In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories in October focused on the deepening crisis in Syria, continued corruption in Ukraine, the frustrating presidential campaign, and the enduring mystery over the MH-17 shoot-down.

Should US Ally with Al Qaeda in Syria” by Robert Parry, Oct. 1, 2015

Obama Tolerates the Warmongers” by Daniel Lazare, Oct. 2, 2015

US Tax Dollars and Ukraine’s Finance Minister” by Robert Parry, Oct. 3, 2015

Afghan Doctor Slaughter Pulls Back Curtain” by Nicolas J S Davies, Oct. 4, 2015

The Hope Behind Putin’s Syria Help” by Ray McGovern, Oct. 4, 2015

Rupert Murdoch: Propaganda Recruit” by Robert Parry, Oct. 5, 2015

Obama Boots Syrian Peace Chance” by Robert Parry, Oct. 6, 2015

Reflections on ‘Deep Poverty’” by Lawrence Davidson, Oct. 6, 2015

The Second Amendment’s Fake History” by Robert Parry, Oct. 7, 2015

What Are the Syrian Options?” by Graham E. Fuller, Oct. 8, 2015

CNN’s Double-Standards on Debates” by Jeff Cohen, Oct. 9, 2015

Collateral Damage/Stuff Happens” by David Marks, Oct. 9, 2015

How Do-Gooders Can Do Bad” by Coleen Rowley and Diana Johnstone

Obama’s Two-Faced Foreign Policy” by Robert Parry, Oct. 10, 2015

How CNN Shapes Political Debate” by Ray McGovern, Oct. 11, 2015

Needling Obama for More Wars” by Robert Parry, Oct. 12, 2015

Ronald Reagan’s Bloody ‘Apocalypto’” by Robert Parry, Oct. 12, 2015

MH-17: The Dog Still Not Barking” by Robert Parry, Oct. 13, 2015

The Kunduz Hospital Atrocity” by Marjorie Cohn, Oct. 14, 2015

NYT Plays Games with MH-17 Tragedy” by Robert Parry, Oct. 15, 2015

Awash in Guns and Bloodshed” by Lawrence Davidson, Oct. 15, 2015

Kicking War Cans Down the Road” by Jonathan Marshall, Oct. 16, 2015

The Reckless Guns of October” by Daniel Lazare, Oct. 16, 2015

Jeffrey Sterling’s Selective Prosecution” by Chelsea Gilmour, Oct. 17, 2015

Reviving Hope in Palestine” by John V. Whitbeck, Oct. 18, 2015

Colombia’s Bittersweet Peace Deal” by Andrés Cala, Oct. 19, 2015

MH-17 Case: ‘Old’ Journalism vs. ‘New’” by Robert Parry, Oct. 20, 2015

Will Obama Succumb to Pro-War Baiting?” by Rick Sterling, Oct. 20, 2015

Secrecy and Hillary Clinton” by Diane Roark, Oct. 21, 2015

Fallout from the Gaza Blockade” by Ann Wright, Oct. 22, 2015

Rebuffing Peace Chances in Syria” by Jonathan Marshall, Oct. 23, 2015

The Lost Cause of Israeli Justice” by Lawrence Davidson, Oct. 24, 2015

Parry’s Speech at I.F. Stone Award” by Robert Parry, Oct. 26, 2015

Checkmate on ‘The Devil’s Chessboard’” by Lisa Pease, Oct. 27, 2015

Bowing to Silly US Propaganda” by Rick Sterling, Oct. 27, 2015

Seeing Syrian Crisis Through Russian Eyes” by Ray McGovern, Oct. 28, 2015

GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowledge” by Mike Lofgren, Oct. 29, 2015

A Glimmer of Hope for Syria” by Robert Parry, Oct. 29, 2015

Fighting a Cultural Boycott of Israel” by Lawrence Davidson, Oct. 30, 2015

The ‘Anti-Knowledge’ of the Elites” by Mike Lofgren, Oct. 31, 2015

To produce and publish these stories and many more costs money. And except for some book sales, we depend on the generous support of our readers.

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CIA Whistleblower Kiriakou Honored

CIA officer John Kiriakou, the first U.S. official to confirm that waterboarding was used to torture “war on terror” detainees, then faced a retaliatory prosecution and 30 months in prison. Recognizing his sacrifice, the literary group PEN gave Kiriakou its First Amendment Award, observed ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern 

Editor’s Note: On Nov. 16, PEN Center USA, the West Coast branch of PEN International, gave former CIA officer John Kiriakou its First Amendment Award for his role in exposing waterboarding as torture used during President George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” Kiriakou then faced retaliation which led to a 30-month prison term for revealing classified information.

PEN International, a human rights and literary arts organization that promotes the written word and freedom of expression, asked former CIA analyst Ray McGovern to write an essay describing Kiriakou’s contribution and sacrifice. McGovern wrote:

John Kiriakou was just a name in the news until early 2012 when I got a call from Jesselyn Radack, mutual friend, whistleblower and intrepid attorney, who suggested I have lunch with him. John had been arrested in January and charged with unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Over lunch I learned how John had transitioned from highly decorated CIA officer to target of a government vendetta.

John, you see, had refused to be trained in how to torture. Even worse, he had the temerity to confirm publicly that our government was implementing a White House-approved program of torture techniques that turned out to be virtually identical to those listed in the Gestapo Handbuch.

Those of you who have seen the documentary Silenced already know of the key role Jesselyn Radack has been playing in defending whistleblowers like John Kiriakou. What? This is the first you have heard of Silenced? Well, there’s a subject for another discussion. Suffice it to note here that the powers-that-be in the distribution business simply chickened out, as they so often do.

Silenced chronicles behavior by faux lawyers at the Department of Justice that is anything but just or lawful. But, hey, who, in this day and age, wants to take on a notoriously vindictive DOJ? And so, with supreme irony, Silenced has been silenced.

The documentary shows in a poignant way how, after Jesselyn Radack’s own ordeal at the hands of DOJ where she had been an adviser on legal ethics, she decided to devote the rest of her professional life to defending other whistle blowers. John Kiriakou and NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake are also featured all three playing their own roles.

The film presents an extraordinary example of how personal involvement with innocent suffering with injustice suffered first hand or by others can move the heart and the will so deeply that experience becomes catalyst for solidarity and action.

And healing. This came second nature to the community that immediately enfolded the Kiriakou family and helped John’s wife Heather and their three young children 2, 7, and 9 at the time survive the ordeal of two years with dad stuck in prison. There were lots of us many no strangers to jail or prison for whistleblowing or nonviolent resistance and Code Pink, as usual, stepped up to share leadership.

Making an Example of John

At CIA’s urging, DOJ was coming after John Kiriakou big time. And Heather, herself a widely respected CIA analyst, was let go. In effect, government retaliation created a situation of “two-less” replacing the “twofer” that had been serving with such distinction and integrity at CIA.

When John went to prison, I could identify albeit in a very small way with what it means to be away from wife and children for what seems like forever. Decades ago I had spent three months alone in the Soviet Union, away from my wife and three small children. I ached; I missed the hugs so much that I dreamed of finding a way to send my arms home in the diplomatic pouch.

It’s harder still, of course, for wives. It always is. It was challenging enough for my wife to cope with our three children all of them under ten for three months. The mind boggles at what it must have been like for Heather with three still younger children.

And in the midst of all this, with zero warning, Heather’s mother had a fatal heart attack. She had been an anchor against the wind for Heather and also a large part of her grandchildren’s lives. With our own three daughters, I have witnessed first-hand the sanctity of the unique bond between mother and daughter. Maybe only a woman can fully understand the depth of the challenge Heather faced with the sudden death of her treasured soul mate and with no husband nearby to lean on.

The “Dark Side”

John Kiriakou had become CIA’s Enemy No. 1 because he was the first insider to disclose that his former colleagues had been suborned into implementing a program of torture. Alarm bells had sounded at CIA: What if some of John’s former colleagues retrieved their consciences and followed his example? This could not be allowed to happen. Swift retribution was indicated.

The broader question, of course, is why had it been so easy to get CIA operatives to walk on Dick Cheney’s “Dark Side.” The context, of course, is 9/11. We keep hearing: “AFTER 9/11 EVERYTHING CHANGED.” Really? Everything? Did torture somehow slip out of the moral category it had long inhabited together with rape and slavery the category ethicists call “intrinsic evil?”

No way, said John Kiriakou. And thus began a cruel duel between two unequal adversaries: an exceedingly ruthless, vindictive government and a CIA professional determined not to violate his conscience.

What happened not only to many of John’s colleagues but also to Americans at large parallels what happened to Germans after their “9/11,” the burning of the Parliament building in Berlin on Feb. 27, 1933. Be afraid, they were told, be very afraid. It worked. With what a young German lawyer (later a writer with the pen-name Sebastian Haffner) living in Berlin at the time called “sheepish submissiveness,” Germans acquiesced in the most draconian, one might say “Patriot Act”-type, violations of their own Constitution. Haffner wrote:

“The sequence of events … is wholly within the normal range of psychology, and it helps to explain the inexplicable. The only thing that is missing is what in animals is called ‘breeding.’ This, a solid inner kernel that cannot be shaken by external pressures and forces, something noble and steely, a reserve of pride, principle, and dignity to be drawn on in the hour of trial.”

Missing? Missing in many; anchored in Greek marble in John Kiriakou.

In exposing torture, John found himself in the company of other officials with integrity and guts like Gen. John Kimmons, head of U.S. Army Intelligence. On the very day (Sept. 6, 2006) that President George W. Bush publicly disclosed and bragged about the supposed effectiveness of what he called “an alternative set of procedures” for interrogation (then given the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques”), Kimmons arranged his own press conference at the Pentagon and said:

“I am absolutely convinced [that] no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.”

Actually, Kimmons could have gone back 70 years not just five. It turns out that “enhanced interrogation techniques” is a literal translation of the Gestapo Handbuch’s “Verschaerfte Vernehmung.” And most of those Nazi “techniques” are the same ones blessed by the Bush-Cheney administration (with just a few further enhancements).

The award from PEN seems all the more appropriate inasmuch as John is now a writer and speaker of truth a well as a consultant on films and TV shows. And as many of us know only too well, he has his work cut out for him, whether writing about intelligence, torture, or how our prisons must be humanized.

The Challenge

Polling shows that most Americans continue to support brutal methods of interrogation, even in the wake of the Senate Intelligence Committee report made public last December that, using CIA’s own cables, disproved claims that torture “worked.” Trouble is, Americans don’t read Senate reports; they watch TV and movies. That’s how they “know” torture works. Think Fox TV’s series “24.” Think Columbia Pictures’ “Zero Dark Thirty.”

“Jack Bauer, the hero of “24,” breaks captives’ fingers to elicit information that “keeps us safe.” And Americans applaud. Worse still, interrogators are misled and corrupted. Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, a military lawyer at Guantanamo, told British author Philippe Sands that Bauer “gave people lots of ideas. We saw ‘24’ on cable … It was hugely popular.”

Sands wrote, “She [Beaver] believed the series contributed to an environment in which those in Guantanamo were encouraged to see themselves as being on the frontline and to go further than they otherwise might.” Sands added that “24” also made it more difficult for those who objected to the abuse to stop it.

In fact, “24” was making torture appear so effective and even glamorous that U.S. military officials appealed to the creators of the show to tone down the torture scenes and give less play to the fiction that torture is “effective.”

