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US Trained Honduran Police Get Medieval as Political Prisoner Edwin Espinal Released

Fri, 2019-08-16 22:52

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS — “It’s sad how the United States is supporting this corrupt government,” Honduran political prisoner Edwin Espinal told MintPress News immediately after his release from prison, where he had spent 19 months.

Edwin’s case — and the medieval violence to which U.S.-trained police in Honduras tried to subject me — perfectly illustrate the often lethal repression that has fueled the migrant crisis. After hours of police hurling stones and tear gas at student protesters last week, young children gathered the aluminum scraps from the ground to sell, underscoring that the poverty brought on by U.S.-backed neoliberal measures has gone hand-in-hand with police violence in fueling the human-rights catastrophe at the heart of the central American exodus.

A week of nationwide action in solidarity with political prisoners ended in elation at a concert on Friday held in the central park, as beloved movement leader Edwin Espinal — unexpectedly released from pre-trial detention earlier in the day — walked unevenly onstage. Espinal, looking like a deer in the headlights, was immediately mobbed by sobbing friends. The resistance band Patechucho Social Club played a rousing version of their song “Rap Rock Reggae Cumbia.”

On Friday, a three-judge panel in a courthouse surrounded by military police officers agreed that Espinal’s 19-month incarceration in a maximum-security prison was illegal, punitive and arbitrary. 

I went with Edwin’s wife, Karen Spring, to pick him up from the prison. In his first interview after his release from prison, Edwin told me:

It’s very clear inside that they started a new force which has been trained by the U.S. government. And they’re really bad people. They treat us so badly… They always beat me up, they always humiliate me.

It is sad how the United States is supporting this corrupt government, which is focused on prosecuting the political opposition rather than on prosecuting corrupt people in the Juan Orlando Hernandez government.”

It is difficult to overstate the importance to Hondurans of Espinal’s conditional release while awaiting trial. Since the murder of his then-girlfriend Wendy Avila from suffocation caused by teargas inhalation in the months following the 2009 U.S.-backed coup, he has been an especially public figure in the Honduran struggle for social justice.

The issue of political prisoners is one of the few causes (along with the demand that the dictator leave power) that fully unites disparate groups on the Honduran left, from hierarchical ballot-focused organizations like former President Mel Zelaya’s Libre Party to the radically horizontal, anti-electoral, indigenous- and Garífuna-led organizations COPINH and OFRANEH. 

Espinal has been a particular target of illegitimately elected U.S.-backed narcodictator Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH), who in November 2013 — well prior to ordering Espinal’s arrest on charges related to protesting JOH’s stolen, illegal 2017 re-election — used his military police force to raid Espinal’s house as a campaign stunt. Espinal’s incarceration — under deplorable, life-threatening conditions, along with other political prisoners Raúl Álvarez, Rommel Herrera, and Gustavo Cáceres (at a separate prison) — sparked an international solidarity movement. 

The week of action in solidarity with political prisoners was organized well in advance of revelations in the Southern District of New York that JOH had been named as the fourth co-conspirator (CC-4) in a drug-trafficking case against his brother, kingpin Tony Hernández. 

Each day of last week’s fast was sponsored by a different organization. As I noted in my article last Thursday in MintPress, I spent Monday with fasters organized by Libre outside the Public Ministry in Tegucigalpa. There I spoke with ousted President Mel Zelaya about his participation in the fast and the outlook for CC-4 (JOH’s new nickname within the resistance movement). I returned to visit the fasters throughout the week.

Following days of parallel marches demanding the end of the dictatorship, which met with heavy repression around the country, the Movement for Health and Education (Plataforma Por la Salud y la Educación) organized Thursday’s Tegucigalpa action in solidarity with political prisoners. I bummed a ride from COPINH leaders to the Public Ministry to find that the rest of their youth-led contingent had already arrived, along with well over a hundred other activists coming from diverse organizations including OFRANEH, the Catholic Church, unions, and of course the Committee for the Freedom of Political Prisoners. UN observers were also on-site.

I was distracted by the products available for sale from resistance-affiliated vendors when in the blink of an eye, protestors occupied the street in front of the Public Ministry — a central thoroughfare. They stayed for an hour or so, singing typically sidesplitting Honduran resistance rhymes. One translated as: “They say Juan Orlando doesn’t have balls, just Coca-Cola bottle caps” (emphasis on the Coca [cocaine] in Coca-cola).

More shots of the road block demanding freedom for political prisoners and #FueraJOH. The coup generation is professional – they got this all done in the blink of an eye. @EdwinLibertad

— Adrienne Pine (@adriennepine) August 8, 2019

By noon, the crowd dispersed, leaving the fasters to continue their vigil. I headed to the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) to catch up with several former students of mine at that institution. I taught anthropology there as a Fulbright scholar in 2013 and 2014.


Students stand in solidarity

I had my doubts about whether I’d actually be able to meet them. The previous day at the UNAH, I’d seen a motley crew of police: National Police, U.S.-trained “Tigres” Special Forces, and more. Among their vehicles was an enormous tank labeled “To serve and protect.” 

Students had occupied the university in retaliation against the extreme police violence against their colleagues in San Pedro the night prior. 

The police, in turn, had heavily gassed the university, shooting hundreds of teargas canisters directly through its gates, and — briefly — shooting live rounds. Students would run out, pick up the exploding canisters, and throw them back at police, causing a temporary retreat. After two hours of documenting the attacks, I took refuge in a Circle K across the street with the best tasting air I had ever breathed in my life. 

3. The University must take a stand re: the current national crisis
4. The criminalization of student protest must stop

— Adrienne Pine (@adriennepine) August 8, 2019

I chatted with a small group of students who were also waiting out the attacks in our refrigerated refuge. I asked them if the day’s attack was worse than usual. They laughed. “No, it’s like this here every day.”  

Later, a colleague at UNAH told me that the university administration denied permission for professors to cancel classes while the teargas attack was going on. She said had canceled her class, despite potential sanctions including a pay cut. “Who can learn under those conditions?” she wondered to me. 


The joven hustlers of Honduras

When I returned on Thursday, the first person I came across was Jaime, a 10-year-old boy I had met the previous evening after police finished repressing the protest. He was collecting spent teargas canisters to sell as aluminum scrap in his neighborhood.

I felt the same heartbreak with Jaime that I had felt days prior when I ran into a boy, of a similar age, braving tear gas to sell bandanas and bags of vinegar to protesters. I have long been aware of the poverty and repression that has made Honduras unlivable for so many, but to see it so close and personal, with a child as its victim, filled me with conflicting feelings of anguish — for the boy’s future — and anger — at my government’s policies that have created this situation.

He was happy to see me again. And his curious mind was overflowing with the information he shared with me: students had taken over several buildings, and shortly there would be a blockade of the road in front of the main gate, where I was planning to meet my former students. 

Not long after my students showed up, so too did masked protesters with rocks, branches, and cement to blockade the street in front of the campus — another major Tegucigalpa thoroughfare.

It was not long before Jaime ran excitedly back to me, shouting “Look! The police are here! The police are here!” I squinted in the direction he was pointing, but didn’t see anything. But I know that he was right because I could already taste the familiar flavor of teargas — like swallowing a dollop of wasabi and rubbing the leftovers in my eyes. 

My students shouted for us to run inside the gates where we could retreat and take cover.

A full-on battle ensued between masked protesters (at least some of whom later identified themselves as students) and police. The protestors hurled mostly taunts, but also a few rocks while the police threw volley after volley of stones, and new rounds of teargas every few minutes. 

The protests went on anyway. UNAH students have an impressive resistance to the chemical weapon.

Next to me, I noticed a “No Smoking” sign, part of a university-wide clean-air campaign.

As another round of teargas was shot into campus, a student said to me, “That’s [the military/police arsenal] where all the money that this country doesn’t spend on medicine goes.” Several students who had sustained injuries from the rocks police were hurling at them retreated, moaning, as their companions tended to their wounds. A friend, wearing his beige human-rights-defender vest, stood smoking a cigarette while taking a momentary break from his monitoring and assistance work. “Smoking is prohibited here, you know,” I told him. “For your health.”

After a few minutes passed without more gas, I took a closer look. Armed with the bandana I had purchased from a child during another gas-filled moment on Tuesday, I approached the front gate. My human-rights-defender friend was filming there already, so I stood next to him and began livestreaming the attack. Students yelled at the officers that they were being filmed by a “gringa human rights defender.”


Honduran police get medieval 

Like the students, I naively assumed my presence would serve as a shield from the worst of the police violence. Instead, the police made me their main target, hurling rocks at me as I held my phone up to record. I retreated to a corner of the wall abutting the main gate, then further behind a tree. But the tree wasn’t wide enough and some of the rocks were larger than a softball and came at me faster than I could duck. 

It was a lethal game of dodgeball.

I was injured twice before I could take better cover behind a wall. There, the police continued to specifically target me as I blindly filmed, simply holding my camera above the wall. It seemed that every time I peeked up, a rock missed my head by inches. On various occasions the police came inside the autonomous university’s gates — a serious violation of Honduran law (perhaps even more so than stoning me).

In a kind of sick contradiction one comes to expect while doing this kind of work in Honduras, the police force that stoned me because they thought I was a human-rights worker actually receives human-rights training from the U.S. State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. 


The police purge that wasn’t

All this comes after the force was supposedly rid of its bad apples, a job led by the State Department-funded Association for a More Just Society (AJS). AJS is an evangelical Christian organization that also organizes national days of prayer for peace and has dedicated an immense amount of effort since the coup to destroying teachers’ unions and public education by blaming and encouraging the criminalization of individual teachers for the structural flaws in the public educational system. 

At the head of this well-greased operation is Omar Rivera, who is known for working closely with both JOH and Washington, serving as an effective civil-society figurehead. AJS is the representative organization for Transparency International in Honduras and, along with the U.S. State Department, has led a well-funded propaganda effort to convince Hondurans and the international community that the nation’s principal problem is “corruption.”

There’s no doubt that Honduras is impossibly corrupt; it is also clear, however, that that corruption is merely a symptom of a much larger problem that the corporate U.S. media chooses to ignore: the ongoing usurpation of Honduran sovereignty and the prevention of the development of democratic processes by the United States, Canada, and other allied governments and International Finance institutions, and the extractive capitalist interests they serve.

The corruption canard keeps the focus on police resources and individuals rather than on the pangs of privatization, and so it is often the line favored by the State Department.

While the official AJS and State Department narrative on reductions in police violence and corruption has been swallowed hook, line and sinker by sycophantic reporters like Sonia Nazario, the reality on the ground is much more complex. 

