020.

“There’s no major donor that I can think of who is looking for someone to take a Bernie-like approach,” said the aide. Sanders raised his campaign funds from small donations rather these major funders, leaving him freer to speak openly about Israel.

Other insiders are more explicit still. Ben Rhodes, a former confidant of Barack Obama, says the lobby effectively tied Obama’s hand’s domestically on efforts to promote peace. “The Washington view of Israel-Palestine is still shaped by the donor class,” he told Thrall, adding: “The donor class is profoundly to the right of where the activists are, and frankly, where the majority of the Jewish community is.”

Joel Rubin, a former political director at lobby group J Street and a founding board member of the centrist Jewish Democratic Council of America, concurred: “The fight over Israel used to be about voters. It’s more about donors now.”

All of these insiders are stating that the expectations of major donors align candidates’ U.S. foreign policy positions with Israel’s interests, not necessarily those of the U.S. It is hard not to interpret that as reformulation of “dual loyalty.”

What’s so significant about the Times article is that it signals, as did the muted furor over Omar’s comments, that the pro-Israel lobby is weakening. No powerful lobby, including the Israel one, wants to be forced out of the shadows. It wants to remain in the darkness, where it can most comfortably exercise its influence without scrutiny or criticism.

The pro-Israel lobby’s loyalty to Israel is no longer unmentionable. But it is also not unique.

As Mondoweiss recently noted, Hannah Arendt, the Jewish scholar and fugitive from Nazi Germany, pointed to the inevitability of the “double loyalty conflict” in her 1944 essay “Zionism Reconsidered,” where she foreshadowed the rise of a pro-Israel lobby and its potential negative impacts on American Jews. It was, she wrote, “an unavoidable problem of every national movement of a people living within the boundaries of other states and unwilling to resign their civil and political rights therein.”

For that reason, the U.S.-Cuban lobby has an obvious dual loyalty problem too. It’s just that, given the Cuban lobby’s priority is overthrowing the Cuban government – a desire shared in Washington – the issue is largely moot.

In Israel’s case, however, there is a big and growing gap between image and reality. On the one hand, Washington professes a commitment to peace-making and a promise to act as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians. And on the other, the reality is it has offered full-throated support for a series of ultra-nationalist Israeli governments determined to destroy any hope of peace and swallow up the last vestiges of a potential Palestinian state.

The Lord’s Work

It’s important to point out that advocates for Israel are not only Jews. While the pro-Israel lobby represents the views of a proportion of Jewish Americans, it is also significantly comprised of Christians, evangelicals in particular.

Millions of these Christians – including Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – can be accused of dual loyalty too. They regard Israel’s role in Biblical prophecy as far more important than the future of the U.S., or mankind for that matter.

For many of these evangelicals, bringing about the end of the world by ensuring Jews return to their Biblical homeland – triggering a final reckoning at the Battle of Armageddon – is the fulfillment of God’s will. And if it’s a choice between support for Washington’s largely secular elites and support for God, they know very definitely where they stand.

Again, the Times has started to shine a light on the strange role of Israel in the U.S. political constellation. Another recent article reminded readers that in 2015 Pompeo spoke of the end-times struggle phrophesied to take place in Israel, or what is often termed by evangelicals as “The Rapture.” He said: “We will continue to fight these battles.”

During his visit last month to Israel, he announced that the Trump administration’s work was “to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains. I am confident that the Lord is at work here.” 

Divorced from Reality

If the debate about the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. is for the first time making a nod to truth, the conversation about the pro-Israel lobby in the U.K. is becoming more and more divorced from reality.

Part of the reason is the way the Israel lobby has recently emerged in the U.K. – hurriedly, and in a mix of panic and damage-limitation mode.

Given that for decades European countries largely followed Washington’s lead on Israel, pro-Israel lobbies outside the U.S. were much less organized and muscular. European leaders’ unquestioning compliance was assured as long as Washington appeared to act as a disinterested broker overseeing a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. As a result, Europe was in little need of vigorous pro-Israel lobbies.