Some psychological research has shown that fiction is as effective as non-fiction at deeply moving people even when they know that what they are being moved by is a fictional account. People tend to be “transported” by a good story providing “truths” that appear just as powerful (or even more so) as those we encounter in the real world.

‘Zero Dark Thirty’

Which brings us to “Zero Dark Thirty.” And this, I believe, would be of particular interest to PEN. How in the world will John Kiriakou be able to open minds to the reality that the issue of morality aside torture does not “work,” when so many have actually seen it “work” watching “Zero Dark Thirty,” as well as “24?”

True, John Kiriakou has an abundance of experience and credibility. But what are these, stacked up against seeing torture work “with your own eyes?” John can cite the following facts until he is blue in the face, but the odds remain high against him.

On Dec. 21, 2012, two days after “Zero Dark Thirty” premiered, CIA’s acting director took the unusual step of formally addressing agency employees with these words:

“[T]he film takes significant artistic license, while portraying itself as being historically accurate. … [It] creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Laden. That impression is false. … I want you to remember that ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is not a documentary.”

Sen. John McCain, who was tortured as a POW in North Vietnam, said the film left him sick  “because it’s wrong.”

Historian Karen J. Greenberg, Director of Fordham University Law School’s Center for National Security, wrote this about the film’s director: “Bigelow has bought in, hook, line, and sinker, to the ethos of the Bush administration and its apologists.” Greenberg called the film “the perfect piece of propaganda, with all the appeal that naked brutality, fear, and revenge can bring.”

And Peter Maass of The Atlantic wrote that the film “represents a troubling new frontier of government-embedded filmmaking.” And Maass, too, is right.

Looking Forward

I’m not sure John Kiriakou would qualify for PEN Center USA’s specific program for “Emerging Voices,” but I am sure that, just the same, this year’s First Amendment Awardee is a very important emerging voice both as writer and as a consultant on films and TV shows. Of this we can also be sure; nothing John gets involved in will glorify torture or otherwise bend to prevailing winds of dishonesty.

With the support of Heather and many others, he has already bucked a powerful system arrayed against him. John Kiriakou will give no quarter in his passion for spreading truth around, no matter how many additional systemic hurdles he may be required to surmount.

Besides, he has “backing.” If you don’t believe me, download Silenced.

Ray McGovern was a CIA analyst for 27 years from the administration of John F. Kennedy to that of George H. W. Bush. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), which welcomed John Kiriakou into membership from federal prison.




Bush-41 Finally Speaks on Iraq War

Exclusive: A dozen years too late, President George H.W. Bush has given voice to his doubts about the wisdom of rushing into the Iraq War, putting much of the blame on President George W. Bush’s “iron-ass” advisers, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern explains.

By Ray McGovern

Media reports on Jon Meacham’s biography of George H. W. Bush, the 41st President, have brought me a painful flashback to the deceptive, destructive yet at the same time highly instructive years 2002 and 2003, when his son George W. Bush, the 43rd President, attacked Iraq.

Reality should trump rhetoric regarding that godforsaken war in my view the most unprincipled and consequential foreign policy blunder in U.S. history. This may be reason enough to renew focus on those years because, for many Americans, those events remain cloaked in mystery and misunderstanding.

With his candor about his eldest son, the 91-year-old Bush patriarch also has sounded what may be the death knell for the moribund campaign of his younger son Jeb to be president #45. I do not suggest that #41 did that consciously. His unusually unguarded remarks, though, will lead voters to be chary of yet another Bush, if only on the “fool me once … fool me twice” aphorism that Jeb’s big brother had trouble remembering.

Meacham’s Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush will not be available to the hoi polloi until next week.  Details already reported on the critical years of 2002 and 2003, however, permit I think, rather, dictate some preliminary analysis, before the Karl Roves of this world create still more “new history.”

The clear and present danger of getting sucked into yet another quagmire or quicksand pool on false pretenses persists. Thus, it seems fitting and proper to review the lead-up to the unprovoked “shock and awe” on Iraq proudly launched in March 2003 by #43, egged on by Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and other white-collar thugs.

Despite the propaganda and more tangible signs of incipient war in Iraq, my former intelligence analyst colleagues and I with considerable professional experience watching other countries prepare for aggression against others were finding it difficult to believe that the United States of America would be doing precisely that.

Still harder was it to digest the notion that Washington would do so, absent credible evidence of any immediate threat and would “fix” intelligence to “justify” it. But that, sadly, is what happened. On March 19, 2003, U.S. “shock and awe” lit the sky over Baghdad.

A Dozen Years Later

That was more than 12 ½ years ago.  That not one of the white-collar crooks responsible for the war and ensuing chaos has been held accountable is an indelible blot not only on our country, but also on international law and custom. After all, the U.S./U.K. attack on Iraq fits snugly the definition given to a “war of aggression” as defined by the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal. Nuremberg labeled such a war “the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

And the evil continued to accumulate: torture, kidnapping, black prisons, extrajudicial killing, massive invasions of privacy, and even the annulment of such basic human rights as the great writ of habeas corpus that was wrested from England’s King John 800 years ago. And, in the wake of this criminality, bedlam now reigns across large swaths of the Middle East driving millions of refugees into neighboring countries and Europe.

That the U.S. and U.K. leaders who launched the Iraq war have so far escaped apprehension and prosecution might be seen as a sad example of “victor’s justice.” But there are no victors, only victims. The reality that President George W. Bush and his co-conspirators remain unpunished makes a mockery of the commitment to the transcendent importance of evenhanded justice as expressed on Aug. 12, 1945, by Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, the chief U.S. representative at Nuremberg:

“We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it.”

Maybe it is partly because I know the elder Bush personally, but it does strike me that, since we are all human, some degree of empathy might be in order. I simply cannot imagine what it must be like to be a former President with a son, also a former President, undeniably responsible for such trespass on law for such widespread killing, injury and abject misery.

It is something of a stretch, but I have tried to put myself into the shoes of the elder Bush. In them I find myself insecure and struggling like Jacob before his dream about wrestling with God. The story in Genesis shows Jacob full of anxiety, despite God’s promise that God would bless his dynasty. He cannot overcome his fear and is powerless to control his fate.

Jacob is aware that he is at a pivotal juncture but he is physically spent. Alone in the wilderness facing death, he collapses into a deep sleep, only to find himself wrestling all night with God. At daybreak he awakes with an injured hip; he is disabled but his life is spared. He had come to grips with God and, in the end, receives God’s blessing of peace.

What author Meacham has written suggests to me the possibility that the sins of the son are being visited on the father, to reverse one familiar Biblical expression.

In these circumstances, the tendency to require that thugs like Cheney and Rumsfeld bear their share of the blame seems quite human. And, to his credit, Bush-41 concedes “the buck stops” at the President. But I sense him thinking correctly, in my view that without those two “iron-ass” advisers, things would have been quite different. The son might even have paid more heed to the experienced cautions of the father and his associates.

Sins of Omission

As the senior Bush knows, sins of omission can be as consequential as those of commission. Judging from what he is quoted as saying in Meacham’s book, it appears he decided to make a (sort-of) clean breast of things okay, call it a Watergate-style “modified, limited hangout,” if you will. But, clearly, Bush has to be painfully aware that he was one of only a handful of people who might have been able to stop the chaos and carnage, had he spoken out publicly in real time.

He does hedge, saying for example that he still believes the attack on Iraq was the right thing to do. But this is a position he staked out years ago and, especially at 91, it may be too much to expect of him that he acknowledge the full implications of what he says elsewhere in the book about the misguided advice of “hardline” Cheney and “arrogant” Rumsfeld together with where, after all, the buck does stop.

My take is that Bush-41 has not completed his wrestle with the truth and with the guilt he may feel for failing to warn the rest of us what to expect from George, Cheney and Rumsfeld as he watched it happen. The elder Bush did use surrogates including two of his closest and most prominent friends, James Baker, his secretary of state, and Brent Scowcroft, his national security adviser, to speak out against the war.

But here the mainstream media was of no help. Instead of weighing the merits of the strong arguments of Baker, Scowcroft and other experienced foreign policy professionals made against attacking Iraq, the media gave inordinate attention to incessant debates as to whether the seeming surrogates were actually speaking for the elder Bush.

In effect, the media was demanding what they knew Bush senior would almost certainly not do, “Speak for yourself, George H. W. Bush.” He refused to do it; he would not even comment on the critical views expressed by Baker and Scowcroft on Bush-43’s plan to attack Iraq.

Sure, it would have been hard, but at the time Bush senior was only in his late 70s, as he watched his son fall in with bad companions and join in the dishonesty and foolishness leading up to the attack on Iraq.

With his current modified, limited hangout especially (his richly deserved) criticism of Cheney and Rumsfeld Bush the elder may be able to live more comfortably with himself and to get past what I believe must be his regret now over having made no public effort to stop the madness back then.

The chronology below includes some of the more important events and may help inform those who have not had the time or inclination to follow the play-by-play as Cheney and Rumsfeld played on the younger Bush’s unabashed preening as “the first war president of the 21st century.”

Keeping a Watching Brief

The elder Bush knew all too well what was happening. He also knew what his son George was capable of not to mention the inclinations of Cheney, Rumsfeld and other white-collar criminals. To be brutally candid, it is a little late for the family patriarch to be telling us all this while blaming the Iraq debacle mostly on Cheney and Rumsfeld, quintessentially blameworthy though they are.

Worst still, if Bush-43 is to be believed, Bush senior had guilty foreknowledge of the war-crime attack on Iraq. George W. Bush divulges this in his 2014 Virgil-style paean to his father, “41: A Portrait of My Father,” in which he arrogates to himself Aeneas-like filial devotion. (Friends more cynical than me suggest that 43’s panegyric should be construed as a benign pre-emptive move to prevent the father from blabbing to his biographer.)

In any event, Bush-43 includes the following sentences about informing his father about plans to attack Iraq:  ”We both knew that this was a decision that only the president can make. We did talk about the issue, however. Over Christmas 2002, at Camp David, I did give Dad an update on our strategy.”

By that time, the die had been cast. Frankly, it is as painful as it is instructive to review the flow of key events in the summer and early fall of 2002. But I believe it may be necessary, not only to outline what Bush senior was watching, but also to pre-empt the creation of false history. Here are some selected benchmarks:

July 23, 2002: Tony Blair and his principal national security advisers are briefed at 10 Downing Street by MI-6 chief Richard Dearlove, CIA Director George Tenet’s British counterpart, three days after Dearlove met with Tenet at CIA Headquarters. A participant in the July 23 briefing prepares minutes of the meeting that same day. They are eventually leaked and published in the London Times on May 1, 2005.

The minutes quote Dearlove, Foreign Minister Jack Straw, and Attorney-General Peter Goldsmith.  First Dearlove: “Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.” [Translation: Saddam Hussein will be accused of having weapons of mass destruction that he could give to terrorists.]

“But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. … The Foreign Secretary said the case [for war] was thin. … The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action.”

August 2002: President George W. Bush spends from August 6 to 31 clearing brush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card sets up a White House Iraq Group (WHIG) to “educate the public” on the alleged threat from Iraq. The group includes heavy hitters like political adviser Karl Rove, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s communications director Karen Hughes, and two officials from Dick Cheney’s entourage Irving Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and Mary Matalin. In his memoir, Cheney notes that both Matalin and Libby “wore two hats” serving as assistants to both Cheney and the President.