The forest is missed for a few trees, and that is by design. Nazario and other stenographers of empire go to great lengths to highlight gang violence and extortion. But the soarings rates of violent crime should surprise no one when the regime itself, backed by the U.S., is basically a cartel.

As Honduras Solidarity Network coordinator Karen Spring, wife of political prisoner Edwin Espinal, and my PhD student Laura (Jung) Gilchrest detailed in separate 2016 articles, the AJS-led Special Commission for the Cleansing and Transformation of Honduran Police is at best a PR scheme. 

At worst it is something far more sinister. It consists of homophobic and misogynstic evangelical pastor Alberto Solorzano; Vilma Morales, the former Supreme Court president who invented constitutional justifications out of thin air to legitimate the 2009 coup against Mel Zelaya and later led “intervention commissions” that supercharged the privatization of the public sector; and finally, Minister of Security Julian Pacheco, who has been investigated by the DEA “since at least in or about 2013” for drug trafficking, according to documents related to the case against the president’s brother. 

With such figures at the helm of the police clean-up effort, the police continue to operate as an organized criminal structure — trafficking drugs, running death squads, shooting live bullets into crowds of protesters, and stoning foreigners and students with impunity.


US speaks softly, empty-handed

With its enormous influence, it is unsurprising that the high-level congressional delegation led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to meet with AJS on Saturday, especially given its status as the State Department’s “civil society” proxy in Honduras.

In that meeting, it is certain that delegates heard the same story about corruption Nazario and others have published. This includes calls to defend the MACCIH, the toothless OAS-affiliated anti-corruption body that has repeatedly gone outside its mandate to evaluate cases of minimal structural importance, while avoiding major instances of corruption. 

The MACCIH has not, for example, presented indictments of the president or his family despite receiving irrefutable documentation (and even open admissions) of their theft of public funds to finance the National Party’s campaigns during the last two presidential elections — both of which also required U.S.-sanctioned electoral fraud and lethal violence to impose their sham results on an unwilling nation. 

The illegally-appointed attorney general and close family friend of JOH must approve any topic the MACCIH chooses to investigate, thus ensuring its structural uselessness. If there is one thing that the MACCIH has done extremely well, it is to demonstrate quite clearly that no meaningful anti-corruption efforts can take place while JOH is still in power. Nonetheless, the Democratic congress members and journalists persist in holding it up as an important tool in restoring legitimacy to the Honduran government.

Hondurans I spoke with over the weekend were cautiously optimistic that the Pelosi delegation would hasten JOH’s departure. But they did not expect much more. Pelosi may have gushed about her “friend” Berta Cáceres in her meeting with the family, but she has thus far refused to sign onto the Berta Cáceres Act, which “would suspend military aid to Honduras until the Honduran government investigates credible allegations of gross human rights violations by their security forces.” Cáceres, an environmental activist and indigenous freedom fighter known around the world, was assassinated by members of a U.S.-trained death squad in 2016.

Meanwhile Representative Norma Torres (D-CA), who tweeted pictures of people holding signs praising her in the delegation’s hotel and of her meeting with members of Cáceres’s family, has not only refused to sign onto the Berta Cáceres Act, but has also propped up the JOH regime and its fictitious “fight against corruption.” And Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), who has in general been a strong ally of the Honduran people and is a co-sponsor of the Berta Cáceres Act, tweeted a celebration of occupying U.S. forces from Massachusetts as his parting message. A fine, patriotic message for constituents, but a kick in the face to the Hondurans resisting the U.S.-sponsored militarization of their society.


Es pa’ fuera que vas?

On Monday, Honduran social networks exploded with rumors when news broke that JOH was on a plane headed to Washington. Hondurans speculated — with overflowing glee — that he was going there to turn himself in to the DEA; that he would be arraigned on drug trafficking charges; that Pelosi and her crew had cut a deal to bring him down. An hour or two after the news began to circulate, the presidential press office tried to quash rumors with a deliciously absurd press release asserting that the trafficker-in-chief has led — since 2010 in Congress and since 2014 in the presidency — a “successful, integrated strategy to combat drug trafficking and organized crime.” 

The official statement claimed that the visit was for JOH and his cabinet to meet with the OAS Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission

But the meeting had appeared neither on the president’s agenda nor on that of the OAS commission. Fueling suspicions, the president posted a photo of himself supposedly going on a jog Tuesday morning. But observers quickly noticed the photo was identical to one JOH had already posted in 2015.

Bueno y ahora con que van a salir. Es aquí donde necesitamos las explicaciones nones en Washington.

Posted by Andres Molina on Tuesday, August 13, 2019

JOH had a similarly performative reunion with OAS Secretary General and MACCIH creator Luis Almagro. In what could either be a Freudian slip or simply unfortunate phrasing, Almagro tweeted that he and JOH discussed “reducing the demand for illicit drugs.” After all, JOH’s brother was the supply guy.

Hondurans residing in the Washington area made sure that the president’s narrative did not go uncontested. They also documented State Department representatives arriving at his hotel, further fueling suspicions that the purpose of the visit was for JOH to receive marching orders from those who put him in power in the first place. On his return, some hypothesized that the real purpose of the trip was to demonstrate to Hondurans hoping the DEA would relieve them that he could enter and leave the United States without getting arrested. 

Honduras may well be at a turning point nonetheless. And if not a turning point, perhaps a boiling point. Some 89 people were confirmed dead in the ongoing nationwide dengue epidemic, which is exacerbated by cuts to healthcare. JOH held a press conference affirming his allegiance to Israel as stronger than ever. And as protests and repression continue nationwide, children — younger than the coup — use the opportunity to collect materials from chemical weapons banned in warfare to help get by while the schools are closed. The only thing that is clear is that Juan Orlando has never had a less legitimate image and now, more than ever, what grasp he on power hangs on D.C.

Feature photo | Riot police run in front of a cloud of tear gas during a protest against Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez, in Tegucigalpa, August 6, 2019. Jorge Cabrera | Reuters

Adrienne Pine is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at American University. She is the author of the book Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras

The post US Trained Honduran Police Get Medieval as Political Prisoner Edwin Espinal Released appeared first on MintPress News.

Aloha from Dr. Martin Luther King and Tulsi Gabbard

Thu, 2019-08-15 22:52

Hawaiian Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the peace messenger in the Democratic primary, was not even born when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his prophetic anti-war address at Riverside Church in New York, April 4, 1967. I remember sitting in one of the pews as King dramatized the domestic and human costs of war. That speech alone transformed my own view of the U.S. role in the world.

Gabbard, an opponent of regime-change wars today, is only 38 years old, but every time she speaks with aloha—and the wisdom of a soldier who has seen the ravages and scars of war—I still recall Dr. King’s masterpiece, “Time to Break Silence.”

What makes King’s address so relevant to the coming election, especially to Gabbard’s campaign for peace, is not King’s denunciation of aggression, important as that is. It’s how King demonstrates the role of militarism in causing economic inequality, unrelieved destitution and a loss of idealism and hope among American youth.

Dr. King saw our domestic crisis coming when social reforms of the “great society” were being put on hold. “A few years ago,” he began from his well-lit pulpit, “there was a shining moment in our struggle…There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched the programs broken.”

Like Dr. King, Congresswoman Gabbard sees regime-change war today as the enemy of hope and social reform.

 There is one issue central to all the rest, one issue central to our ability to address our needs, and that issue is the cost of war—the ongoing regime-change wars, and this new cold war, the nuclear arms race.”

Of course I don’t intend to compare the range, the breadth, the passion and profundity of King’s life work with the campaign of a single candidate. Nor am I concerned about the controversies about Gabbard’s early career. What concerns me is the indifference of many Democrats—like Kamala Harris and Tim Ryan—to the relevant teachings of Dr. King regarding the domestic costs of war. Is the Democratic Party a party of war or a party of peace?

Pundits say Gabbard is not likely to become the nominee. Even if they are right, Gabbard may well shift the focus of the debates. As the gadfly for peace, her message may provoke candidates—like Warren and Sanders—to raise moral, legal, and economic issues the media always evade.

In recent years, the U.S. has conducted serious bombing campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen—killing civilians, destroying infrastructure, and causing environmental ruin. At the Watson Institute, Gabbard gave an impassioned address, “Build, Don’t Bomb.” Gabbard called on us to use our “limited resources to meet the needs of our people and communities. Because the reality is, that as long as we are wasting trillions of dollars preparing for nuclear war, whether it be with a country like Russia or China, as long as we continue waging one regime-change war after another, we will not be able to provide healthcare for all. We will not have the resources we need to make sure our kids are getting a good education. We will not have the resources we need to make the kind of bold investments in green renewable energy. Do we want to continue… to be the world’s police, intervening in one foreign country after another, toppling one dictator after another, or focus on rebuilding our communities. We cannot afford both. We cannot afford to do both.”

Gabbard is incisive, practical, and convincing, where other candidates are silent.

Have you ever wondered how it’s possible that this country, the wealthiest country in the world, can’t afford to maintain our roads and bridges…Can’t afford to make sure that every American has clean water to drink? How is it possible that this country cannot provide healthcare for its people? We look to the cost of war, and how, since 9/11 alone, we spent anywhere from 6 to 8 trillion dollars on regime change wars. The U.S. spent over a trillion dollars in Afghanistan alone. We continue to spend 4 billion dollars in Afghanistan, dollars that are coming out of our pockets every single month. Four billion dollars a month. We’ve seen countless lives lost, both American and Afghan lives… For what. For what?!”

As Dr. King put it: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”


Sovereignty and self determination

Unlike the interventionist Democrats—who are willing to interfere in the internal affairs of Venezuela, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Korea—Gabbard affirms the right of all peoples to self-determination and the sovereignty of states.

“Only the Afghan people can determine their own future,” she says. 

The New York Times summarized Gabbard’s stand: “Leave other countries alone.” “Bringing an understanding of what sovereignty means is my mission,” Gabbard says. 

When Gabbard was asked, “Who do you think should run Venezuela?” she replied: “It’s not for me to decide. It’s not what I think or believe, this is a decision and a choice, a process that people in other countries should make for themselves.”

We can almost hear the echo of John Quincy Adams, America’s sixth president: “America…goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. 


Aloha and Dr.King

Congresswoman Gabbard often tells a story about Dr. King in Hawaii. “Dr. King saw the power of aloha when he visited our islands.”  In his address to the Hawaii House of Representatives in 1959, King said:

We look to you for inspiration as a noble example, where you have already accomplished in the area of racial harmony and racial justice, what we are struggling to accomplish in other sections of the country, and you can never know what it means to those caught for the moment in the tragic and often dark midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, to come to a place where we see the glowing daybreak of freedom and dignity and racial justice.” 