But that illusion has now been shattered, first by the explicit Greater Israel ideology espoused by a series of Netanyahu governments, and latterly by Donald Trump’s occupancy of the White House and his vehement backing of Israeli demands, however much they violate international law.

That has left European policy towards Israel – and its enabling by default of Netanyahu and Trump’s efforts to crush Palestinian rights – dangerously exposed.

Popular backlashes have taken the form of a rapid growth in support for BDS, a grassroots, nonviolent movement promoting a boycott of Israel. But more specifically in Britain’s case, it has resulted in the surprise election of Jeremy Corbyn, a well-known champion of Palestinian rights and anti-racism struggles generally, to lead the opposition Labour Party.

For that reason, Jewish leadership groups in the U.K. have had to reinvent themselves quickly, from organizations to promote the community’s interests into vehicles to defend Israel. And to do that they have had to adopt a position that was once closely identified with anti-Semitism: conflating Jews with Israel.

This, we should remember, was the view taken 100 years ago by arch anti-Semites in the British government. They regarded Jews as inherently “un-British,” as incapable of assimilation and therefore as naturally suspect.

Lord Balfour, before he made his abiding legacy the 1917 Declaration of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine, helped pass the Aliens Act to block entry to the U.K. of Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe. Balfour believed Jewish immigration had resulted in “undoubted evils.”

Lobby Cobbled Together

Also significantly, unlike the U.S., where the pro-Israel lobby has maintained fervent support for Israel as a bipartisan matter over decades, the need for an equivalent pro-Israel lobby in the U.K. has emerged chiefly in relation to Corbyn’s unexpected ascent to power in the Labour Party.

Rather than emerging slowly and organically, as was the case in the U.S., the British pro-Israel has had to be cobbled together hastily. Israel’s role in directing this immature lobby has been harder to hide.

Most of the U.K.’s Jewish leadership organizations have been poorly equipped for the task of tackling the new sympathy for Palestinian rights unleashed in the Labour Party by Corbyn’s rise. The Board of Deputies, for example, has enjoyed visible ties to the ruling Conservative Party. Any criticisms they make of the Labour leader are likely to be seen as having an air of partisanship and point-scoring.

So unusually in Britain’s case, the chief pro-Israel lobby group against Corbyn has emerged from within his own party – in the form of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).

The JLM is trumpeted in the British media both as a venerable Jewish group, more than a century old, and as one that is widely representative of Jewish opinion. Neither claim is true.

The JLM likes to date its origins to the Poale Zion organization, which was founded in 1903. A socialist society, Poale Zion affiliated itself not only with the British Labour Party but also with a wide range of anti-Palestinian Zionist organizations such as the World Zionist Organisation and the Israeli Labour Party. The latter carried out the ethnic cleansing of the vast majority of Palestinians in 1948 and the party’s leaders to this today publicly support the illegal settlement “blocs” that are displacing Palestinians and stealing their land.

But as the investigative journalist Asa Winstanley has shown, before the unexpected ascent of Corbyn to the Labour leadership in 2015, the JLM had largely fallen into dormancy.

It was briefly revived in 2004, when Israel was facing widespread criticism in Britain over its brutal efforts to crush a Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories. But the JLM only really became active again in 2015.

According to a covert recording of a private JLM event in late 2016, its then chair Jeremy Newmark said he and other activists had agreed to reform the group in September 2015 in response to “the rise of Jeremy Corbyn” and “Bernie Sanders in the States.” Corbyn has been elected Labour leader only days previously. According to the transcript, Newmark told the other activists that it would be the “start of a struggle and a battle we will all be engaged in for months and probably years ahead of us.” He added that the JLM would be a suitable vehicle for their work because of the “rights and privileges” it enjoyed as a Labour Party affiliate organization.

Front for Israeli Embassy

The motive behind the JLM’s resuscitation was also revealed by an undercover documentary made by Al-Jazeeraaired in early 2017. It showed that the JLM was acting as little more than a front for the Israeli embassy, and that the mission it set itself was to weaken Corbyn in the hope of removing him from the leadership.