August 2002: With Bush in Crawford, there is trouble brewing for Cheney, Rumsfeld and others pushing for war on Iraq. Close associates of the elder Bush and other senior foreign policy mavens begin to speak out strongly against an attack on Iraq.

Brent Scowcroft leads off the campaign on Aug. 4 at CBS’s Face the Nation. Next up is former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with an Aug. 12 Washington Post op-ed titled “Unilateral Attack Will Set Dangerous Precedent.” On Aug. 15, Scowcroft publishes an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal with the non-subtle title: “Don’t Attack Saddam.”

Also on Aug. 15, Lawrence Eagleburger, who served the elder Bush briefly as secretary of state, tells ABC News that unless Saddam Hussein “has his hand on a trigger that is for a weapon of mass destruction, and our intelligence is clear, I don’t know why we have to do it [attack Iraq] now.”

Then on Aug. 25, in a New York Times op-ed, Bush-41’s Secretary of State James Baker adduces, in a lawyerly but compelling way, virtually all the reasons that what Bush-43, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. had already decided on regarding Iraq would bring disaster.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, also says openly in August that Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage had earlier advised President George W. Bush of their concerns about the risks and complexities of a military strike on Iraq.

More trouble for hawks like Cheney was brewing in the House. Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey publicly warned that an “unprovoked attack” on Iraq would be illegal, adding, “It would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation.”

(Armey later told Michael Isikoff, during an on-the-record interview for Isikoff’s book Hubris, that he had warned President George W. Bush that war on Iraq might result in a “quagmire.” He added that, while he found questionable the intelligence presented to him in support of such a war, he would give Bush the benefit of the doubt. According to Barton Gellman, author of Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, Cheney told Armey that Saddam Hussein’s family had direct ties to Al Qaeda and that Saddam was developing miniature nuclear weapons. Armey then voted for the war, but bitterly complained later that he had been “bullshitted” by Cheney.)

Stopping the Peace Juggernaut

With the President clearing brush and Andrew Card proceeding at what must have seemed to Cheney a dilatory pace, given the mounting opposition to war on Iraq, Cheney seized the bull by the horns, so to speak. Without a word to Secretary of State Powell or CIA Director Tenet, and not wanting to interrupt the President’s vacation, Cheney set the parameters for using “fixed” intelligence to reverse the alarming efforts toward peace.

With the apparent endorsement of Bush junior, when the President got back in town on Sept. 1, the juggernaut was redirected toward war. (One stands in awe of the unchallenged power Cheney was able to exert even if it was, technically speaking, ad referendum the President.)

Cheney chose to include in an Aug. 26 speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville extreme, unsubstantiated charges about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that set the terms of reference for virtually all that was to follow, including, I regret to say, the National Intelligence Estimate that my former colleagues were suborned into “fixing” around the policy.

In his Aug. 26, 2002 speech, Cheney broadly warned that Saddam Hussein intends to “subject the United States to nuclear blackmail.” He continued:

“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction [and] is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us. What he wants is … more time to husband his resources to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons program, and to gain possession of nuclear weapons.

“Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two working together constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined. The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action. The Iraqi regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents, and they continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago.

“Against that background, a person would be right to question any suggestion that we should just get inspectors back into Iraq, and then our worries will be over. Saddam has perfected the game of shoot and retreat, and is very skilled in the art of denial and deception. A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with UN resolutions.”

Colin Powell, George Tenet and others had five days, before Bush got back in town, to regain their composure after being blindsided by Cheney time enough, apparently, to remind themselves about who it was that really had the President’s ear. There is no sign that either Powell or Tenet chose to make a federal case out of it, so to speak. Also choosing to remain silent was former the CENTCOM commander, Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who was right there at the VFW convention.

Hear No Evil, Speak No Truth

Zinni later said he was shocked to hear Cheney’s depiction of intelligence (Iraq has WMD and is amassing them to use against us) that did not square with what he knew. Although Zinni had retired two years before, his role as consultant had enabled him to stay up to date on key intelligence findings.

“There was no solid proof that Saddam had WMD. I heard a case being made to go to war,” Zinni told “Meet the Press” 3 ½ years later.

The question lingers: why did Zinni not go public when he first heard Cheney lie? After all, he was one of the very few credible senior officials who might have prevented a war he knew was unnecessary. A tough, widely respected Marine intimidated by a Vice President with five draft deferments? It happens.  It happened.

Secretary of State Powell was also blindsided, but there is no sign he summoned the courage to voice any objections directly to the President about Cheney’s version of the threat from Iraq and what had to be done about it.

CIA Director Tenet has written that he, too, was taken completely by surprise by what Cheney said. In his memoir, Tenet added, “I had the impression that the president wasn’t any more aware than we were of what his number-two was going to say to the VFW until he said it.” But Tenet, as noted above, knew only too well that the intelligence was being “fixed,” because he was in charge of fixing it.

So for Tenet the surprise was simply one of timing that Cheney would go out on so long a limb before Bush got back from vacation.

From Cheney’s perspective the timing was perfect. With Bush out of town, it was even easier to avoid messy fights with what Cheney considered a troublesome, unnecessary bureaucracy (he had built up his own). And with UK Prime Minister Blair coming to Camp David six days after Bush got back, it would be cumbersome enough to fine-tune and coordinate the appropriate talking points for Bush to use with Blair on Sept. 7.

And so, with the month of August seeing a phalanx of senior Bush foreign policy advisers and other experts, as well as key Congressional leaders, speaking out in a troubling way against the war, an ever decisive Cheney decided he could not abide by the proverbial maxim that Andrew Card actually let drop publicly in early September: ”From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” Just to be clear, the White House chief of staff was talking about marketing war.

By the time George W. Bush got back to the Oval Office, the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) had gotten its instructions from Cheney on the strategy with which to approach Tony Blair to keep him harnessed onto the commander’s Jeep for war with particular attention to the joint U.S.-U.K. “marketing” campaign to be launched, big time, the day after the Bush and Blair met at Camp David.

The media did a little warm-up, with the BBC reporting that President Bush had shared with Prime Minister Blair satellite photographs released by a UN agency that allegedly showed clear evidence that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction.  “I don’t know what more evidence we need,” said Mr. Bush. (There were no such photos.)

On Sunday, Sept. 8, came the opening salvo of the marketing campaign a major propaganda blitz with all hands on deck. The WHIG had been doing its homework and was working with very accommodating media. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Meyers fanned out to the talk shows right after Bush gave Blair the word at Camp David.

The hot topic was new information, apparently made available by the administration to the New York Times a day or two before, concerning “aluminum tubes,” sought by Iraq, supposedly for use in refining uranium for a nuclear weapon.

Rice claimed that the tubes were “really are only suited to — high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs.” Rice acknowledged that “there will always be some uncertainty” in determining how close Iraq may be to obtaining a nuclear weapon but warned, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” (It turned out the tubes were actually for artillery known to be in Iraq’s inventory.)

Upon her return to the White House from CNN, she must have been awarded WHIG’s first Oscar. Cheney should have been runner-up for his Meet the Press performance accusing Saddam Hussein of moving aggressively to develop nuclear weapons to add to his stockpile of chemical and biological arms. The Vice President actually let slip the White House strategy, expressing hope that Congress would vote for war before it recessed in October (mid-term elections coming the following month).

With members fearing accusations of “softness” if they resisted President Bush’s authorization to use force, Congress voted for war. The war was on.

Also, on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2002, Rumsfeld on Face the Nation warned that inspections in Iraq would have to be intrusive enough to ensure that Saddam Hussein is disarmed. Powell told Fox News that the Bush administration believes that the best way to disarm Iraq “is with a regime change.” And Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Myers on ABC’s This Week added, “We have the forces, we have the readiness. U.S. armed forces will prevail, if called upon to strike Iraq.”

Six Months Later

A half-year later on Feb. 15, 2003, as the elder Bush watched 30 million demonstrators in 800 cities around the world marching against the war for which Bush-43 was so keen, I suspect there may have been a tinge of regret at having pulled strings to ensure young George would not have to experience war by serving in Vietnam.

Unlike his father, George W. had not the foggiest notion of what war is like, and Bush-41 can be thought to have been painfully aware of that. It may have occurred to him to belatedly apply some tough-love to 43 or to even go public in a last-ditch effort to prevent the coming catastrophe. He probably knew that it was unrealistic to expect that the likes of Scowcroft and Baker could influence 43 to change course.

But George H. W. Bush continued to say and do nothing, waiting until now more than a dozen years after the catastrophic Iraq War was launched to voice his objections. An unhappy ending for the patriarch of a would-be dynasty.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He worked for George H. W. Bush when he was director of the CIA and again during the first Reagan administration when he briefed him mornings, one-on-one, with the President’s Daily Brief.

 




Seeing Syrian Crisis Through Russian Eyes

Exclusive: While there is a ray of hope that international negotiations may finally find a way to resolve the Syrian war, there is also growing pressure on President Obama to escalate U.S. military involvement even if that risks a wider war with Russia, a danger that ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern assesses.

By Ray McGovern

“To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war,” as Sir Winston Churchill put it at a White House luncheon on June 1954. The aphorism applies in spades today as the U.S., Russia and other key countries involved in troubles in Syria decide whether to jaw or to war.

Russia’s recent military intervention in Syria could open up new possibilities for those working for a negotiated solution or not. There does seem to be considerable overlap in U.S. and Russian interests and objectives.

For instance, both sides say they want to suppress terrorism, including the Islamic State (also known as ISIL, ISIS or Daesh) and Al Qaeda’s affiliate, the Nusra Front, and both the U.S. and Russia talk about the need for political reconciliation among Syria’s disparate religious and ethnic groups. The chief disagreement is over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whether he “must go,” as U.S. officials insist, or whether that issue should be left to the ballots of the Syrian people, the view favored by Russia.

Yet, what happens in the next week or so whether it turns out to be a belated “jaw-jaw” or an escalated “war-war” will have a significant effect on bilateral U.S.-Russian relations, as well as developments in Syria, Iraq and the whole neighborhood, which now includes Europe because of the destabilizing flow of refugees.

So, I think it makes sense for me to undertake what we did at some of the best moments inside the CIA’s analytical branch: view a crisis from where the other side stood and thus project how an adversary (or a friend) might react to a U.S. initiative. A common trap in intelligence analysis is mirror-imaging assuming that others, whether adversaries or friends, look at facts and intentions the same way we do.

It can be helpful to step into the other side’s shoes and consider how its leaders are likely to see us. I make a stab at that below.

In what follows, I imagine myself working within Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (the SVR, Russia’s CIA equivalent) in the analysis office responsible for preparing The President’s Daily Brief for President Vladimir Putin. I further imagine that his daily brief resembles what the U.S. Intelligence Community prepares for the U.S. President. So, I pattern the item below after the (now declassified) PDB for President George W. Bush that on Aug. 6, 2001 famously warned him, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” (In my paper, intelligence assessments are presented in italics.)

The President’s Daily Brief

Oct. 28, 2015

Re Syria: Obama Trying to Fend Off US Hawks

President Obama is under severe pressure from senior military and intelligence officials and Congress to raise the ante in Syria.

Yesterday’s Washington Post lead story, sourced to unnamed U.S. officials, reported that Obama is considering Pentagon proposals to “put U.S. troops closer to front lines” in Iraq and Syria.