King marches alongside a contingent from Hawaii during the historic Selma marches in 1965.

When King returned to his congregation on the mainland, he said: “As I looked at all of these various faces and various colors mingled together like the waters of the sea, I could see only one face—the face of the future.” 

Hawaii never forgot King’s vision.  And a five-person contingent from Hawaii joined the historic Selma marches in 1965. They carried a huge banner that read: “Hawaii knows integration works.” Reverends King, Shuttlesworth, Rabbi Heschel, among others at the head of the march, all wore leis flown in from Hawaii. 

“Aloha,” says Gabbard, “is a powerful force that motivates us to take action for the well-being of others and our country.”  In King’s famous words, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice.” Gabbard seeks to bend the arc of history away from war toward peace.

Feature photo | U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, second from left, celebrates with supporters after announcing her candidacy for president in Waikiki, Feb. 2, 2019, in Honolulu. Her parents, Carol Gabbard, second right, and Hawaii state Senator Mike Gabbard, right, are seen in the picture. Marco Garcia | AP

Paul Rockwell is a former assistant professor of philosophy at Midwestern University and a national columnist for In Motion Magazine. He writes a column, “Gone Tubin” for the East Bay Times. His commentaries have appeared in the Nation, Common Dreams, Truthout, Los Angeles Times,  Counterpunch, Sacramento Bee, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspapers, and many more periodicals.

The post Aloha from Dr. Martin Luther King and Tulsi Gabbard appeared first on MintPress News.

Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common

Wed, 2019-08-14 22:23

Writing under the title of “If the El Paso shooter had been Muslim”, Moustafa Bayoumi stated the obvious. 

“If the El Paso shooter had been a Muslim,” Bayoumi wrote in the British Guardian newspaper on August 6, US President Donald Trump “would be lobbing accusations such as ‘Islam hates us’ in the direction of Muslims and not lecturing the public about video games.” 

Bayoumi was referring to the double standards that define much of western official and media discourses regarding violence. When the alleged perpetrator of violence is a Muslim, then the case becomes a matter of national security and is categorically dealt with as an act of terrorism. When the perpetrator is a white male, however, it is a whole different story. 

On August 3, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius carried out a mass shooting in a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 innocent people. 

El Paso shooter Patrick Crusius enters a Texas Wal-Mart to being his killing spree

Neither US authorities nor media used the term “terrorism” in describing the heinous act. Instead, the Justice Department is “seriously considering” bringing federal hate crime charges against the killer, CNN reported. 

On the other hand, Trump reasoned that “mental illness and hatred pull the trigger, not the gun,” in another attempt at whitewashing violent crimes by white individuals. 

The “mental illness” explanation, in particular, has served as the convenient rationale for all similar violence. 

For example, when 28-year-old Ilan Long opened fire on college students in Thousand Oaks, California, in November 2018, killing 12 people, Trump offered this logic. “He was a very, very mentally ill person,” he said, referring to Long. “He’s a very sick — well, it’s a mental health problem. He is a very sick puppy. He was a very, very sick guy.”

The mental illness argument was infused repeatedly, including last March, when Brenton Tarrant opened fire on Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people. 

“I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems,” Trump said of Tarrant’s anti-Muslim terrorist attack. 

Compare this to Trump’s response to the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, California, which was blamed on two Muslims. Trump immediately assigned the word “terrorism” to the violent act, while calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of the entry of Muslims to the United States, “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on”. 

But we do, in fact, know “what is going on”, a truth that goes beyond the typical western double standards. Crusius, Tarrant and many such white terrorists are connected through a deep bond that exceeds the supposed claim of mental illness into something truly sinister. 

These individuals are all part of a larger phenomenon, an amalgamation of various ultra-nationalist governments, political movements and groups all around the world, all united by their hate for immigrants, refugees and Muslims.

Crusius and Tarrant were not “lone wolf” terrorists, as some would want us to believe. Even if they were single-handedly responsible for the mass murder of those innocent people, they are members of a large, ideological, militant network that is dedicated to spreading hate and racism, one which sees immigrants – especially Muslims, as “invaders”.  

In his “manifesto”, a 74-page document that he posted online shortly before he carried out his heinous act, Tarrant references the far-right, the racist ideologues who inspired him, along with fellow “ethno-soldiers” – like-minded murderers who committed equally horrific acts against civilians. 

It was not by accident that Tarrant named his document the “Great Replacement”, as it was framed after a similarly named conspiracy theory made popular by a strong Israel supporter, Renaud Camus.

Camus is an infamous French writer whose “Le Grand Remplacement”, an even more extreme interpretation of Francis Fukuyama’s Clash of Civilizations, envisages a global conflict that sees Muslims as the new enemy.

The Great Replacement, along with other such literature widely popular among the far right, represents the ideological foundation for the, until recently, disorganized and disconnected efforts by various ultra-nationalist movements around the world, all united in their desire to address the “Muslim invasion”.

The common thread between violent white males who commit mass killings is obvious: a deep indoctrination of racism, anti-immigrant sentiment and hate for Muslims. Like Tarrant, Crusius also left his own manifesto, one that is, according to CNN, “filled with white nationalist and racist hatred toward immigrants and Hispanics, blaming immigrants and first-generation Americans for taking away jobs and the blending of cultures in the US”.

Moreover, both seemed to subscribe to the same intellectual discourse, as they had posted links to a 16,000-word document on Twitter and 8chan that was “filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments”.

“The writer of the document linked to the El Paso suspect expressed support for the shootings of two mosques in Christchurch,” CNN also reported. 

White militants are gripped by the groundless fear that they are being “replaced”. “Great Replacement” promoters argue that Islam and the Islamic civilization are “ethnically replacing” other races, and that such a supposed phenomenon must be stopped, using violent means if necessary. Unsurprisingly, they see Israel as a model country that is succeeding in fighting against the “Muslim menace”.

Rabbi Nachum Shifren, center, marches with white nationalist English Defence League (EDL) supporters to an EDL rally against what they claim is the Islamification of the UK and in support of Israel, outside the Israeli Embassy in London. Sang Tan | AP

What makes violent white supremacists even more dangerous is the fact that they now have friends in high places. Trump’s refusal to address the issue of white nationalist militancy in a serious way is no accident. But the American president is not alone. The rising star of Italian politics, Matteo Salvini, for example, has a great deal of sympathy for such movements. Following the Christchurch massacre, the Italian defense minister refused to condemn white extremists. Instead, he said: “The only extremism which should be carefully addressed is the Islamic one.”

The list of far-right ideologues and their benefactors is long and constantly expanding. But their hate-filled speech and disturbing “theories”, along with their fascination with Israeli violence and racism, would have been assigned to the bins of history if it were not for the high price of violence that is now associated with this movement.

Our understanding of white nationalist violence should move beyond the double-standard argument into a more wholesome analysis of the ideological links that tie these individuals and groups together. In the final analysis, no form of violence targeting innocent people should be justified or tolerated, regardless of the skin color, religion or identity of the perpetrators. 

Feature photo | In this June 14, 2019, file courtroom drawing, Brenton Tarrant, the man accused of killing 51 people at two Christchurch mosques on March 15, 2019 appears via video link at the Christchurch District Court, from the maximum security prison in Auckland where he’s being held, Christchurch, New Zealand. Stephanie McEwin | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His last book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and was a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is

The post Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common appeared first on MintPress News.

Conspiracy Theories: Jeffrey Epstein’s Uniquely American Death in Jail

Tue, 2019-08-13 22:58

The United States holds more of its population in prisons and jails than any other country in the world. Suicide is one of the biggest causes of death in U.S. jails and hit a high of 50 deaths for every 100,000 inmates in 2014.

That makes the death of Jeffrey Epstein, who was involved in a sex trafficking ring, a uniquely American death, especially if investigators confirm he committed suicide.

A day after Epstein was found dead, the New York Times spoke with an unnamed “law enforcement official with knowledge of his detention.” The official claimed Epstein was “supposed to have been checked by the two guards in the protective housing unit every 30 minutes, but that procedure was not followed” on August 9.

The Times cited additional unnamed officials, who suggested “because Mr. Epstein may have tried to commit suicide three weeks earlier, he was supposed to have had another inmate in his cell.”

“But the jail had recently transferred his cellmate and allowed Mr. Epstein to be housed alone, a decision that also violated the jail’s procedures,” according to two officials.

The Associated Press reported that guards in the Metropolitan Correctional Center’s Special Housing Unit, where Epstein was confined, was staffed with “one guard working a fifth straight day of overtime and another who was working mandatory overtime.” The information was attributed to an unnamed person “familiar with the jail’s operations.”

It strongly suggested the jail failed to follow “protocols,” which fit into a larger investigation on jails and prisons that the AP published in June.

Over the last five years, based upon over 400 lawsuits filed over alleged abuse of inmates, the AP found 40 percent of the lawsuits involved suicides in local jails—135 deaths and 30 suicide attempts.

“Of the 165 jail suicides and attempts, about 80 percent of inmates were awaiting trial,” the AP report stated.

Federal statistics from 2014 showed 372 suicides had occurred in 3,000 jails that were surveyed.

Epstein was found with injuries to his neck on July 23 and placed on suicide watch. That required a check every 15 minutes but his attorneys apparently requested he be taken off suicide watch and was downgraded to “special observation status.” Two guards would check on him every 30 minutes.

Elie Honig, a CNN legal analyst and former prosecutor for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) for over eight years, recalled how his office housed “thousands of defendants” at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. He could not recall any suicides during his tenure.

An MSNBC legal analyst, Mimi Rocah, also worked as an assistant U.S. State’s Attorney in SDNY from 2001 to 2017. She remembered “defendants/targets who committed suicide but usually when at home or about to be apprehended.” While suicides are common in jails, Rocah insisted suicides typically do not happen at a federal facility like MCC.

Much of the public reaction to news of Epstein’s death involved suggestions that there was some kind of conspiracy that involved not monitoring him closely so he could kill himself or murdering him in jail. This was largely a product of the fact that Epstein used his status as a multi-millionaire to secure a plea deal in 2007 that helped him avoid facing those who accused him of sex crimes.

The deal, which former U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta struck with Epstein’s attorney, ensured Epstein only served 13 months in county jail. According to a Miami Herald investigation, “potential co-conspirators” were granted immunity. Details of the deal were sealed until the judge approved the deal. Plus, the non-prosecution agreement effectively ended an FBI probe into “whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes.”