Early on, the JLM and other pro-Israel lobbyists within the party realized the most effective way to damage Corbyn, and silence solidarity with the Palestinian cause, was to weaponize the charge of anti-Semitism.

Support for Palestinian rights necessarily requires severe criticism of Israel, whose popular, rightwing governments have shown no interest in making concessions to the Palestinians on self-determination. In fact, while Westerners have debated the need for urgent peacemaking, Israel has simply got on with grabbing vast tracts of Palestinian land as a way to destroy any hope of statehood.

But pro-Israel lobbyists in the U.K. have found that they can very effectively turn this issue into a zero-sum game – one that, in the context of a British public conversation oblivious to Palestinian rights, inevitably favors Israel.

The thrust of the lobby’s argument is that almost all Jews identify with Israel, which means that attacks on Israel are also attacks on Jewish identity. That, they claim, is a modern form of anti-Semitism.

This argument, if it were true, has an obvious retort: if Jews really do identify with Israel to the extent that they are prepared to ignore its systematic abuse of Palestinians, then that would make most British Jews anti-Arab racists.

Further, if Jewish identity really is deeply enmeshed in the state of Israel, that would place a moral obligation on Jews to denounce any behavior by Israel towards Palestinians that violates human rights and international law.

And yet the very Jewish leaders claiming that Israel is at the core of their identity are also the ones who demand that Jews not be expected to take responsibility for Israel’s actions – and that to demand as much is anti-Semitic.

Could there be a clearer example of having your cake and eating it?

Nonetheless, the JLM has very successfully hijacked the debate within Labour of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to silence criticism. It has worked hard to impose a highly controversial new definition of anti-Semitism that conflates it with criticism of Israel. Seven of the 11 examples of anti-Semitism used to illustrate the new definition relate to Israel.

Arguing, for example, that Israel is a “racist endeavor,” the view of many in the growing BDS movement and among Corbyn supporters, is now being treated as evidence of anti-Semitism.

For this reason, the JLM has been able to file a complaint against Labour with the Equality and Human Rights Commission arguing that the party is “institutionally anti-Semitic.”

Labour is only the second political party after the neo-Nazi British National Party to have been subjected to an investigation by the equality watchdog.

Despite its claims, the JLM does not represent Jewish opinion in the Labour Party. The JLM says it has 2,000 members, though that figure – if accurate – includes non-Jews. Attendance at its annual general meeting this month could be measured in the dozens.

As one Jewish critic observed: “There are some 300,000 Jews in Britain. The Jewish Labour Movement claims to represent us all. So why were there fewer people at their AGM [annual general meeting] than at my Labour Party branch AGM?”

Many Jews in the Labour Party have chosen not to join the JLM, preferring instead to act as a counterweight by creating a new Jewish pressure group that backs Corbyn called Jewish Voice for Labour.

Even a new JLM membership drive publicized by former Labour leader Gordon Brown reportedly brought only a small influx of new members, suggesting that support for the JLM’s anti-Corbyn, pro-Israel agenda is very limited inside Labour.

Speaking for ‘the Jews’

The re-establishment of the JLM has one very transparent aim in mind: to push out Corbyn, using any means at its disposal. At its annual general meeting, the JLM unanimously passed a motion of no confidence in Corbyn, describing him as “unfit to be Prime Minister.” The resolution declared that “a Labour Government led by (Corbyn) would not be in the interests of British Jews.”

One Jewish commentator derisively noted the JLM’s arrogance in speaking for all British Jews at a time of Conservative government-imposed austerity: “I would not presume to proclaim what is in the interests of ‘the Jews’, but I really cannot imagine that the person who drafted this resolution had any real experience of meeting unemployed Jews, Jewish pensioners and single mothers just scraping by, or Jews who are struggling as they use under-resourced mental health services.”

In other circumstances, a group of people operating inside a major political party using underhand methods to disrupt its democratic processes would be described as entryists. Some 2,000 pro-Israel fanatics within Labour are trying to overturn the overwhelming wishes, twice expressed at the ballot box, of the Labour membership, now numbering more than 500,000.