Diplomats at our embassy in Washington note that this kind of story often reflects decisions already made and about to be formally announced. In this particular case, however, the embassy thinks it at least equally likely that the Post is being used by officials who favor more aggressive military action, in order to put pressure on the President. During Obama’s first year in office, senior military leaders used the media to make it extremely difficult for Obama to turn down leaked Pentagon proposals to “surge” troops into Afghanistan.

Yesterday, Sen. John McCain, the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, used a Senate hearing to ridicule administration policy on Syria and grill Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford on the policy’s embarrassing failings. Carter said attacks against ISIL in Syria and Iraq would increase, including “direct action on the ground.” But Dunford admitted, “The balance of forces now are in Assad’s advantage.”

Facing heavy criticism for indecisiveness, Obama still seems reluctant to put many more U.S. Army or “moderate rebel” boots into the “quagmire” that he warned us against when we began our airstrikes. He would also wish to avoid the kind of destructive attacks that would pour still more Syrian refugees into Europe.

We do not think occasional “direct action on the ground” will change much. Indeed, a White House spokesman reiterated yesterday that the administration has “no intention of long-term ground combat.”

As for the “no-fly zone” advocated by McCain and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Secretary Carter said, “We have not made that recommendation to the President,” adding the obligatory caveat, “He hasn’t taken it off the table.” Dunford added, “From a military perspective, we can impose a no-fly zone.”

Diplomacy

We continue to believe that Obama prefers to regard this past month’s events in Syria as an opportunity to bring the main players to the negotiating table rather than the battlefield.

Defense Secretary Carter called attention to talks later this week in Vienna, in which Secretary of State John Kerry will be engaged, that are “precisely aimed at the contours of [a] political settlement.” The big news here is that Kerry has dropped the U.S. objection to having Iran, a supporter of the Assad regime, participate.

As for Kerry, unlike his behavior in late summer 2013 and in early 2014, he seems to be following the President’s instructions to negotiate an end to the conflict and to the misery in Syria. 

Emerging on Friday from contentious talks with the Saudi and Turkish foreign ministers, as well as Foreign Minister Lavrov, Kerry sounded a hopeful note: “Diplomacy has a way of working through very difficult issues that seem to be absolutely contradictory … but if we can get into a political process, then sometimes these things have a way of resolving themselves.”

At the Senate hearing, Defense Secretary Carter called for an early political transition in Syria, but was careful to add, “The structures of the Syrian state are going to be important to the future, and we don’t want them to dissolve entirely. The U.S. approach to removing Assad has been mostly a political effort.”

At which point, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a close ally of Sen. McCain, complained bitterly, “Assad is as secure as the day is long,” adding, “you have turned Syria over to Russia and Iran.”

The vitriol of McCain and Graham is no surprise. We want to make sure you know something about a relatively new player, JCS Chairman Joseph Dunford, who chose at his confirmation hearing on July 9, 2015, to let the world know that he is an unreconstructed Cold Warrior:

“If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia,” Dunford said. “If you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.” Dunford added that he thought it reasonable to send heavy weapons to Ukraine.

Dunford took up his new duties at an inauspicious moment the day after we began launching air strikes against terrorist targets in Syria. Suffice it to say that, for the U.S. military and CIA, October has been one of the most humiliating months since the inglorious U.S. departure from Vietnam. It is important to bear that in mind.

We think this serves to double the pressure on President Obama to let loose the military on Syria and Iraq, as pushed by most of the corporate media that are attacking Obama for weakness and indecision. You will recall that he faced the same challenge in August 2013, when he came very close to letting himself be mouse-trapped into a major attack on Syria with U.S. forces.

A Special Danger

This time there is a new, quite delicate element of which you need to be aware the so-called “moderate” rebels whom the U.S. (primarily the CIA) trained, equipped, and inserted into Syria.  This issue came up at the Senate Armed Services Committee meeting yesterday, when Chairman McCain expressed particular concern for pro-U.S. Syrian rebels he said are now being bombed by Russia and Syria.

Defense Secretary Carter replied that “no rebel group directly supported by the Defense Department under the law had been attacked.” Casting a look of incredulity, McCain replied, “I promise you they have.”

This is a particularly sore spot for McCain and his CIA friends. Ten days into our air-strike campaign, another Washington Post lead story with the headline, “Early signs of Russian intent … Strikes seemed to catch White House flat-footed,” claimed that Russian aircraft “pounded” CIA-sponsored “moderate rebel groups … who appeared to get no warning that they were in Russian jets’ crosshairs.”

“U.S. officials” told the Post, “CIA Director John Brennan has voiced frustration with U.S. inaction as fighters trained and armed by the agency at camps in Jordan over the past two years face a Russia assault.”

CIA officials do not like to be seen as leaving their own in the lurch whether in the mountains of Syria or on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. Many serious scholars who have investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy conclude that Allen Dulles, who was fired by Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, led a cabal that killed him and then sat on the Warren Commission to cover it all up.

We doubt that John Brennan is up to playing that kind of role, or that Dunford, for example, could be persuaded to do what a Marine predecessor, Gen. Smedley Butler, refused to do, join a coup against the sitting U.S. President (in Butler’s case he rejected a right-wing scheme to remove President Franklin Roosevelt from office).But there is reason to think that Obama believes he has more to fear than the fate of his policies. One report alleges that he privately told friends of his fear of ending up like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In sum, Obama has ample reason to be afraid that powerful people in Establishment Washington, convinced they know better than he how to protect the country, might succeed in pinning on his back a “too-soft-on-the-Russians” bulls-eye.

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, from the administration of John F. Kennedy to that of George H. W. Bush. From 1981 to 1985, McGovern prepared the President’s Daily Brief, which he briefed one-on-one to President Ronald Reagan’s five most senior national security advisers.




In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories in September focused on how the Syrian crisis careened out of control, how the Mideast troubles are now destabilizing Europe, how info-war manipulates public opinion, and how hypocrisy played out at the UN General Assembly.

Ukraine Rightists Kill Police; Putin Blamed” by Robert Parry, Sep. 1, 2015

US/NATO Embrace Psy-ops and Info-War” by Don North, Sep. 2, 2015

A Deflategate Slapdown of NFL and MSM” by Robert Parry, Sep. 3, 2015

Dangerous Redefinition of ‘Terrorism’” by Robert Parry, Sep. 3, 2015

Muslim Memories of West’s Imperialism” by William R. Polk, Sep. 4, 2015

Did Saudi King ‘Snub’ Obama on Iran?” by Jonathan Marshall, Sep. 6, 2015

Israel’s Bitter Anti-Iran Fight” by Lawrence Davidson, Sep. 6, 2015

How Neocons Destabilized Europe” by Robert Parry, Sep. 7, 2015

More Incoherence in Syria Policy” by Greg Maybury, Sep. 9, 2015

Madness of Blockading Syria’s Regime” by Robert Parry, Sep. 10, 2015

CIA and the Drug Business” by Douglas Valentine, Sep. 10, 2015

‘Regime Change’ Strategy Spreads Chaos” by Nat Parry, Sep. 11, 2015

On Syria, Incoherence Squared” by Daniel Lazare, Sep. 11, 2015

Neocons Blame Obama for Syria” by Jonathan Marshall, Sep. 11, 2015

US War Theories Target Dissenters” by Todd E. Pierce, Sep. 12, 2015

Who’s to Blame for Syria Mess? Putin!” by Robert Parry, Sep. 13, 2015

US Intel Vets Decry CIA’s Use of Torture” by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Sep. 14, 2015

A Challenge to Neoliberal Orthodoxy” by Nicolas J S Davies, Sep. 14, 2015

Are Neocons an Existential Threat?” by Robert Parry, Sep. 15, 2015

US Confusion Over the Syrian War” by Lawrence Davidson, Sep. 15, 2015

Neocons Babble Over Syria Crisis” by Daniel Lazare, Sep. 16, 2015

Was Turkey Behind Syria Sarin Attack?” by Robert Parry, Sep. 16, 2015

*“The Crisis of ‘Regime Change Refugees’” by James Paul, Sep. 16, 2015

Solitary Confinement Under Attack” by Marjorie Cohn, Sept. 16, 2015

Lost Lessons from a Toddler’s Death” by Rick Sterling, Sep. 17, 2015

Obama’s Fateful Syrian Choice” by Robert Parry, Sep. 18, 2015

A Moral Challenge for Pope Francis” by Ray McGovern, Sep. 21, 2015

Will US Grasp Putin’s Syria Lifeline?” by Robert Parry, Sep. 22, 2015

The Frantic Fear of Islam” by Nat Parry, Sep. 22, 2015

The Tempest Tost Syrian Refugees” by Marjorie Cohn, Sept. 23, 2015

Giving Up the Global-Cop Badge” by Graham E. Fuller, Sep. 24, 2015

Decline of Western Ethnic States” by Lawrence Davidson, Sep. 24, 2015

Obama’s Flak Demeans Putin’s Posture” by Robert Parry, Sep. 25, 2015

Can Obama Lecture Xi on Human Rights?” by Jonathan Marshall, Sep. 25, 2015

The Power of False Narrative” by Robert Parry, Sep. 28, 2015

Obama’s True Foreign-Policy ‘Weakness’” by Robert Parry, Sep. 28, 2015

Value in Reading Others’ Propaganda” by Graham E. Fuller, Sep. 29, 2015

Putin’s Judo Move in Syria” by Daniel Lazare, Sep. 29, 2015

Obama’s Self-Deceit” by Joe Lauria, Sep. 29, 2015

More Anti-Russian Bias at the NYT” by Jonathan Marshall, Sep. 30, 2015

Obama’s Ludicrous ‘Barrel Bomb’ Theme” by Robert Parry, Sep. 30, 2015

To produce and publish these stories and many more costs money. And except for some book sales, we depend on the generous support of our readers.

So, please consider a tax-deductible donation either by credit card online or by mailing a check. (For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our PayPal Giving Fund account, which is named “The Consortium for Independent Journalism”).

 

 




How CNN Shapes Political Debate

Exclusive: CNN was happy to add a right-wing questioner for the Republican debate but won’t add a progressive for the Democratic debate, another sign of how the “mainstream media” shapes what’s acceptable in political discussion, a lesson that ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern has learned from personal experience.

By Ray McGovern

CNN, the sponsor of Tuesday’s debate among Democratic presidential candidates, has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid being sullied with the stigma of “liberal bias.” The four CNN journalists handpicked to do the questioning have carefully protected themselves from such a charge.

As Jeff Cohen noted Friday in “CNN’s Double Standards on Debates,” CNN made a point of including a bona fide right-winger in the Republican debate but “is not planning to include a single progressive advocate among its panel of four questioners … CNN presents as neutral: CNN’s [Dana] Bash and three CNN anchors (Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, and Juan Carlos Lopez of CNN en Espanol.)”

The significance is that while a person from the Right or Left might break out of the usual frame of these debates, “mainstream” panelists can be counted on to ask predictable queries with maybe a “gotcha” question or two tossed in to show how “tough” the reporter can be. CNN’s line-up fits that description to a tee.

Dana Bash, who was also a panelist at last month’s debate among Republican candidates, has been a godsend to me as I hunted for examples to illustrate what has become of the so-called “mainstream media.” Speaking to college and other audiences, I often show this short but revealing video clip of Bash plying her “neutral” trade. 

Perhaps you will agree that, although less than a minute long, this clip is worth far more than a thousand words in making clear how CNN crackerjack reporters like Dana Bash and CNN senior statesman Wolf Blitzer apply their peculiar brand of “fair and balanced.”