“This is the story of how Epstein, bolstered by unlimited funds and represented by a powerhouse legal team, was able to manipulate the criminal justice system, and how his accusers, still traumatized by their pasts, believe they were betrayed by the very prosecutors who pledged to protect them,” the Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown wrote.

Acosta was President Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary until he was forced out in disgrace for his role in cementing the Epstein deal.

At one time or another, Epstein’s social circle intersected with former President Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, and Trump.

Documents unsealed on Friday contained allegations from one of Epstein’s most well-known accusers, Virginia Giuffre. They implicated “former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, Hyatt hotels magnate Tom Pritzker, hedge fund manager Glenn Dubin, the late Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Marvin Minsky, modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel, Dershowitz, Prince Andrew, another unnamed prince, plus ‘a well-known Prime Minister.’”

America’s criminal punishment system operates with one system for the wealthy and powerful and one for the underclasses, especially people of color. Elites prevented a wide-ranging probe but in 2019, the publicity along with the #MeToo-inspired shift in consciousness meant they were no longer likely to escape accountability.

None of the above proves a conspiracy. However, it should give space to citizens to express their reservations about what happened until authorities involved in an investigation can transparently account for Epstein’s death.

What has happened instead is U.S. media organizations have encouraged panic or resentment toward anyone suggesting Epstein was killed as part of some type of conspiracy. They even have used innuendo to fuel paranoia that Russian intelligence agents may be behind bots spreading conspiracy theories about Epstein to sow discord.

Joe Uchill, an Axios contributor, tweeted, “A Russian bot I keep tabs on is going in heavy on Epstein conspiracy theories.”

Democratic Senator Cory Booker, a 2020 presidential candidate, suggested the spread of conspiracy theories about Epstein involved the “same tactics and languages of the Russians if you look at the intelligence reports about how they’re coming at our democracy.”

NBC News added, “The Kremlin-funded media outlet RT was leading its English language website with stories about conspiracy theories related to Epstein’s death.” This was true, however, every single U.S. media organization had coverage of alleged conspiracy theories on their front page over the weekend. Were they advancing Russian state propaganda?

The effort to constrain discussion among skeptics was given a boost when Trump retweeted a video from conservative comedian Terrence Williams that claimed the Clintons were responsible for Epstein’s death. Now, anyone who questioned whether Epstein died as a result of suicide could be accused of promoting “baseless conspiracy theories.

That did not stop centrists and liberals from pushing their own theories that were as unfounded as suggesting the Clintons ordered some kind of mafia hit against Epstein.

In the aftermath, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough uttered the most prominent expression of delusion. “A guy who had information that would have destroyed rich and powerful men’s lives ends up dead in his jail cell. How predictably…Russian.”

Alec Baldwin, who has enjoyed a resurgence in fame from impersonating Trump on “Saturday Night Live,” declared, “The Russians killed Epstein. They’re in charge of everything now.”

To his nearly 3 million followers, actor George Takei tweeted, “It is disturbing that a powerful billionaire accused of sex trafficking minors, who was already on suicide watch, has died while in federal custody, his many secrets about other powerful men going with him to the grave. This sounds like something that would happen in Russia, no?”

In reality, it sounds like something that would happen in a nation that incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. And to the extent that this could be murder and not suicide, it is important to note that, although Epstein was a powerful man, he was also an accused pedophile. His money and past elite status may have helped him win access to management to challenge his confinement conditions, but they could also make him a target by corrections officers or other prisoners looking to assert dominance in a place where power struggles are a regular feature of daily life.

The culture of violence and dehumanization within the jail did not translate into a concern for his well-being. It produced “irregularities” that ended in death and deprived Epstein’s accusers of their day in court and a shot at some semblance of justice.

Processing the moment may require a bit of a balancing act, but let us consider the following. We can shut down the most outlandish theories while demanding an investigation confirm that an apparent suicide occurred with a report that clearly details what happened.

There does not have to be a conspiracy for people to be permitted space to grapple with this outcome in the context of a system that constantly grants rich and powerful people total impunity for their crimes.

Certainly, if the establishment will allow any theories implicating Russia to flourish, citizens should be able to express skepticism and not automatically be lumped in with the folks who see baby-eaters or lizard people populating the ranks of our government.

Feature photo | FILE – This March 28, 2017, file photo, provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry shows Jeffrey Epstein. Credit | New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, “Unauthorized Disclosure.

Published in partnership with Shadowproof

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Saudi, UAE Proxies Clash in Southern Yemen, as UAE Plots Partition

Sat, 2019-08-10 22:31

ADEN, YEMEN — Following the recent announcement by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that it would begin withdrawing its forces from many areas of Yemen, the oil-rich Gulf monarchy is now positioning itself to play a role in post-war Yemen. The UAE government in Abu Dhabi announced it would form a new southern state in Yemen, clearly to serve its own geopolitical ambitions, namely to secure trade routes through the port of Aden to the rest of the world and to exploit Yemen’s natural resources. 

Residents in Aden are still enduring a harrowing situation thanks to ongoing clashes between proxy militias of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which erupted again on Wednesday, leaving dozens killed and injured and causing thousands of civilians to either flee or seek refuge in their homes.

The clashes, the first between the UAE and Saudi Arabia since 2015 when they announced their deadly war on Yemen, have severely impacted the lives of Aden’s residents, who have become trapped and are unable to access local clinics, hospitals, markets, or schools.

On Wednesday, UAE-backed proxy militias announced a military campaign to oust militant supporters of Yemen’s former government led by Abdul Mansour al Hadi, pledging to expel them from the city. The separatist militants chose a funeral for dozens of their fellow fighters, including a senior militant commander, who were killed in last week’s Houthi missile attack to fire the first bullet.

The well-equipped UAE-backed militia, Security Belt, attacked strategic areas in and around Aden, including the Jebel Hadid hilltop in the Crater district, the highest point in Aden. By seizing the strategic hilltop, the Security Belt will be able to easily target any of the city’s neighborhoods. The attack on Jebel Hadid was supported by UAE warplanes, which used illuminating bombs to facilitate the takeover.

On Friday violence reached the center of the Crater district, where Aden’s Central Bank stands, and nearby Khormaksar, where a number of makeshift military bases are nestled among dense residential neighborhoods. Heavy shelling rocked both areas, putting thousands of civilians in danger.

According to the testimonies of Aden residents, the clashes have spread to the streets near to airport its surrounding neighborhoods. Tanks and heavy weapons were used and the sound of gunfire echoed through the city as smoke and fire could be seen rising from many of Aden’s districts. The recent violence has exposed a major rift within the Saudi-led military coalition in its devastating war on Yemen, a war that has killed tens of thousands of people since it began in 2015 and has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.


Common cause but rival agendas

Prior to the onset of the recent clashes in Aden, the leader of the UAE-backed Security Belt militia, Hani bin Breik, called on supporters to overthrow “the Saudi-backed internationally-recognized Hadi government” in Aden. Bin Breik told supporters of the UAE to march toward the Maasheeq Palace in the southern coastal city, which has for years served as the temporary capital of the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen.

“We announce a general mobilization of all our southern forces to march toward the Maasheeq Palace,” Breik said, accusing Saudi forces stationed at the presidential headquarters of attacking demonstrators loyal to the separatist movement during a funeral. Breik was designated by the UAE as deputy chairman of the Southern Transitional Council and is a close aide to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

A tweet posted by Mokhtar al-Rahbi, an advisor to the Coalition government’s minister of information, shows video of bin Breik making the statement. 

الإرهابي هاني بن بريك المطلوب للقضاء يعلن النفير ضد الشرعية ويدعوا للفوضى وأقتحام القصر الرئاسي في عدن .

— مختار الرحبي (@alrahbi5) August 7, 2019

Translation: “The terrorist Hani bin Breik, the wanted fugitive, announces mobilization against the legitimate government, and calls for chaos and storming the presidential palace in Aden.”

The United Nations’ special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has expressed concern about the flare-up in Aden, saying in a statement in the wake of the clashes, “I am alarmed by the military escalations in Aden today, including reports of clashes in the vicinity of the Presidential Palace.” Griffiths continued:

Escalations of violence will contribute to instability and suffering in Aden and will deepen Yemen’s political and social divisions. I call on the parties involved to abandon violence and engage in dialogue to resolve differences. I also urge all those with influence to de-escalate the situation and ensure the protection of civilians.”

Throughout the war in Yemen, the UAE has been successful in founding both political entities and armed militias in southern Yemen to carry out it interests, including the Security Belt and Elite Forces militias.

The Gulf monarchy also worked to unite the various radical separatist southern forces calling for independence from northern Yemen within the framework of the Southern Transitional Council.  It has provided financial and political support and well as guarantees to the groups that they will have a role in any future political authority in southern Yemen.

Local Yemeni militias loyal to either the UAE or Saudi Arabia have been engaged in a bloody military campaign against Yemen to reinstate ousted former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi since 2015, But, while reinstating Hadi was the primary justification for the Coalition’s war on Yemen, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have found themselves pursuing rival agendas in the country, including efforts by the UAE to split Yemen into two countries, North and South.

Despite sending reinforcements from western Yemen and the eastern province of Shabwa, the official Saudi position regarding the recent clashes in Aden remains vague and the Kingdom has not yet moved to protect its allies in the port city. Saudi media outlets, however, are covering the developments in Aden as a coup against legitimacy, describing UAE supporters and forces as terrorists.


The practice of every mercenary and traitor

While the Coalition partners battle it out, both literally and figuratively, over the rights to post-war Yemen, Yemen’s people are left picking up the pieces. Before the clashes in Aden broke out, UAE-backed forces were accused of carrying out a racially motivated ethnic cleansing campaign against Yemeni residents of Aden who originate from the country’s northern regions. Workers, travelers, refugees, and even medical patients were reportedly targeted in the campaign, which left thousands of Yemeni citizens from rural areas without the ability to travel to Aden to receive medical treatment.

Mohammed Hassan, who has worked as a barber in Aden since he was 20 years old, told MintPress  that UAE-backed forces raided his shop and beat him before dragging him outside and forcing him without prior notice onto a bus with 90 other people to be deported to northern Yemen.

“Groups belonging to the UAE-backed Security Belt Forces burned my cart then deported me,” a cart vendor from northern Yemen, who was living in Aden when he was apprehended and deported from the Mansoura market in central Aden, told MintPress

Videos circulating on social media show Southern Transitional Council Forces attacking, beating and insulting Yemenis in a market before gathering them on a bus and deporting them out of the city. Another video seen by MintPress shows a member of the Security Belt humiliating vendors and workers, accusing them of being secret cells that came to fight the southerners. 