Nonetheless, last week the JLM started to show its hand more publicly. It has been noisily threatening to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. In the circumstances that would at least be an honorable – if very unlikely – thing for it to do.

Instead it announced that it would begin scoring local and national Labour politicians based on their record on anti-Semitism. After the JLM’s frantic lobbying for the adoption of the new anti-Semitism definition, it seems clear that such scores will relate to the vehemence of a candidate’s criticism of Israel, or possibly their ideological sympathy with Corbyn, more than overt bigotry towards Jews.

That was underscored this week when a senior Labour politician, Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, came under fire from the JLM and Board of Deputies for comments he made in 2014, during Israel’s attack on Gaza, that only recently came to light. He was recorded saying: “The enemy of the Palestinian people is not the Jewish people, the enemy of the Palestinian people are Zionists.” He had previously denied making any such comment.

Mike Katz, the JLM’s new chair, responded: “Insulting a core part of their [Jewish people’s] identity and then dissembling about it is shameful behaviour from a senior frontbencher in our party, let alone someone who aspires to administer our justice system.”

According to the Labour Party’s own figures, actual anti-Jewish prejudice – as opposed to criticism of Israel – is extremely marginal in its ranks, amounting to some 0.08 percent of members. It is presumably even less common among those selected to run as candidates in local and national elections.

The JLM has nonetheless prioritized this issue, threatening that the scores may be used to decide whether activists will campaign for a candidate. One might surmise that the scores could also be serve as the basis for seeking to deselect candidates and replace them with politicians more to the JLM’s liking.

“We have got elections coming up but we are not going to put that effort in unless we know people are standing shoulder to shoulder with us,” said Katz.

Need for Vigorous Debate

Paradoxically, the JLM appears to be preparing to do openly what pro-Israel lobbyists in the U.S. deny they do covertly: use their money and influence to harm candidates who are not seen as sympathetic enough to Israel.

Despite claims from both U.S. and U.K. pro-Israel lobby groups that they speak for their own domestic Jewish populations, they clearly don’t. Individuals within Jewish communities are divided over whether they identify with Israel or not. And certainly, their identification with Israel should not be a reason to curtail vigorous debates about U.S. and U.K. foreign policy and Israeli influence domestically.

Even if the vast majority of Jews in the U.S. and U.K. do support Israel – not just in a symbolic or abstract way, but the actual far-right governments that now permanently rule Israel – that does not make them right about Israel or make it anti-Semitic for others to be highly critical of Israel.

The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews support a narrow spectrum of politicians, from the militaristic right to religious fundamentalists and fascists. They view Palestinians as less deserving, less human even, than Jews and as an obstacle to the realization of Jewish rights in the whole of the “Land of Israel,” including the Palestinian territories. Does that make them right? Does their numerical dominance excuse their ugly bigotry towards Palestinians? Of course not.

And so it would be the same even were it true that most Jewish members of the Labour Party supported a state that proudly upholds Jewish supremacism as its national ideology. Their sensitivities should count for nothing if they simply mask ugly racist attitudes towards Palestinians.

Lobbies of all kinds thrive in the dark, growing more powerful and less accountable when they are out of view and immune from scrutiny.

By refusing to talk frankly about the role of pro-Israel lobbies in the U.K. and the U.S., or by submitting to their intimidation, we simply invite Israel’s supporters and anti-Palestinian racists to flex their muscles more aggressively and chip away at the democratic fabric of our societies.

There are signs that insurgency politicians in the U.S. are ready for the first time to shine a light into the recesses of a political system deeply corrupted by money. That will inevitably make life much harder for the pro-Israel lobby.

But paradoxically, it is happening just as the U.K.’s Israel lobby is pushing in exactly the opposite direction. British politics is being plunged into a stifling, unhealthy silence on the longest example of mass human rights abuses, sanctioned by the west, in modern history.

Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. He blogs at Jonathan Cook.net.