What leaps out is how they, and their acutely attentive technical support, were prepared at a second’s notice to nip in the bud any favorable (or merely “neutral”) allusion to Iran, on the one hand, and any possibly negative reference to Israel, on the other.

In Iowa, reporting on the Republican caucus 3 1/2 years ago, Bash singled out Army Cpl. Jesse Thorsen for an interview. The young soldier sported on his neck a large tattoo of the Twin Towers with the words “9/11 Remember” making Thorsen seem an ideal candidate for the kind of “neutral” super-patriotic interview that Bash had in mind.

Although he supported libertarian Ron Paul, this young corporal on his way to his third deployment to Afghanistan looked like an easy mark for a fast-talking reporter whose “neutrality” was infused with Official Washington’s disdain for Paul’s anti-interventionist stance on foreign policy.

Pointing to the tattoo, Bash closed in for the kill, suggesting Ron Paul would endanger U.S. security if he pulled troops out of conflict areas like Afghanistan. Alas, Thorsen had not been briefed on the intended script, and the encounter did not work out the way Bash expected. The young soldier went off message into dangerous territory, mentioning or, rather, trying to mention Iran and Israel in ways that didn’t mesh with what all the Important People know to be true: Iran always bad, Israel always good.

Just in the nick of time, there was fortunate glitch cutting off the discordant message. Or as Blitzer explained, “we just lost our technical connection, unfortunately.”

Personal Experience

For good or ill, I have had some rather instructive personal experience with two of the other three panelists on CNN’s all-star team for Tuesday evening Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon. Those experiences might help potential viewers know what to expect as the Democrats go under their magnifying glasses.

Minutes after the impromptu four-minute Q & A debate I had with then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on May 4, 2006 in Atlanta in which I challenged Rumsfeld about his false pre-war claims about Iraqi links to Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s possession of WMD I got a call on my cell phone from CNN star Anderson Cooper. He noted that I had been causing “quite a stir here in Atlanta,” adding that he wanted to interview me that evening.

“But first,” he said in an awkwardly halting way, “I need to ask you a question. “Er … weren’t you afraid?”

Not really, I replied. The experience was, rather, a real high. I went on to suggest that Cooper could experience the same high, were he to do a little homework and ask folks like Rumsfeld pointed questions quoting them back to themselves, whenever possible.

The Rumsfeld speech and Q &A that followed took place in the early afternoon of May 4, 2006, and was broadcast live. So, in a sense, it fit with the perfect storm for that night’s evening news. It was early enough to fit the evening TV “news” cycle; there was time to check facts; it was a live exchange of a citizen confronting a powerful official, something that is disturbingly rare in modern America; and it happened on a slow news day when there wasn’t some other story that dominated public attention.

As it turned out, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann exhibited none of the self-censoring inhibitions that seemed to worry Anderson Cooper earlier that day. Olbermann decided to feature the story that evening, as he put it, “with fact-check.” And for that and no doubt countless other violations of “mainstream media” etiquette Olbermann did not endear himself to his corporate TV brass. (Where is Olbermann now?)

The lesson here seems to be that, if you elect to give priority to having your comely face on the tube rather than speak truth to power, you forfeit the high that can come of being a serious journalist. You get to keep both your fame and your six- or seven-figure fortune for a Faustian bargain.

The issue at the Rumsfeld talk in Atlanta was no trifling matter. During the Q & A, it was easy to use his own past words together with his disingenuous responses to show that the Defense Secretary had lied through his teeth to help get the U.S. into what the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal called the “supreme international crime” a “war of aggression.”

Worth emphasizing, though, is the unfortunate reality that — malnourished as most Americans have become on accurate information from the media only those TV viewers who were offered an Olbermann-type fact-check would have gotten anything approaching the full story that evening. Otherwise, it would remain the proverbial whom-to-believe kind of puzzle: “Former CIA analyst said ‘Rumsfeld lied’ …. but Rumsfeld said, ‘I didn’t lie.’”

Last But Not Least

Then, we have Don Lemon. After the publication by WikiLeaks of thousands of official cables many of them highly embarrassing to the U.S. which Bradley/Chelsea Manning gave to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the Fawning Corporate Media eagerly joined an intense campaign by the Establishment to make Assange the bête noire of 2010, painting him the same deep black regularly used for the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Expert” after “expert” on CNN tore into Assange. It was such a one-sided spectacle, that someone must have suggested that CNN invite some dope who might try to defend Assange (ha, ha; good luck) and deny that he was what Vice President Joe Biden called him “a high-tech terrorist.” I was to be the victim.

CNN introduced Lemon’s five-minute interview of me with a very violent clip from Bonnie and Clyde and additional footage showing other terrorist miscreants at work. (In retrospect, I was glad that CNN barred me from seeing that introduction before my interview; seeing it might have strained my Irish temper beyond the breaking point.)

Don Lemon was loaded for bear, since one of the jobs of mainstream journalists is to prove their “objectivity” by getting tough with anyone who deviates from the conventional wisdom. You have to see it to believe it: You Say Julian Assange Is a Journalist? Wattayou Crazy?

After Lemon’s lemon of an interview, I seem to have ended up on CNN’s “no-fly” list for me, a small price to pay. I would prefer to be in the company of the gutsy Olbermanns of this world rather than the timorous Coopers.

Let me add here that, in my view, Anderson Cooper is by no means the worst of the bought-and-sold pundits. He is, however, perhaps the wealthiest, as heir to the Vanderbilt fortune. So, with all due respect, he would not face the prospect of life on the streets with hat in hand, were he to decide to go for the high of committing real journalism rather than acquiesce in the customary low of showing deference when interviewing powerful war criminals like Rumsfeld.

So as not to raise unrealistic expectations about Tuesday’s debate, Cooper has said that there will be no “gotcha” questions. “As a moderator, it’s not my job in this kind of debate to try and force anything,” he said. “I don’t go into this with some strategy for getting people going in one way or another. Even if I did have that strategy, or a strategy, I wouldn’t necessarily telegraph that.”

But one can expect a focus on many of the usual mainstream topics, framed in the typical mainstream way: What can be done to stop Putin? Why didn’t President Obama do more to achieve “regime change” in Syria? If the ongoing catastrophe in Libya is mentioned, it is likely to be in the narrow context of the Benghazi investigation and Hillary Clinton’s emails as Secretary of State.

It’s not likely that Clinton will be pressed on her disastrous history as a liberal war hawk: supporting the Iraq War, pushing for a pointless “surge” in Afghanistan, orchestrating a “regime change” war in Libya that has left the country ungovernable and opened the door to inroads by Islamic State terrorists. She is not likely to be asked whether she thinks “American exceptionalism” exempts U.S. officials from the constraints of international law.

The reason why she won’t be pressed on such questions is that CNN and the rest of the mainstream media accept the same premises that Clinton does. They frame the public debate with an implicit embrace of the U.S. right to invade countries and topple governments. The debate is only focused on whether the tactics worked, whether mistakes were made, not whether the decisions were wise or legal.

Other debate participants, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, also will be expected to squeeze their comments into the acceptable mainstream frame. That is why it would have been a good idea — or at least a novel one — to invite at least one out-of-the-box progressive to join the panel and possibly shatter the frame.

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 more than 27 years after serving as an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




The Hope Behind Putin’s Syria Help

Exclusive: President Obama insists on looking the gift horse of Russian military help for Syria’s embattled government in the mouth. Rather than welcome assistance in blocking a Sunni extremist victory, Obama bends to the neocons and liberal hawks, as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern explains.

By Ray McGovern

Russia’s airstrikes on rebel strongholds in Syria, now in their fifth day, are a game-changer. To borrow an aphorism from philosopher Yogi Berra, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Yogi also warned, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

What follows, then, will focus primarily on how and why the violence in Syria has reached this week’s crescendo, the magnitude of the tipping point reached with direct Russian military intervention in support of Syria’s government, and the self-inflicted dilemma confronting President Barack Obama and his hapless advisers who have been demanding “regime change” in Syria as the panacea to the bloody conflict.

Think of this piece as an attempted antidote to the adolescent analysis by Steven Lee Myers front-paged in Sunday’s New York Times, and, for that matter, much else that’s been written about Syria in the Times and other mainstream U.S. news outlets. Many articles, in accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of bad faith, have willfully misrepresented his vow to strike at all “terrorist groups” as meaning only the Islamic State as if Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and other violent extremists don’t qualify as “terrorists.”

However, if Washington finally decides to face the real world not remain in the land of make-believe that stretches from the White House and State Department through the neocon-dominated think tanks to the editorial pages of the mainstream media it will confront a classic “devil-you-know” dilemma.

Does Washington really think that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as demonized as he has been as a key player in a conflict blamed for killing more than 250,000, is worse than the beheaders of the Islamic State or the global-terrorism plotters of Al Qaeda? Does President Obama really think that some surgical “regime change” in Damascus can be executed without collapsing the Syrian government and clearing the way for an Islamic State/Al Qaeda victory? Is that a gamble worth taking?

President Obama needs to ask those questions to the State Department’s neocons and liberal interventionists emplaced by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who like Israel’s leaders positively lust for Assad’s demise. “Regime change” in Syria has been on the Israeli/neocon to-do list since at least the mid-1990s and the neocon idea last decade was that Assad’s overthrow would immediately follow the Iraq “regime change” in 2003, except the Iraq scheme didn’t work out exactly as planned.

But there may be some reason to hope. After all, Obama showed courage in overcoming the strong resistance of the neocons to the recent nuclear deal with Iran. So, he may have the intelligence and stamina to face them down again, although you wouldn’t know it from his recent rhetoric, which panders to the war hawks’ arguments even as he resists their most dangerous action plans.

At his news conference on Friday, Obama said, “in my discussions with President Putin, I was very clear that the only way to solve the problem in Syria is to have a political transition that is inclusive — that keeps the state intact, that keeps the military intact, that maintains cohesion, but that is inclusive — and the only way to accomplish that is for Mr. Assad to transition [out], because you cannot rehabilitate him in the eyes of Syrians. This is not a judgment I’m making; it is a judgment that the overwhelming majority of Syrians make.”

But Obama did not explain how he knew what “the overwhelming majority of Syrians” want. Many Syrians especially the Christians, Alawites, Shiites and secular Sunnis appear to see Assad and his military as their protectors, the last bulwark against the horror of a victory by the Islamic State or Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which is a major player in the so-called “Army of Conquest,” as both groups make major gains across Syria.

Obama’s cavalier notion, as expressed at the news conference, that “regime changes” are neat and tidy, easily performed without unintended consequences, suggests a sophomoric understanding of the world that is stunning for a U.S. president in office for more than 6 ½ years, especially since he adopted a similar approach toward Libya, which now has descended into violent anarchy.

Obama must realize that the alternative to Assad is both risky and grim and some of the suggestions coming from presidential candidate Clinton and other hawks for a U.S. imposition of a “no-fly zone” over parts of Syria would not only be a clear violation of international law but could create a direct military clash with nuclear-armed Russia. This time, the President may have to get down off his high horse and substitute a reality-based foreign policy for his rhetorical flourishes.

Yet, it is an open question whether Obama has become captive to his own propaganda, such as his obsession with Syria’s use of “barrel bombs” in attacking rebel strongholds, as if this crude home-made weapon were some uniquely cruel device unlike the hundreds of thousands of tons of high explosives that the United States has dropped on Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other countries in the last dozen years.