At least 2,400 citizens have been forcibly expelled from Aden, while over 1,600 shops have been burned and damaged, more than 1,700 shops closed and 76 cars confiscated, according to statistics from the Southern Media Center.

Nearly 600 families have been forced to leave their homes in Aden due to the violence; 87 homes have been raided or damaged; 250 detainees remain unaccounted for, and an estimated 6 million Yemenis have been prevented from entering Aden to travel abroad.

“Security forces searched hotels and restaurants, stopping people, demanding their identification, and rounding up those hailing from the northern parts of Yemen,” according to the UN’s Human Rights Office, which accused southern Yemeni security forces of perpetrating discriminatory attacks against citizens from the country’s north on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement:

The UAE-backed Security Belt forces are reportedly carrying out and enabling retaliatory attacks against civilians. …We have received information from multiple sources about arbitrary arrests and detention, forced displacement, physical assaults and harassment.”

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor released a statement on August 6 that the forced removals of Yemeni citizens in the city of Aden is politically and regionally motivated and fueled by international parties aimed at imposing a new political reality in Aden. 

Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi said on Friday that the campaign of deportations and looting targeting people from Yemen’s northern provinces in Aden is “the real project of the coalition of aggression under the U.S. orders.”

Al-Houthi’s remarks came in a tweet as the Security Belt forces continue to prevent citizens from the north from entering Aden, arresting and interrogating them and closing ports linking the southern and northern provinces. Al-Houthi added:

The emergence of the destructive project of the aggression and its mercenaries is clear. [In] carrying out racist attack on the northerners, the aggressor [Saudi-led Coalition] depends on the southerners — this is the practice of every mercenary and traitor.” 

Fueling tensions even more, the UAE recently succeeded in assassinating Abdul-Malik al-Houthi’s brother Ibrahim Badre al-Dein al-Houthi. The former is a very popular figure in northern Yemen. 

The Houthi-backed Yemeni Interior Ministry said in a statement on Friday that Ibrahim Badre al-Dein al-Houthi was assassinated by “treacherous hands affiliated with the U.S.-Saudi-Israeli aggression,” adding it would “spare no effort to find Ibrahim’s killers.”

Ibrahim Badre al-Dein al-Houthi was a security commander but his assassination is not expected to affect the Houthis or change the balance of security in favor of the Saudi Coalition. Al-Dein al-Houthi was not among the 40 members of the Houthis placed on a Saudi hit list with offers of million-plus dollars rewards for their death. His brother Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi — founder of the movement — was killed in 2004 by former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who himself was later killed by the Houthis in 2017.

Feature photo | Members of UAE-backed Security Belt forces patrol are seen on a street in Aden, Yemen August 8, 2019. Fawaz Salman | Reuters

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Obama, Biden, Mattis and Clapper Expressed Skepticism on Syria, so Why Is Gabbard Singled Out?

Thu, 2019-08-08 23:34

In order to understand the media’s smear campaign against Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), we need to look back to Syria and we need to question and challenge the toxic narratives so prevalent in the mainstream media. We have not learned our lesson after Iraq. 

After Congresswoman and 2020 presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard exposed Senator Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) racist prosecutorial record, Gabbard began to be smeared across the spectrum of mainstream media. Rather than holding Senator Harris to account on her problematic record as attorney general for California, some in the mainstream media are instead attacking Gabbard as an “Assad apologist” backed by Russia.

The main slander against Gabbard is her questioning of the mainstream narrative on Syria.  Progressives need to work on shifting the Overton window on Syria. The debate, as it is currently constructed, is too skewed and distorted. Anyone questioning the mainstream narrative is immediately tarred and dismissed as an apologist for “a murderous dictator.”

From its origins to the horrific chemical attacks, the narrative surrounding the war in Syria has been outright dishonest. In a 2007 interview with Democracy Now, General Wesley Clark discussed how the plans to attack Syria were drawn up in 2001 — a decade before violence erupted in Syria.

Those who have expressed doubt and differed from the mainstream narrative on Syria include former President Barack Obama, former Vice President (and 2020 presidential candidate) Joe Biden, and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis. 

Everything about Syria needs to be questioned. So much of the official narrative already lies in tatters. The antecedents of this “conflict,” its actual start, the staged rescues, the proven links between Western-backed rebels and Al Qaeda, and chemical attacks used as false flags: each component of its narrated history, each insidious tactic serves only one purpose. That purpose is to promote war against one secular Middle Eastern country (Syria) that benefits other theocratic, sectarian and totalitarian regimes — which happen to be NATO allies.

The violence in Syria was premeditated and planned by the so-called opposition. Since then, many of the most problematic elements of the mainstream media’s discourse on Syria have been debunked and contradicted; both by mainstream sources and by a dedicated and growing group of global activists and Syrians.

For instance, the iconic image of Omran Daqneesh, a young child covered in soot and blood, was actually a staged incident, as were the most horrific chemical attacks. These were false-flag chemical attacks staged by the Al Qaeda-dominated “opposition” to draw in the United States to bomb Syria. And President Donald Trump complied — not once, but twice.

In the last couple of weeks, new evidence and leaks from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) highlights that the world’s leading expert on chemical attacks came to a separate conclusion privately, as opposed to an official position that was ostensibly coerced by those who wanted NATO to bomb Syria and side with the Al Qaeda “rebels.”

As characterized by blogger Caitlin Johnstone:

To recap, a few days ago the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) published a document signed by a man named Ian Henderson, whose name is seen listed in expert leadership positions on OPCW documents from as far back as 1998 and as recently as 2018. It’s unknown who leaked the document and what other media organizations they may have tried to send it to.”

The report picks apart the extremely shaky physics and narratives of the official OPCW analysis on the gas cylinders allegedly dropped from Syrian government aircraft in the Douma attack and concludes:

The dimensions, characteristics and appearance of the cylinders, and the surrounding scene of the incidents, were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder being delivered from an aircraft.”

It says instead that manual placement of the cylinders in the locations investigators found them in is “the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene.”

Johnstone wrote of the findings

And as for the gullible, viewing, reading public – us – this outrageous deceit by this supposedly authoritative body of international scientists can lead to only one conclusion: that we must resort once more to the Assanges and the Chelsea Mannings – “traitors” who harm Western security in the eyes of their enemies – and the revelations of groups like WikiLeaks, if we want to know the truth of what happens in our world and the real story behind the official reports.”

The OPCW has denied the veracity of the leaked study that contradicts its official position. This is very troubling and highlights that the main excuse for bombing Syria and justifying regime change is built on a lie. If the OPCW cannot be trusted on the 2018 chemical attacks, can it be trusted on the earlier chemical attacks that were blamed on the Syrian government?

Stephen Kinzer of the Boston Globe (whose work as an alternate source is invaluable) wrote this about Syria in 2016:

COVERAGE OF the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.

Washington-based reporters tell us that one potent force in Syria, al-Nusra, is made up of ‘rebels’ or ‘moderates,’ not that it is the local al-Qaeda franchise. Saudi Arabia is portrayed as aiding freedom fighters when in fact it is a prime sponsor of ISIS. Turkey has for years been running a ‘rat line’ for foreign fighters wanting to join terror groups in Syria, but because the United States wants to stay on Turkey’s good side, we hear little about it. Nor are we often reminded that although we want to support the secular and battle-hardened Kurds, Turkey wants to kill them. Everything Russia and Iran do in Syria is described as negative and destabilizing, simply because it is they who are doing it — and because that is the official line in Washington.”

This debate has to be shifted. Such a shift is essential to not only challenge the military industrial complex; it is the key to making Gabbard palatable to the average American who has been brainwashed against her.   


Gabbard’s “witnesses”

While everything on Syria needs to be questioned, let’s focus specifically on the chemical weapons attacks. 

This was one of the most heinous crimes committed in this conflict and blame for the attacks has been placed squarely on the shoulders of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

Similarly, the most progressive and principled candidate for the 2020 elections has been relentlessly attacked on the issue of Syria. Gabbard should call to witness former President Obama and former Defense Secretary Mattis, both of whom have expressed doubts about the veracity and evidence of reports blaming Assad for the chemical attacks. She should educate America about how renowned journalist Seymour Hersh debunked the mainstream version of the 2013 chemical attacks in the London Review of Books. And she should make known that similar doubts have been raised by MIT scientist Theodore Postel and journalist Robert Fisk, among others.

A BBC News item from May 2013 quotes the UN’s war-crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte:

Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said. Carla Del Ponte told Swiss TV that there were ‘strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof.’”

This was before the most devastating chemical attack that took place a few months later in Ghouta, resulting in scores of children dying. At this point, it is clear that even the UN was caught by surprise when Del Ponte concluded that rebels could have also used chemical weapons.


The August 2013 Ghouta attack: no “slam dunk”

One of the main sources used by the mainstream media to pin the blame on the Syrian government was Elliot Higgins, an otherwise unemployed blogger working from his sofa in Leicester, England.

The veracity of Higgins’ work has largely been debunked by MIT’s Postol. Postol and Higgins would later debate in a comical standoff that highlighted Higgin’s intransigence and obsessive nature.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Seymour Hersh also wrote a detailed report challenging the mainstream media’s assertions blaming Assad for the chemical attacks. It was not published in the New Yorker, where Hersh has published heavily in the past, but was picked up by the London Review of Books. Bear in mind, this is the same Seymour Hersh who uncovered the horrific My Lai massacre committed by the United States in Vietnam.

President Obama and then-National Intelligence Director James Clapper were themselves not confident about the veracity of the reports coming out from Syria.

This is made clear in Obama’s detailed 2016 interview with Jeffery Goldberg of The Atlantic:

Obama was also unsettled by a surprise visit early in the week from James Clapper, his director of national intelligence, who interrupted the President’s Daily Brief, the threat report Obama receives each morning from Clapper’s analysts, to make clear that the intelligence on Syria’s use of sarin gas, while robust, was not a ‘slam dunk.’’ He chose the term carefully. Clapper, the chief of an intelligence community traumatized by its failures in the run-up to the Iraq War, was not going to overpromise, in the manner of the onetime CIA director, George Tenet, who famously guaranteed George W. Bush a ‘slam dunk’ in Iraq.”

Renowned historian and journalist Gareth Porter also covered Obama’s break with the foreign policy establishment:

A big reason Mr. Obama had begun to doubt the wisdom of a military response to the Aug 21 attack, Goldberg reports, was that National Intelligence Director James Clapper came to see Mr Obama on the morning of Aug 30 and told him he could not say that the intelligence on Mr Assad having carried out the attack was a ‘slam dunk.’

Mr Clapper’s reference was to the misguided assurance that CIA Director George Tenet reportedly gave then-President George W. Bush in 2002 that the intelligence community could back up Mr Bush’s WMD (weapons of mass destruction) claims about Iraq and that to do so would be a ‘slam dunk.’ Mr Clapper was saying that U.S. national intelligence was not at all certain that the Mr Assad regime was at fault for the attack.”

Even Gabbard’s 2020 opponent and former Vice President Joe Biden offered a candid assessment of the situation in Syria. As the Washington Post reports:

When asked by a student whether the United States should have acted earlier in Syria, Biden first explains that there was ‘no moderate middle’ in the Syrian civil war, before changing the topic to talk about America’s allies:

‘Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks were great friends, and I have a great relationship with Erdogan, [whom] I just spent a lot of time with, [and] the Saudis, the Emirates, et cetera.

What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad, and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied, [they] were al-Nusra, and al-Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis who were coming from other parts of the world.

Now, you think I’m exaggerating? Take a look. Where did all of this go? So now that’s happening, all of a sudden, everybody is awakened because this outfit called ISIL, which was al-Qaeda in Iraq, when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq, found open space and territory in [eastern] Syria, [and they] work with al-Nusra, who we declared a terrorist group early on. And we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.’


The 2017 Khan Sheikhoun attack

A 2018 article in Newsweek titled “Now Mattis Admits There Was No Evidence Assad Used Poison Gas on His People,” offers this telling assessment by the figure who was at the time the highest authority in the U.S.’ defense establishment, General James Mattis:

… the striking statement by Secretary of Defense James Mattis that the U.S. has ‘no evidence’ that the Syrian government used the banned nerve agent Sarin against its own people.

This assertion flies in the face of the White House (NSC) Memorandum which was rapidly produced and declassified to justify an American Tomahawk missile strike against the Shayrat airbase in Syria.

Mattis offered no temporal qualifications, which means that both the 2017 event in Khan Sheikhoun and the 2013 tragedy in Ghouta are unsolved cases in the eyes of the Defense Department and Defense Intelligence Agency.”

If Mattis and the DoD and DIA can express doubt as to who is to blame for the chemical attacks, then why can not a sitting congresswoman, presidential candidate and U.S. veteran?

From 2013 onwards, every major chemical attack that has been attributed to the Syrian government has been questioned. The OPCW has contradicted its own official findings.

Why must Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard be smeared and attacked for questioning the mainstream narrative on Syria when even Barack Obama has done the same?

Feature photo | From left, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio participate in the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Paul Sancya | AP

Ali A. Taj is Editor in Chief of Let us build Pakistan (LUBP), an alternative news and political platform that campaigns for the rights of all Pakistanis. Visit LUBP on Twitter and Facebook.

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To Flee or Not to Flee? In Honduras, A Child Braves Tear Gas to Sell Vinegar Bags

Thu, 2019-08-08 21:03

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS — The epicenter of the migrant crisis is in the midst of yet another uprising after the president of Honduras was accused of drug trafficking in the U.S. 

Minutes after the military and special police forces shot a first round of teargas canisters into a crowd of protesters on Tuesday, I heard a tiny sing-song voice chant “Vinegar! Bandanas!” A small child — who seemed to be about seven, my daughter’s age — waded through the crowd selling single-use plastic bags of vinegar and red bandanas. 

I shed enough tears to wash out the sting of the gas, but after another ten minutes and another heavy gassing I decided to take the child up on his offer. He told me the vinegar cost 10 lempiras ($0.41 USD) and the bandana was 20 lempiras. As I searched around in my purse for the wad of small bills I knew I had, the boy wiped his eyes and looked to be suffering from the gas too. I fished out two 20 lemp bills and grabbed the bag I thought he was handing me. But he coughed and shook his head. “No, that one’s mine.” 

I told him to keep the change, and he walked off with a smile while my heart broke. 

WATCH: A boy sells bags of vinegar and bandanas to help feed his family as the streets of Tegucigalpa, Honduras are filled with tear gas during a protest against President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who was recently implicated in a drug trafficking case.

Video via @adriennepine

— MintPress News (@MintPressNews) August 7, 2019


Honduran youth face Hobson’s choice

Public education and job opportunities have been stolen from Honduran youth by a U.S.-backed narco-state bent on privatizing the whole of society. Youth face the choice of suffering violence and repression at home or risking the dangerous journey to the United States. And everyone here — including the kids — knows the names of at least one child who has died in ICE detention.

The vinegar saleschild was one of dozens of vendors I encountered throughout the day. Anti-government marches are a friendly and lucrative space for street vendors, where they enjoy relative protection from the militarized municipal police who regularly harass them and confiscate their merchandise.

The neo-liberal economic policies of President Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) and his International Monetary Fund partners have injected steroids into already-existing mass impoverishment, leading many to look for such creative ways to make a buck.


The narco-president

The hopes of the Honduran resistance — like those in need of some quick cash, such as the young boy — were answered last week when court documents were published identifying JOH as “co-conspirator number 4” (CC-4) in a major drug-trafficking case, along with numerous other powerful government figures. While the dictator’s drug trafficking was long presumed in Honduras, this common knowledge was validated last week by a U.S. federal court. 

The official recognition of JOH as a narco gave new energy to the resistance movement that has taken to the streets since April, demanding an end to the privatization of healthcare and education. Movement leaders called for intensified nationwide protests demanding the immediate resignation and prosecution of “CC-4” on Monday and a large march in the capital, Tegucigalpa, on Tuesday.


— Adrienne Pine (@adriennepine) August 6, 2019

It was at the end of this march, outside the National Congress, that the first teargas canisters of the day were shot at the crowd. I came to the protests to conduct ethnographic fieldwork for my research on the impacts of U.S. empire and neoliberal fascism on people’s health.


The ‘safety’ of an uprising 

When Hondurans rise up en masse, it brings out a certain elation. In a country so wracked by violence and impunity from the top all the way down, one feels paradoxically safe during an uprising, as opposed to the panic one feels in their bones on any street, at any given moment, on any given day. The safety-in-numbers strategy is similarly used by the migrant caravans.

Marchers gathered at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday morning. Ten years after the coup and the concomitant birth of the National People’s Resistance Front (FNRP), the initial gathering of any national march feels something like a high school reunion. Except at demonstrations, the number of people missing is striking, with dozens of the most famous marchers never to be seen marching again. 

These figures — martyrs of the Honduran resistance — range from the locally beloved Emo Sadloo — a naturalized Honduran citizen originally from Surinam, who was murdered in his auto body shop in September 2011 — to the internationally renowned anticapitalist, anti-imperialist indigenous leader and environmental activist, my friend Berta Cáceres, murdered in her home in March 2016 by a U.S.-trained death squad.

Teargas fills Tegucigalpa’s city center during a protest against President Juan Orlando Hernandez on August 6, 2019. Photo | Adrienne Pine

In addition to the many key resistance figures assassinated since the coup, those notably missing Tuesday morning included some living in exile, like René Amador and Eduardo Urbina. Worst yet are the preoccupations of Edwin Espinal, Raul Alvarez and Rommel Herrera, who languish without trial as political prisoners and are currently on hunger strike.


Fasting for comrades and for a better future

Well prior to JOH’s recent public christening as CC-4, supporters of the political prisoners planned a week of action to turn up pressure on the Honduran government for their release. 

On Monday, former president Manuel (Mel) Zelaya, who was ousted in the 2009 U.S.-backed coup; members of congress with the Libre Party; and social movement leaders gathered in front of the Public Ministry in Tegucigalpa to fast in solidarity with them. 

Fasters called attention to the demands of their imprisoned comrades, including better living conditions for all prisoners, the release of all political prisoners, and in the interim the transfer of political prisoners to a safe facility. They also demand that members of the powerful Atala family and others involved in the planning of Berta Caceres’s murder be legally held to account and that the dictator leaves power.

Demands of the political prisoners, also on hunger strike in La Tolva: 1. Improved conditions for all prisoners 2. Transfer of political prisoners to the 2nd Battalion 3. Punishment for the intellectual authors of Berta Cáceres’s murder 4. That the dictator leave #FueraJOH

— Adrienne Pine (@adriennepine) August 5, 2019

The demand for freedom for political prisoners, led by family members and friends, has become a central tenet of the resistance movement’s platform, mentioned in every major speech and visible at marches in signs and graffiti. I spent Monday fasting alongside the ousted president and other friends and colleagues in solidarity with my friend Edwin Espinal and the rest of the political prisoners.

But I did so with a single, slightly different demand: that my own government stop propping up unelected dictators who murder and jail their opponents by the hundreds — thousands if we count all victims of Honduran state security-run death squads. 

Media showed up in droves to interview Mel, mostly asking for comment on the drug-trafficking accusations against JOH. Sitting next to him for hours with nothing to do but admire the former president’s studded leather cowboy boots, I decided to follow suit and ask him a few questions focused on the role of the United States.

The president of Honduras ousted 10 years ago in a US-backed coup, Manuel Zelaya, talks to MintPress News about the recent drug trafficking allegations against the current president, the migrant crisis, neoliberalism and political prisoners in his country.

— MintPress News (@MintPressNews) August 6, 2019

The questions of when and — particularly — how the dictator will leave power is on everyone’s mind here, as the manner of his departure will be a key factor in determining what comes next. After our recorded interview, I asked the former president if he thought there was a chance that the Honduran military might take JOH out in a coup. He replied: “It went really poorly for the gringos with their coup against me. Everything has gone down the drain for them. I don’t think they would permit it.” 

For the sake of Hondurans’ winning some kind of actual democracy, I hope he’s right. But the march on Tuesday had omens of an ensuing disaster; along the lines of the 2013 military coup against late Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. 


The “turtles”

Colleagues on the ground estimated that 7,000 soldiers in riot gear were out and armed to the teeth on Tuesday. Protesters mockingly call them “turtles.”

Full video: Protesters in Honduras are escalating the struggle against President Juan Orlando Hernandez after he was recently accused in the United States of funneling cocaine trafficking profits into his unconstitutional re-election campaign.

Via: @adriennepine

— MintPress News (@MintPressNews) August 7, 2019

They pursued those who stayed in the area of the National Congress, mostly high school and university students; youths who were five or ten years old when President Zelaya was deposed. They are the coup generation, having been born into the struggle. 