Does Obama really think that his “humanitarian” bombs and those given to U.S. “allies” such as Saudi Arabia and Israel don’t kill innocents? In just the past week, a Saudi airstrike inside Yemen reportedly killed some 131 people at a wedding and an apparent U.S. attack in Kunduz, Afghanistan, blasted a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, killing at least 22 people.

(By contrast, too, The New York Times treated the Kunduz atrocity gingerly, with the cautious headline, “US Is Blamed After Bombs Hit Afghan Hospital,” noting that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter extended his “thoughts and prayers to everyone afflicted” and added that a full investigation is under way in coordination with Afghanistan’s government to “determine exactly what happened.” Surely, we can expect the slaughter to be dismissed as some unavoidable “accident” or a justifiable case of “collateral damage.”)

With Obama, one cannot exclude the possibility that he has become so infatuated with his soaring words that he actually believes what he told the West Point graduating class on May 28, 2014; but if he does, someone needs to give him a quick reality check. He told the graduates:

“In fact, by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world. Those who argue otherwise … are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics. … So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come.”

How We Got Here

The world could have taken a very different direction after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the evaporation of the Warsaw Pact in February 1991, and the breakup of the Soviet Union in December 1991. Those developments left the United States in a virtually unchallenged position of power — and wise leaders might have seized the opportunity to wind down the world’s excessive investment in military hardware and war-like solutions.

But the U.S. government chose a different course, one of “permanent” global hegemony with American troops as the world’s “armed-up” policemen. Gulf War I, led by the United States in January-February 1991 to punish Iraq for invading Kuwait the previous summer, injected steroids into leading arrogant neocons like Paul Wolfowitz already awash in hubris.

Shortly after that war, Gen. Wesley Clark recalled Wolfowitz (then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy) explaining the thinking: “We learned [from Gulf War I] that we can use our military in the region, in the Middle East, and the Soviets won’t stop us. And we’ve got about five or ten years to clean up those old Soviet client regimes Syria, Iran, Iraq before the next great superpower comes on to challenge us.”

Clark highlighted this comment in an Oct. 3, 2007 speech, apparently thinking this might somehow enhance his credentials as a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination (see this highly instructive eight-minute excerpt).

Clark added that neocons like Bill Kristol and Richard Perle “could hardly wait to finish Iraq so they could move into Syria. … It was a policy coup. Wolfowitz, [Vice President Dick] Cheney, [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, and you could name a half-dozen other collaborators from the Project for a New American Century. They wanted us to destabilize the Middle East, turn it upside down, make it under our control.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocon ‘Chaos Promotion’ in the Mideast.”]

The ideology of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was summarized in a 90-page report published in 2000 and titled, Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century, which advocated a Pax Americana enforced by the “preeminence of U.S. military forces.”

The report emphasized that the fall of the Soviet Union left the U.S. the world’s preeminent superpower, adding that the U.S. must work hard, not only to maintain that position, but to spread its military might into geographic areas that are ideologically opposed to its influence, subduing countries that may stand in the way of U.S. global preeminence.

PNAC’s dogma, in turn, had antecedents in “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” a study written in 1996 for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he was running for the election of his first government. That study was chaired by arch-neocon Richard Perle, who later served as Chair of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s Defense Policy Board (2001-2003); the majority of the study contributors were also prominent American neocons.

Here’s what Perle and associates, many of whom later found influential posts in the Bush/Cheney administration, had to say on Syria: “Given the nature of the regime in Damascus, it is both natural and moral that Israel abandon the slogan ‘comprehensive peace’ and move to contain Syria, drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction program [sic], and rejecting ‘land for peace’ deals on the Golan Heights. …

“Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.”

Why Won’t Assad Do What He’s Told?

Given the hangover from the neocon binge during the Bush/Cheney years, one might say that President Obama was “under the influence” when he began calling for Assad to “step aside” in August 2011. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chimed in, too, telling ABC, “Assad must go the sooner the better for everyone concerned.”

The violence in 2011 was the catalyst for the civil war as Assad’s forces cracked down on an “Arab Spring” uprising that while largely peaceful included extremist elements who killed police and ambushed troops. But the repeated unconditional-surrender demands from Secretary Clinton and other U.S. leaders that “Assad must go,” plus “covert” U.S. support for rebels fighting against Syrian government forces, surely raised expectations that Assad would bow out, making the capture of Damascus a promising prize for a variety of Sunni militants.

Particularly pathetic has been Washington’s benighted, keystone-cops support for so-called “moderate” rebels an embarrassing fiasco if there ever was one. For a while, the “mainstream media” actually was taking note of this disaster within a disaster, after the Pentagon recently acknowledged that its $500 million project had produced only four or five fighters still in the field.

Even earlier, President Obama recognized the fallacy in this approach. In August 2014, he told New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman that trust in rebel “moderates” was a “fantasy” that was “never in the cards” as a workable strategy. But Obama bent to political and media pressure to “do something.”

As journalist Robert Parry pointed out, “Official Washington’s most treasured ‘fantasy’ is the notion that a viable ‘moderate opposition’ exists in Syria or could somehow be created. That wish-upon-a-star belief was the centerpiece of congressional [approval in September 2014 of] a $500 million plan by President Barack Obama to train and arm these ‘moderate’ rebels.”

Even Pentagon-friend Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies recently conceded that “what is very clearly not happening is there has not been any meaningful military action or success on the part of any of the rebels that we have trained.”

Cordesman described the state of play in Syria as “convoluted,” noting that “In addition to Iran’s involvement in the conflict, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have all sponsored armed groups in Syria, making it a surreal proxy playground, even by Middle East standards.”

Yet, this past week, the “moderate” Syrian rebels sprang back to prominence, at least in the mainstream U.S. media, when Russian planes began bombing targets associated with the Army of Conquest, a coalition which is dominated by Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front. This militant coalition suddenly was redefined as “moderate,” as part of the argument that Russia should only be attacking Islamic State targets.

The U.S. media also has downplayed where the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) came from. It was an outgrowth of the Sunni resistance to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 when the group was known as “Al Qaeda in Iraq.” It later splintered off from Al Qaeda over a tactical dispute, whether a fundamentalist Sunni caliphate should be started now (the ISIS view) or whether the focus should be on mounting terror attacks against the West (Al Qaeda’s view.)

Putin Chides US Failures

Putin reminded the world of this embarrassing history and other damaging consequences of U.S. interventionism during his Sept. 28 speech to the UN General Assembly when he noted: “The so-called Islamic State has tens of thousands of militants fighting for it, including former Iraqi soldiers who were left on the street after the 2003 invasion.

“Many recruits come from Libya whose statehood was destroyed as a result of a gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1973. And now radical groups are joined by members of the so-called ‘moderate’ Syrian opposition backed by the West. They get weapons and training, and then they defect and join the so-called Islamic State. …

“I’d like to tell those who engage in this: Gentlemen, the people you are dealing with are cruel but they are not dumb. They are as smart as you are. So, it’s a big question: who’s playing whom here? The recent incident where the most ‘moderate’ opposition group handed over their weapons to terrorists is a vivid example of that.”

The UN speech was not the first time Putin complained about the way U.S. officials have presented the factual circumstances of the Syrian conflict. On Sept. 5, 2013, he publicly accused Secretary of State John Kerry of lying to Congress in exaggerating the strength of “moderate” rebels in Syria.

Alluding to Kerry’s congressional testimony, Putin said: “This was very unpleasant and surprising for me. We talk to them [the Americans], and we assume they are decent people, but he is lying and he knows that he is lying. This is sad.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Rebuilding the Obama-Putin Trust.”]

But the pretense continues. Obama knows only too well the sorry state of the handful of intrepid “moderates” that may still be operating within Syria. By the same token, he does not need Putin to tell him of the danger from ISIS or Al Qaeda if these Sunni extremists (either separately or together) march into Damascus.

So the question becomes: Will Obama bring himself to see Russian military intervention as a positive step toward stabilizing Syria and creating the chance for a political settlement or will he cling to the “Assad must go” precondition, rejecting Russia’s help and risking an ISIS/Al Qaeda victory?

This Time the Russians Can Stop Us

There is another element here, creating an even graver risk. It is no longer 1991 when the triumphant neocons brushed aside hopes for global military de-escalation and instead pressed for worldwide U.S. military dominance. Under Putin, Russia has made clear that it will no longer sit back and let U.S. and NATO tighten a vise around Russia’s borders.

Regarding its “front yard” in Ukraine, Putin has sharply admonished those in the West who “want the Ukrainian government to destroy … all political opponents and adversaries [in eastern Ukraine]. Is that what you want? That’s not what we want and we won’t allow that to happen.”

Putin’s deployment of aircraft and other arms to Assad reflects a similar attitude toward events in Syria, which Russia considers part of its backyard. The message is clear: “Overthrow Assad with the prospect of a terrorist victory? We won’t allow that to happen.”

The risk here, however, is that the American neocons and liberal interventionists remain drunk on their dreams of a permanent U.S. global hegemony that doesn’t broach any rivalry from Russia, China or any other potential challenger to America’s “full-spectrum dominance.” If these war hawks don’t sober up and if Obama remains their reluctant enabler the chances that the crises in Ukraine or Syria could escalate into a nuclear showdown cannot be ignored.

Thus, Russia’s move last week was truly a game-changer; and Putin is no longer playing games. One can only hope Obama can break free from the belligerent neocons and liberal war hawks. [For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Obama Tolerates the Warmongers.”]

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his 27-years as a CIA analyst, he served as chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch, and prepared and personally conducted early morning one-on-one briefings of the President’s Daily Brief.  In January 2013, he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




A Moral Challenge for Pope Francis

Exclusive: In modern times, the Catholic Church has made excuses for unjustifiable wars even as it has made abortion a cardinal sin, a hypocrisy that will be tested as Pope Francis visits the United States, a country immersed in all the immorality that comes from warfare, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Pope Francis could use his visit to the U.S. this week to make unmistakably clear that the Catholic Church’s teaching on the “sanctity of life” applies to more than just the first nine months of gestation.

If he does so, he would face formidable opposition. The bishops appointed by Francis’s two predecessors had to swear allegiance to anti-abortion principles while showing less commitment to saving lives from war. The phalanx of right-wing bishops that Francis inherited were eager to be used, twice, to help elect President George W. Bush because he said he opposed abortion.

These bishops then aped the silence of the German bishops who could not find their voice when Adolf Hitler began what the post-war Nuremberg Tribunal defined as a “war of aggression.” Bush’s unprovoked attack on Iraq fit that definition to a T complete with what Nuremberg called the “accumulated evil” that inevitably results from such a war. Think lies, racism, kidnapping, secret prisons, torture, millions of refugees.

One can only hope that someone has told Francis that he would not have to start at Square One to rescue “the sanctity of life” from those who would confine it to abortion. The Pope needs no jackhammer to break through abortion-hardened concrete. Readily available are the writings of the justice-oriented Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, whose most important contribution before he succumbed to cancer in 1996 was a simple formula he proposed the “seamless garment” to link the Church’s “consistent ethic of life” to a whole range of moral and social issues.

Bernadin raised consciousness about the sanctity and reverence due all human life from conception to death. “The more one embraces this concept, the more sensitive one becomes to the value of human life itself at all stages,” wrote Bernadin. “This consistent ethic points out the inconsistency of defending life in one area while dismissing it in another. … there is a linkage among all the life issues, which cannot be ignored.”