Soldiers shot more teargas directly at the crowd. One cannister missed me by inches. They injured at least one man. Medics and friends tended to him after carrying him to the central square.

A man was left bloodied after being hit with a teargas canister in Honduras on August 6, 2019. Photo | Adrienne Pine

Later, after a masked youth shouted “murderers” and threw rocks at them, the turtles cracked down, advancing with the full force of the militarized state. The soldiers were accompanied by an enormous tank that shot a geyser of what activists tell me was a mix of water, pepper spray, “and God knows what else” into the air.  

Street battles escalated as the plume of teargas reached new heights in the city center. Soldiers used a bank across the street from the park as a temporary base of operations to repress the rock throwers. 

Another casualty of the repression was the Midence building, an important commercial center facing the center square. It was set aflame. According to numerous witnesses interviewed on the scene by Radio Globo, the fire was set by a teargas canister shot that landed in a bin of used clothes in a wooden-roofed business adjacent to the building. Police are blaming protesters with Molotov cocktails. 

Tuesday evening, masked student leaders issued a video denouncing the day’s violence against them. Among the most egregious acts of repression was the police teargassing the inside of a bus transporting students from UNAH’s San Pedro campus. Video shows teargas billowing out from the bus as students jump from the windows to escape.

.@EbalDiazHN dice que gracias a Juan Orlando Hernández, señalado de co-conspirar en narcotráfico, Honduras ha dejado de ser el país más violento, pero sus policías lo dejan en ridículo. Policía lanza gas lacrimógeno a bus de estudiantes en @UNAHVS_OFICIAL

— Eleana Borjas Coello (@BorjasCoello) August 7, 2019

The student leaders also declared their solidarity with political prisoners and vowed to continue opposing the regime, not resting until JOH was removed from power.

Meanwhile, the Movement for Health and Education called for another national mass mobilization Wednesday morning starting at the UNAH in Tegucigalpa, and in the north coast city of San Pedro Sula, at meeting points in and around the city. They plan to block all the exits toward principal national highways. 


A revolutionary buenos días

While deadly military and police repression combined with classic counterinsurgency tactics have successfully demobilized the resistance movement at various points over the past ten years, the reinvigoration of Hondurans’ determination today is palpable. At the vigil for political prisoners Monday, a steady stream of passing drivers shouted “Fuera JOH!” to the fasters, who responded with the same phrase. It so common that it has become the greeting of choice for many Hondurans — a revolutionary buenos días.

Despite the economic opportunity created for seven-year-olds by U.S.-supported state repression, this country will continue being one of the most dangerous in the world if the government is not wrested from the hands of a U.S.-supported drug cartel. As Hondurans constantly tell me, children — like the young boy who yesterday sold me relief from my suffering at an incalculable cost to his own health — have no future in this country. 

It is no surprise that so many of them travel with their families or alone toward the United States, attempting to escape such conditions. As Mel Zelaya pointed out to me, the United States is morally responsible for this. And Honduras’ descent into neoliberal fascism is tied up in North America’s.

A piece of graffiti in Tegucigalpa, Honduras reads “Emigrants, friends.” Photo | Adrienne Pine

The connections between the narco-state and the Honduran exodus are articulated by members of the migrant caravans in their communiques and on the walls of the capital city. The most touching tribute to exiled compatriots I saw yesterday read simply: “Emigrants, friends.” 

Taking inspiration from Edwin Espinal and other political prisoners who were jailed for protesting the regime, Hondurans who are able are vowing to keep taking the streets so that one day soon, their children and grandchildren will be able to grow up happy and healthy — and in Honduras.

Feature photo | A child sells bags of vinegar and bandanas to help protesters fight the effects of teargas in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on Tuesday, August 6th, 2019. Photo | Adrienne Pine

Adrienne Pine is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at American University. She is the author of the book Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras.

Additional editing by Alex Rubinstein

The post To Flee or Not to Flee? In Honduras, A Child Braves Tear Gas to Sell Vinegar Bags appeared first on MintPress News.

The War on Innocence: Palestinian Children in Israeli Military Court

Thu, 2019-08-08 02:22

On July 29, 4-year-old Muhammad Rabi’ Elayyan was reportedly summoned for interrogation by the Israeli police in occupied Jerusalem. 

The news, originally reported by the Palestinian News Agency (WAFA), was later denied by the Israeli police, likely to lessen the impact of the PR disaster that followed. 

The Israelis are not denying the story in its entirety, but are rather arguing that it was not the boy, Muhammad, who was summoned, but his father, Rabi’, who was called into the Israeli police station in Salah Eddin Street in Jerusalem, to be questioned regarding his son’s actions. 

The child was accused of hurling a stone at Israeli occupation soldiers in the Issawiyeh neighborhood, a constant target for Israeli violence. The neighborhood has also been the tragic site for house demolition under the pretext that Palestinians there are building without permits. Of course, the vast majority of Palestinian applications to build in Issawiyeh, or anywhere in Jerusalem, are denied, while Jewish settlers are allowed to build on Palestinian land, unhindered. 

With this in mind, Issawiyeh is no stranger to the ridiculous and unlawful behavior of the Israeli army. On July 6, a mother from the beleaguered neighborhood was arrested as a means to put pressure on her teenage son, Mahmoud Ebeid, to turn himself in. The mother “was taken by Israeli police as a bargaining chip,” Mondoweiss reported, quoting the Jerusalem-based Wadi Hileh Information Center.  

Israeli authorities are justified in feeling embarrassed by the whole episode concerning the 4-year-old boy, thus the attempt at poking holes in the story. The fact is WAFA’s correspondent in Jerusalem had, indeed, verified that the warrant was in Muhammad’s, not Rabi’s, name. 

While some news sources bought into the Israeli ‘hasbara’, readily conveying the Israeli cries of ‘fake news’, one must bear in mind that this event is hardly a one-off incident. For Palestinians, such news of detaining, beating and killing children is one of the most consistent features of the Israeli occupation since 1967. 

Just one day after the summoning of Muhammad, Israeli authorities also interrogated the father of a 6-year-old child, Qais Firas Obaid, from the same neighborhood of Issawiyeh, after accusing the boy of throwing a juice carton at Israeli soldiers. 

“According to local sources in Issawiyeh the (Israeli) military sent Qais’ family an official summons to come to the interrogation center in Jerusalem on Wednesday (July 31) at 8 am,” reported the International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC). In one photo, the little boy is pictured while holding up to a camera the Israeli military order written in Hebrew.  

The stories of Muhammad and Qais are the norm, not the exception. According to the prisoners’ advocacy group, Addameer, there are currently 250 children in Israeli prisons, with approximately 700 Palestinian children going through the Israeli military court system every single year. “The most common charge levied against children is throwing stones, a crime that is punishable under military law by up to 20 years,” Addameer reports. 

Indeed, Israel has so much to be embarrassed about. Since the start of the Second Intifada, the popular uprising of 2000, some 12,000 Palestinian children have been detained and interrogated by the Israeli army. 

But it is not only children and their families that are targeted by the Israeli military but also those who advocate on their behalf. On July 30, Palestinian lawyer, Tariq Barghouth, was sentenced to 13 years in prison by an Israeli military court for “firing at Israeli buses and at security forces on a number of occasions.” 

As flimsy as the accusation of a well-known lawyer firing at ‘buses’ may sound, it is important to note that Barghouth is well-regarded for his defense of many Palestinian children in court. Barghouth was a constant source of headache for the Israeli military court system for his strong defense of the child, Ahmad Manasra. 

Manasra, then 13-years of age, was tried and indicted in Israeli military court for allegedly stabbing and wounding two Israelis near the illegal Jewish settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev in Occupied Jerusalem. Manasra’s cousin, Hassan, 15 was killed on the spot, while wounded Ahmad was tried in court as an adult. 

It was the lawyer, Barghouth, who challenged and denounced the Israeli court for the harsh interrogation and for secretly filming the wounded child as he was tied to his hospital bed. 

On August 2, 2016, Israel passed a law that allows authorities to “imprison a minor convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder or manslaughter even if he or she is under the age of 14.” The law was conveniently crafted to deal with cases like that of Ahmad Manasra, who was sentenced on November 7, 2016 (three months after the law was approved) to 12 years in prison. 

Manasra’s case, the leaked videos of his abuse by Israeli interrogators and his harsh sentence placed more international focus on the plight of Palestinian children in the Israeli military court system. 

“Israeli interrogators are seen relying on verbal abuse, intimidation and threats to apparently inflict mental suffering for the purpose of obtaining a confession,” Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer at Defense for Children- Palestine, said at the time. 

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Israel, as of 1991, is a signatory, “prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Yet, according to Parker, “ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli military and police is widespread and systematic.”

So systematic, in fact, that videos and reports of arresting very young Palestinian children are almost a staple on social media platforms concerned with Palestine and Palestinian rights. 

The sad reality is that Muhammad Elayyan, 4, and Qais Obaid, 6, and many children like them, have become a target of Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 

This horrendous reality must not be tolerated by the international community. Israeli crimes against Palestinian children must be effectively confronted as Israel, its inhumane laws and iniquitous military courts must not be allowed to continue their uncontested brutalization of Palestinian children. 

Feature photo | Israeli police detain a Palestinian boy during the demolition of a Palestinian home in East Jerusalem, May 29, 2013. Mahmoud Illean | AP

Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a widely published and translated author, an internationally syndicated columnist and editor of His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter (2015), and was a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB. Visit his website at

The post The War on Innocence: Palestinian Children in Israeli Military Court appeared first on MintPress News.

Did Bill Barr Call His Shot? Unanswered Questions about FBI’s Foreknowledge of the El Paso Shooting

Thu, 2019-08-08 02:21

As a series of recent mass shootings have brought renewed demands for the U.S. government to do something to address the spike in “lone wolf” violence, the Trump administration’s decision to blame internet privacy, controversial websites like 8chan, and social media for the shootings has raised eyebrows from across the political spectrum, particularly in light of claims that Trump’s recent rhetoric about immigrants may have incited some of the shooters.

During a press conference on Monday, Trump blamed the internet for the three most recent mass shooting events:

We must recognize that the internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts. We must shine light on the dark recesses of the internet and stop mass murders before they start…. The perils of the internet and social media cannot be ignored, and they will not be ignored… We cannot allow ourselves to feel powerless. We can and will stop this evil contagion.”

Yet, not long before the recent spate of mass shootings began, U.S. Attorney General William Barr gave a speech on July 23 in which he spoke of the need for all consumer electronic devices and encrypted software to have a backdoor for the government to bypass encryption, essentially calling for many of the same measures that Trump has proposed following the recent shootings.