If Pope Francis has the courage to endorse Bernadin’s approach to the sanctity of life, many presidential candidates will have to find a way to dance around it. One, Sen. Marco Rubio, told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday: “I’m a Roman Catholic. For me, the Pope … has authority to speak on … theological matters. And I follow him 100 percent on those issues; otherwise I wouldn’t be a Roman Catholic. And so I believe that deeply. …

“On the social teachings, essential issues, like the sanctity of life and things of this nature, those go deep to the theology of this — of the faith. And I do believe — those are binding and I believe strongly in them.”

However, during the same interview, Rubio told Stephanopoulos that Obama was not forceful enough in making war in the Middle East. U.S. airstrikes, Rubio said, “are not, quite frankly, as vibrant as they should be.” Odd word, “vibrant.”

Will Francis find words to make it clear to Rubio and other U.S. officials that sanctity of life includes those tens of thousands of non-Americans who may not look like Rubio but who nonetheless deserve to be protected from the death that rains down from U.S. bombs, Bernadin’s “consistent ethic of life”? Will the Pope go beyond applauding the countries that are taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees and address Washington’s role in the wars and other violence that create refugees?

Will the Pope remind the Catholic majority of the U.S. Supreme Court justices that execution is against Church teaching? And will he remind flamboyant, right-wing Catholic Justice Antonin Scalia that it has been 500 years since the Church condoned torture?

Techniques Like Waterboarding

It will be interesting to see if Pope Francis has enough sensitivity to the horrors of the Inquisition, and the role played by the Jesuits in it, to suggest that presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham go easy on using that sordid history to brag about the “effectiveness” of torture. At a May 13, 2009 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing discussing waterboarding, Graham said: “One of the reasons these techniques have been around for 500 years is apparently they work.”

That torture “works” is a lie, unless your aim is to produce false confessions. That worked like a charm when President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney ordered interrogators to obtain “evidence” of operational ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq in order to associate Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 terrorists. (Before the invasion of Iraq, 69 percent of Americans had been led to believe that Saddam Hussein played a role in the attacks of 9/11.)

However, whether or not torture “works” is not the point here. When the Jesuits taught me ethics at Fordham College a half century ago, we learned of a moral category called “intrinsic evil,” inhabited by rape and slavery as well as torture. I had no idea that “intrinsic evil” could be somehow rehabilitated. But at Fordham, at least, it has been and in a most Jesuitical way.

Those graduating from my alma mater in 2012 encountered this not-so-subtle change when they objected to the invitation extended by Fordham’s President Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J. to “extraordinary rendition” aficionado John Brennan to give the commencement address in 2012 and to receive an honorary doctorate in humane letters (I am not making this up).

McShane had fallen victim to what more grounded Jesuits call the “celebrity virus.” At the time, Brennan, a Fordham College alumnus, worked in the White House (before becoming CIA director). It did not seem to matter very much what he did for the U.S. government. Confronted by graduating seniors who had been taught that torture was always and everywhere evil, McShane gave a glib gloss on torture and on Brennan’s role in compiling lists of those to be killed by drones with these words: “We don’t live in a black and white world; we live in a gray world.”

After the Senate Intelligence Committee released its major study on CIA torture in December 2014, a faculty-initiated petition asked McShane to revoke the honorary degree given to Brennan, calling “indefensible” his defense and support of torture. McShane rebuffed the petitioners. Another sad day for Fordham.

In his autobiography, To Dwell in Peace published 28 years ago, Vietnam War protester/prophet Daniel Berrigan, S.J., now 94 and spending his last days in Fordham’s infirmary for elderly Jesuits, wrote of “the fall of a great enterprise”, the Jesuit university. He recorded his “hunch” that the university would end up “among those structures whose moral decline and political servitude signalize a larger falling away of the culture itself.”

Berrigan lamented “highly placed” churchmen and their approval of war, “uttered with sublime confidence, from on high, from highly placed friendships, and White House connections.”

“Thus compromised,” warned Berrigan, “the Christian tradition of nonviolence, as well as the secular boast of disinterested pursuit of truth, these are reduced to bombast, hauled out for formal occasions, believed by no one, practiced by no one.”

It will be interesting to see if, during his visit to New York, Pope Francis decides to visit a Jesuit prophet named Berrigan or the celebrity virus-afflicted McShane.

Sexual Abuse

As if Francis needs additional sanctity-of-life issues to address during his visit to the U.S., a front-page, above-the-fold article in Monday’s New York Times provides yet another. Joseph Goldstein writes about the orders given to U.S. troops to ignore the sexual abuse of young boys by Afghan “allies.” Until now, the mainstream media had avoided this story, but it is not new.

Those who took the trouble to read the information leaked to WikiLeaks by Bradley/Chelsea Manning were aware of this ugly story several years ago. I alluded to this depravity in December 2010 toward the end of a short interview on CNN. I have not been invited back since, but it was worth it.

Sexual abuse, of course, is a major problem that Pope Francis, as well as his predecessors, have had to deal with. During his U.S. visit seven years ago, Pope Benedict chose to dwell on steps to address the Church’s pedophilia scandal to the exclusion of much else, but he got a free pass from the media in disguising his own role in trying to cover the whole thing up.

While still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he headed The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the Vatican office that once ran the Inquisition. In that capacity he sent a letter in May 2001 to all Catholic bishops throwing a curtain of secrecy over the widespread sexual abuse by clergy, warning the bishops of severe penalties, including excommunication for breaching “pontifical secrets.” Lawyers acting for the sexually abused accused Ratzinger of “clear obstruction of justice.”

Very few American bishops have been disciplined. And when Bernard Cardinal Law was run out of Boston for failing to protect children from predator priests, he was given a cushy sinecure in Rome. In my view, he should be behind bars.

Barring Female Priests

While Pope Francis’s popularity stems largely from his penchant for doing unexpected things, sadly, he has shown zero flexibility with respect to the ban on women priests, and no miracles can realistically be expected. The prohibition on female priests is another “truth” that has been set in concrete, even though it lacks firm foundation in either Scripture or early Church tradition.

One still hears, “But Jesus did not ordain women.” Truth is Jesus did not ordain anyone. “Ordination” did not exist until well over a century after Jesus. At that point, power-hungry males decided to marginalize women to make the Church more “acceptable” in sexist societies.

How many people are aware that, in the years right after Jesus was killed, many of the men and women who knew him personally worshiped in house churches led by women? THAT tradition (women in leadership positions) does have firm foundation in Scripture as well as in Jesus’s behavior toward women, but has been ignored by the self-ordained theologians and prelates often to the point of absurdity.

Thomas Aquinas, for example, followed Aristotle in attributing the conception of a woman to a defect of a particular seed, resulting in a failed male. Can it be that this is still part of our Catholic tradition? With his limited vision of 800 years ago, Aquinas explained:

“Woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence; such as that of a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes.” (Prima pars, q. 92, a.1)

Sadly, there seems to be little hope for equality for women in the Catholic Church anytime soon. At the same time, it is not impossible to hope that Francis will reaffirm Cardinal Bernadin’s inclusive approach on the sanctity of life.

How good it would be to remind American Catholics that ALL have a right to a decent life including not only those in utero, but also babies, young people exposed to predators, and adults with no economic or educational options but a poverty draft into the armed forces.

In addition, we Catholics, and most Americans, do need reminding that Bernadin’s “seamless garment” and “consistent ethic of life” apply to people of all nations; that intrinsic evil should not be given a facelift; and that Thou Shalt Not Kill still applies even to a country claiming special privileges as the “sole indispensable country in the world.”

Ironically, it was Russian President Vladimir Putin who, in an op-ed in the New York Times on Sept. 11, 2013, took issue with Obama’s oft-proclaimed claim of American exceptionalism. Putin wrote:

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

For more on the last papal visit, see: Consortiumnews.com’s “What About the War, Benedict?” For an op-ed appearing in Sunday’s Baltimore Sun, see: “Will Pope Francis Be Polite or Prophetic”

Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst, works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He studied theology and Russian at Fordham, holds a certificate in Theological Studies from Georgetown, and now teaches at the Servant Leadership School in Washington.




In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories from August focused on the failure of the mainstream media to question prevailing “group thinks” on almost any topic, the bitter fight over the Iran nuclear deal, the hidden reality of U.S. allies aiding Al Qaeda in Syria, and the surprising surge of anti-Establishment candidates.

The ‘Two Minutes Hate’ of Tom Brady” by Robert Parry, Aug. 1, 2015

Nuclear War’s Unlearned Lessons” by Robert Dodge, Aug. 1, 2015

The Soft Power Hoax” by Mike Lofgren, Aug. 2, 2015

Reporter Wins Fifth Amendment Case” by Marcy Wheeler, Aug. 3, 2015

Confronting a Very Dark Chapter” by Gary G. Kohls, Aug. 3, 2015

How US Allies Aid Al Qaeda in Syria” by Daniel Lazare, Aug. 4, 2015

Why Many Muslims Hate the US” by William R. Polk, Aug. 5, 2015

Obama’s Pragmatic Appeal for Iran Peace” by Robert Parry, Aug. 5, 2015

‘Paint-balling’ the Presidents” by Sam Husseini, Aug. 7, 2015

Christianity and the Nagasaki Crime” by Gary G. Kohls, Aug. 9, 2015

Exposing Nixon’s Vietnam Lies” by James DiEugenio, Aug. 10, 2015

Gauging the Violent ‘Fox Effect’” by Mike Lofgren, Aug. 11, 2015

Rectifying Israel’s Crimes” by Lawrence Davidson, Aug. 11, 2015

Pope Francis’ Appeal for the Future” by Daniel C. Maguire, Aug. 12, 2015

Congress’ Test of Allegiance: US or Israel?” by John V. Whitbeck, Aug. 12, 2015

Escalating the Anti-Iran Propaganda” by Jonathan Marshall, Aug. 13, 2015

The Saudi Royals, Unchained” by Joe Lauria, Aug. 14, 2015

Neocons to Americans: Trust Us Again” by Robert Parry, Aug. 16, 2015

Reviving the ‘Successful Surge’ Myth” by Robert Parry, Aug. 16, 2015

Propaganda, Intelligence, and MH-17” by Ray McGovern, Aug. 17, 2015

Explaining the Trump Phenomenon” by Lawrence Davidson, Aug. 17, 2015

Assange and Democracy’s Future” by Norman Solomon, Aug. 18, 2015

Pentagon Manual Calls Some Reporters Spies” by Don North, Aug. 19, 2015

The Honduran Coup’s Ugly Aftermath” by Jonathan Marshall, Aug. 19, 2015

Why US Police Are Out of Control” by Daniel Lazare, Aug. 20, 2015

The Riddle of Obama’s Foreign Policy” by Robert Parry, Aug. 21, 2015

The Case for Pragmatism” by Robert Parry, Aug. 24, 2015

American Jews Split from Netanyahu” by Lawrence Davidson, Aug. 24, 2015

The Trump/Sanders Phenomena” by Robert Parry, Aug. 26, 2015

Sanders’s Screwy Mideast Strategy” by Sam Husseini, Aug. 27, 2015

Will Peace Find a 2016 Advocate?” by Robert Parry, Aug. 27, 2015

Pushing the Edge on Nuclear War” by William R. Polk, Aug. 28, 2015

America’s Short-sighted ‘Grand Strategy’” by Franklin Spinney, Aug. 31, 2105

Schumer’s Troubling Mideast Record” by Jonathan Marshall, Aug. 31, 2015

Ron Paul and Lost Lessons of War” by Todd E. Pierce, Aug. 31, 2015

To produce and publish these stories and many more costs money. And except for some book sales, we depend on the generous support of our readers.

So, please consider a tax-deductible donation either by credit card online or by mailing a check. (For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our PayPal Giving Fund account, which is named “The Consortium for Independent Journalism”).

 

 




Propaganda, Intelligence and MH-17

Exclusive: Propaganda is the life-blood of life-destroying wars, and the U.S. government has reached new heights (or depths) in this art of perception management. A case in point is the media manipulation around last year’s Malaysia Airlines shoot-down over Ukraine, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

During a recent interview, I was asked to express my conclusions about the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, prompting me to take another hard look at Official Washington’s dubious claims pointing the finger of blame at eastern Ukrainian rebels and Moscow based on shaky evidence regarding who was responsible for this terrible tragedy.

Unlike serious professional investigative reporters, intelligence analysts often are required by policymakers to reach rapid judgments without the twin luxuries of enough time and conclusive evidence. Having spent almost 30 years in the business of intelligence analysis, I have faced that uncomfortable challenge more times than I wish to remember.

So, I know what it feels like to confront issues of considerable consequence like the shoot-down of MH-17 and the killing of 298 passengers and crew amid intense pressure to choreograph the judgments to the propagandistic music favored by senior officials who want the U.S. “enemy” in this case, nuclear-armed Russia and its Western-demonized President Vladimir Putin to somehow be responsible. In such situations, the easiest and safest (career-wise) move is to twirl your analysis to the preferred tune or at least sit this jig out.

But the trust-us-it-was-Putin marathon dance has now run for 13 months and it’s getting tiresome to hear the P.R. people in the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper still claiming that the U.S. intelligence community has not revised or updated its analysis of the incident since July 22, 2014, just five days after the crash.

Back then, Clapper’s office, trying to back up Secretary of State John Kerry’s anti-Russian rush to judgment, cited very sketchy evidence in both senses of the word drawn heavily from “social media” accounts. Obviously, the high-priced and high-caliber U.S. intelligence community has learned much more about this very sensitive case since that time, but the administration won’t tell the American people and the world. The DNI’s office still refers inquiring reporters back to the outdated report from more than a year ago.

None of this behavior would make much sense if the later U.S. intelligence data supported the hasty finger-pointing toward Putin and the rebels. If more solid and persuasive intelligence corroborated those initial assumptions, you’d think U.S. government officials would be falling over themselves to leak the evidence and declare “we told you so.” And the DNI office’s claim that it doesn’t want to prejudice the MH-17 investigation doesn’t hold water either since the initial rush to judgment did exactly that.

So, despite the discomfort attached to making judgments with little reliable evidence and at the risk of sounding like former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld it seems high time to address what we know, what we don’t know, and why it may be that we don’t know what we don’t know.

Those caveats notwithstanding I would say it is a safe bet that the hard technical intelligence evidence upon which professional intelligence analysts prefer to rely does not support Secretary of State Kerry’s unseemly rush to judgment in blaming the Russian side just three days after the shoot-down.

‘An Extraordinary Tool’?

When the tragedy occurred U.S. intelligence collection assets were focused laser-like on the Ukraine-Russia border region where the passenger plane crashed. Besides collection from overhead imagery and sensors, U.S. intelligence presumably would have electronic intercepts of communications as well as information from human sources inside many of the various factions.

That would mean that hundreds of intelligence analysts are likely to have precise knowledge regarding how MH-17 was shot down and by whom. Though there may be some difference of opinion among analysts about how to read the evidence as there often is it is out of the question that the intelligence community would withhold this data from President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Kerry and other top officials.

Thus, it is a virtual certainty that the Obama administration has far more conclusive evidence than the “social media” cited by Kerry in casting suspicions on the rebels and Moscow when he made the rounds of Sunday talk shows just three days after the crash. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Kerry told David Gregory that “social media” is an “extraordinary tool.” The question is, a tool for what?

The DNI report two days later rehashed many of the “social media” references that Kerry cited and added some circumstantial evidence about Russia providing other forms of military equipment to the rebels. But the DNI report contains no mention of Russia supplying a Buk anti-aircraft missile system that Kerry and the DNI cited as the suspected weapon that downed the plane.

So, why does the administration continue refusing to go beyond such dubious sources and shaky information in attributing blame for the shoot-down? Why not fill in the many blanks with actual and hard U.S. intelligence data that would have been available and examined over the following days and weeks? Did the Russians supply a Buk or other missile battery that would be capable of hitting MH-17 flying at 33,000 feet? Yes or no.

If not supplied by the Russians, did the rebels capture a Buk or similar missile battery from the Ukrainians who had them in their own inventory? Or did some element of the Ukrainian government possibly associated with one of Ukraine’s corrupt oligarchs fire the missile, either mistaking the Malaysian plane for a Russian one or calculating how the tragedy could be played for propaganda purposes? Or was it some other sinister motive?

Without doubt, the U.S. government has evidence that could support or refute any one of those possibilities, but it won’t tell you even in some declassified summary form. Why? Is it somehow unpatriotic to speculate that John Kerry, with his checkered reputation for truth-telling regarding Syria and other foreign crises, chose right off the bat to turn the MH-17 tragedy to Washington’s propaganda advantage, an exercise in “soft power” to throw Putin on the defensive and rally Europe behind U.S. economic sanctions to punish Russia for supporting ethnic Russians in Crimea and eastern Ukraine resisting the new U.S.-arranged political order in Kiev?

By taking a leaf out of the Bush-Cheney-Tony-Blair playbook, Kerry could “fix the intelligence around the policy” of Putin-bashing. Given the anti-Putin bias rampant in the mainstream Western media, that wouldn’t be a hard sell. And, it wasn’t. The “mainstream” stenographers/journalists quickly accepted that “social media” was indeed a dandy source to rely on and have never pressed the U.S. government to release any of its intelligence data.

Yet, in the immediate aftermath of the MH-17 shoot-down, there were signs that honest intelligence analysts were not comfortable letting themselves be used as they and other colleagues had been before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

To buttress Kerry’s shaky case, DNI Clapper arranged a flimsy “Government Assessment” reprising many of Kerry’s references to “social media” that was briefed to a few hand-picked Establishment reporters two days after Kerry starred on Sunday TV. The little-noticed distinction was that this report was not the customary “Intelligence Assessment” (the genre that has been de rigueur in such circumstances in the past).

The key difference between the traditional “Intelligence Assessment” and this relatively new creation, a “Government Assessment,” is that the latter genre is put together by senior White House bureaucrats or other political appointees, not senior intelligence analysts. Another significant difference is that an “Intelligence Assessment” often includes alternative views, either in the text or in footnotes, detailing disagreements among intelligence analysts, thus revealing where the case may be weak or in dispute.

The absence of an “Intelligence Assessment” suggested that honest intelligence analysts were resisting a knee-jerk indictment of Russia just as they did after the first time Kerry pulled this “Government Assessment” arrow out of his quiver trying to stick the blame for an Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus on the Syrian government.

Kerry cited this pseudo-intelligence product, which contained not a single verifiable fact, to take the United States to the brink of war against President Bashar al-Assad’s military, a fateful decision that was only headed off at the last minute after President Barack Obama was made aware of grave doubts among U.S. intelligence analysts about whodunit. Kerry’s sarin case has since collapsed. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.”]

The sarin and MH-17 cases reveal the continuing struggles between opportunistic political operatives and professional intelligence analysts over how to deal with geopolitical information that can either inform U.S. foreign policy objectively or be exploited to advance some propaganda agenda. Clearly, this struggle did not end after CIA analysts were pressured into giving President George W. Bush the fraudulent not “mistaken” evidence that he used to make the case for invading Iraq in 2003.

But so soon after that disgraceful episode, the White House and State Department run the risk that some honest intelligence analysts would blow the whistle, especially given the dangerously blasé attitude in Establishment Washington toward the dangers of escalating the Ukraine confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia. Given the very high stakes, perhaps an intelligence professional or two will summon the courage to step up to this challenge.

Falling in Line

For now, the rest of us are told to be satisfied with the Sunday media circus orchestrated by Kerry on July 20, 2014, with the able assistance of eager-to-please pundits. A review of the transcripts of the CBS, NBC, and ABC Sunday follies reveals a remarkable if not unprecedented — consistency in approach by CBS’s Bob Schieffer, NBC’s David Gregory (ably egged on by Andrea Mitchell), and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, all of whom hewed faithfully to a script apparently given them with two main talking points: (1) blame Putin; and (2) frame the shoot-down as a “wake-up call” (Kerry used the words repeatedly) for European governments to impose tight economic sanctions on Russia.

If the U.S. government’s hope was that the combination of Kerry’s hasty judgment and the DNI’s supportive “Government Assessment” would pin the P.R. blame for MH-17 on Putin and Russia, the gambit clearly worked. The U.S. had imposed serious economic sanctions on Russia the day before the shoot-down but the Europeans were hesitant. Yet, in the MH-17 aftermath, both U.S. and European media were filled with outrage against Putin for supposedly murdering 298 innocents.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders, who had been resisting imposing strong economic sanctions because of Germany’s and the European Union’s lucrative trade with Russia, let themselves be bulldozed, just two weeks after the shoot-down, into going along with mutually harmful sanctions that have hurt Russia but also have shaken the EU’s fragile economic recovery.

Thus started a new, noxious phase in the burgeoning confrontation between Russia and the West, a crisis that was originally precipitated by a Western-orchestrated coup d’état in Kiev on Feb. 22, 2014, ousting Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych and touching off the current civil war that has witnessed some of the worst bloodshed inside Europe in decades..

It may seem odd that those European leaders allowed themselves to be snookered so swiftly. Did their own intelligence services not caution them against acquiescing over “intelligence” from social media? But the tidal wave of anti-Putin fury in the MH-17 aftermath was hard if not impossible for any Western politician to resist.

Just One Specific Question?

Yet, can the U.S. concealment of its MH-17 intelligence continue indefinitely? Some points beg for answers. For instance, besides describing social media as “an extraordinary tool,” Kerry told David Gregory on July 20, 2014: “We picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”

Odd that neither Gregory nor other “mainstream” stenographers have thought to ask Kerry, then or since, to share what he says he “knows” with the American people and the world if only out of, well, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind. If Kerry has sources beyond “social media” for what he claims to “know” and they support his instant claims of Russian culpability, then the importance of his accusations dictates that he describe exactly what he pretends to know and how. But Kerry has been silent on this topic.

If, on the other hand, the real intelligence does not support the brief that Kerry argued right after the shoot-down, well, the truth will ultimately be hard to suppress. Angela Merkel and other leaders with damaged trade ties with Russia may ultimately demand an explanation. Can it be that it will take current European leaders a couple of years to realize they’ve been had — again?

The U.S. government also is likely to face growing public skepticism for using social media to pin the blame on Moscow for the downing of MH-17 not only to justify imposing economic sanctions, but also to stoke increased hostility toward Russia.

The Obama administration and the mainstream media may try to pretend that no doubt exists that the “group think” on Russia’s guilt is ironclad. And it seems likely that the official investigations now being conducted by the U.S.-propped-up government in Ukraine and other close U.S. allies will struggle to build a circumstantial case keeping the Putin-did-it narrative alive.

But chickens have a way of coming home to roost.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his 27-years as a CIA analyst, he served as chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch, and prepared and personally conducted early morning briefings of the President’s Daily Brief.  In January 2013, he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).