Notably, Barr concluded his speech by stating that he anticipated “a major incident may well occur at any time that will galvanize public opinion on these issues.” In other words, just a few days prior to the recent spate of mass shootings, William Barr stated that he anticipated a public safety crisis that “may well occur at any time” and would reduce public resistance to the further erosion of civil liberties that he was advocating for in his speech.

Furthermore, the FBI, which operates under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice and reports directly to William Barr, has now stated that it was aware of the El Paso shooter’s plan to murder civilians via a post made on 8chan at least two hours before the shooting took place. 8chan — a controversial website that the FBI is known to have used to incite violence as part of its controversial terrorist entrapment strategy — has since been banned in the shooting’s aftermath. In addition, less than two months ago, the FBI obtained a warrant for 8chan’s host — — in which the Bureau demanded access to the entire contents of the accounts that were of interest in that specific investigation, suggesting that the FBI had increased access to information of hundreds of 8chan accounts in the lead-up to the recent shootings.

The overlap between Barr’s recent speech and Trump’s proposed solution to the massacres, as well as the FBI’s unusual recent relationship with 8chan, has led some to suggest that the Trump administration is taking advantage of the tragedy at El Paso and of other recent mass shootings to impose unpopular restrictions on civil liberties and increase the mass surveillance of innocent Americans.


An uncanny prediction

On Tuesday, July 23, Attorney General William Barr gave the keynote address at the 2019 International Conference on Cyber Security (ICCS) at Fordham University. The focus of Barr’s speech was the need for consumer electronic products and applications that use encryption to offer a “backdoor” for the government, specifically law enforcement, to obtain access to encrypted communications as a matter of public safety.

Early in his speech, Barr stated:

Service providers, device manufacturers and application developers are developing and deploying encryption that can only be decrypted by the end user or customer, and they are refusing to provide technology that allows for lawful access by law enforcement agencies in appropriate circumstances….

While encryption protects against cyberattacks, deploying it in warrant-proof form jeopardizes public safety more generally. The net effect is to reduce the overall security of society.” 

Barr went onto say that “warrant-proof encryption is also seriously impairing our ability to monitor and combat domestic and foreign terrorists.” Barr stated that “smaller terrorist groups and ‘lone wolf’ actors” — such as those involved in the series of mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio that would occur in the weeks after his speech — “have turned increasingly to encryption.” Barr later notes that he is specifically referencing encryption used by “consumer products and services such as messaging, smart phones, email, and voice and data applications.”

Barr then laid out his vision of what the solution to this challenge posed by “warrant-proof encryption” would look like:

We believe that when technology providers deploy encryption in their products, services, and platforms they need to maintain an appropriate mechanism for lawful access. This means a way for government entities, when they have appropriate legal authority, to access data securely, promptly, and in an intelligible format, whether it is stored on a device or in transmission.

We do not seek to prescribe any particular solution. Our private-sector technology providers have immensely talented engineers who have built the very products and services that we are talking about. They are in the best position to determine what methods of lawful access work best for their technology.”

After laying out his vision, Barr stated that, while he would like to give private companies time to willingly cooperate and comply with his suggested solution to “warrant-proof encryption,” “the time to achieve that [government back-doors into electronic consumer apps and products] may be limited.”

To overcome the resistance by some private companies — who do not want to renege on their right to privacy by giving the government back-door access to their devices — and American consumers, Barr tellingly anticipates that a “major incident” will soon take place that will mold public opinion in favor of his proposed solution.

Barr concluded his speech by stating:

I think it is prudent to anticipate that a major incident may well occur at any time that will galvanize public opinion on these issues.

As this debate has dragged on, and deployment of warrant-proof encryption has accelerated, our ability to protect the public from criminal threats is rapidly deteriorating. The status quo is exceptionally dangerous, unacceptable, and only getting worse.

The rest of the world has woken up to this threat. It is time for the United States to stop debating whether to address it, and start talking about how to address it.” (emphases added)

On Thursday, July 25, the last day of the ICCS conference, FBI Director Christopher Wray also echoed Barr’s call for government back-doors into encrypted software and apps, stating in his speech:

Cybersecurity is a central part of the FBI’s mission. But as the attorney general discussed earlier this week, our request for lawful access cannot be considered in a vacuum. It’s got to be viewed more broadly, taking into account the American public’s interest in the security and safety of our society, and our way of life. That’s important because this is an issue that’s getting worse and worse all the time.

There’s one thing I know for sure: It cannot be a sustainable end state for us to be creating an unfettered space that’s beyond lawful access for terrorists, hackers and child predators to hide. But that’s the path we’re on now, if we don’t come together to solve this problem.”


A new phase of an old campaign

The speeches given by Barr and Wray are the most recent iterations of the Department of Justice’s years-long effort to evade and weaken the encryption used by certain electronic products and applications, particularly encrypted messaging apps. Indeed, the DOJ was particularly active in late 2017 in pushing for back-doors into encrypted software, citing the encrypted devices of past perpetrators of mass shootings as proving the need for federal law enforcement to easily and quickly bypass encryption in criminal investigations.

However, Barr’s and Wray’s speeches mark a new phase of this government campaign targeting encryption, a campaign that has picked up in the past two weeks just as a series of mass shootings in the United States have led to widespread calls for the government to do something to prevent further massacres.

At a Monday press conference, President Donald Trump gave his official response to the most recent shootings in Ohio and Texas, tragedies that he largely blamed on the internet and its “dark recesses” that are inaccessible to the government. “We must recognize that the internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts,” Trump stated, before adding: “We must shine light on the dark recesses of the internet and stop mass murders before they start.” 

“The perils of the internet and social media cannot be ignored and they will not be ignored,” the president emphasized.

One of the main solutions Trump offered to what he alleged caused the recent shootings was to mandate the DOJ “to work in partnership with local, state and federal agencies as well as social media companies to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike.” Some interpreted this statement as suggesting the more widespread implementation of “pre-crime” software, such as Palantir, which was co-founded by billionaire Trump backer Peter Thiel, who is also on Facebook’s board.

Conveniently for William Barr, Facebook announced in May that the company is already developing just the “backdoor” that the attorney general has sought. This new initiative would implement AI-powered surveillance measures onto consumer devices, which would bypass end-to-end encryption on both the recently encrypted Facebook Messenger and the popular encrypted messaging app WhatsApp, acquired by Facebook in 2014. Though the measure was announced in May, it has received media attention only in the last week, following Barr’s speech at the 2019 ICCS.

Following Trump’s proposal for social media and the Barr-led DOJ to work together to monitor encrypted messages, it seems that Facebook will be one of the first major tech companies to offer its ready-made solution to the U.S. government. It is also worth considering the possibility that Barr may use the threat of his Silicon Valley antitrust probe to potentially strong-arm tech companies that would otherwise be unwilling to create a government back-door in their software or products. That probe was announced the same day that Barr spoke about anti-encryption measures at the 2019 ICCS.

In addition, between Barr’s July 23 speech and Trump’s August 5 press conference, there has been a concerted push from not only the DOJ but also the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, of which the U.S. is part, to weaken encryption or give governments access to encrypted applications. 

On the heels of the 2019 ICCS, at which Barr and Wray spoke, there was a related cyber security summit in London — called the Five Country Ministerial — where “senior ministers from the U.K., Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States … reaffirmed their commitment to work together with industry to tackle a range of security threats.” 

According to the U.K. government’s press release on the summit, which took place from July 29 to 30, the ministers in attendance “stressed that law enforcement agencies’ efforts to investigate and prosecute the most serious crimes would be hampered if the industry carries out plans to implement end-to-end encryption, without the necessary safeguards.” William Barr attended that summit, representing the U.S., and echoed his speech given a week prior, stating: 

We must ensure that we do not stand by as advances in technology create spaces where criminal activity of the most heinous kind can go undetected and unpunished.”

Notably, Australia last year implemented a law similar to that which Barr is seeking to enact in the United States. It has since been lampooned by expert cryptographers for its ineffectiveness and has caused damage to Australia’s tech industry. According to the Guardian, Microsoft revealed in March that companies and governments it works with say they “are no longer comfortable about storing their data in Australia as a result of the encryption legislation.” Perhaps predictably, what has happened since Australia’s enactment of this controversial encryption legislation is the Australian government’s use of its new “back-doors” to widely surveil its civilians without a warrant.


Barr’s Orwellian bent

Barr’s outsized involvement in this recent push for a government back-door into all encryption apps is notable given his past. For instance, prior to becoming attorney general under Trump, Barr worked at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, a firm that “represent[s] clients on matters relating to data and network security.” Kirkland & Ellis, in describing its own services, notes:

These matters are increasingly important to national security and international trade concerns such as government surveillance issues, state-sponsored cyber-attacks and espionage, and legal limitations on cross-border data transfers. The Firm represents clients in navigating these legal matters, including with respect to investigating security incidents/breaches and handling resulting litigation or government relations aspects of such incidents.”

Furthermore, Barr’s previous stint as attorney general, during the administration of George H.W. Bush, saw him push for increasing mass surveillance of innocent Americans. According to USA Today, in 1992, while serving as Attorney General under Bush Sr., Barr “launched a vast surveillance program that gathered records of innocent Americans’ international phone calls without first conducting a review of whether it was legal.”  The program “ultimately gathered billions of records of nearly all phone calls from the United States to 116 countries, with little oversight from Congress or the courts” and also “provided a blueprint for far broader phone-data surveillance the government launched after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” The program was partially carried out by the then-head of the DOJ’s Criminal Division, former FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Barr’s history of pushing for reducing privacy for citizens is troubling considering that, earlier in his career, he pushed for increased government secrecy while he was employed by the CIA in the late 1970s. For instance, while working at the CIA’s Office of Legislative Council, Barr attempted to circumvent the moratorium placed on the CIA that prevented it from destroying records and also stonewalled the Church Committee’s investigation into CIA abuses. Thus, Barr’s push for reduced privacy for citizens but increased privacy for the government bodes poorly for those who see government transparency and citizen privacy as important to keeping government overreach in check.


FBI foreknowledge

In the hours before the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas — and less than two weeks after Barr warned of an imminent “major incident” that would “galvanize public opinion” in favor of ending encryption free from a government back-door — the FBI was made aware of a manifesto published on the controversial website 8chan that is alleged to have been authored by the shooter, Patrick Crusius.

According to NBC News, the FBI was aware of the document prior to the shooting, but was unable to act quickly enough to prevent the attack. There have, however, been conflicting reports about exactly how long the FBI was aware of the alleged manifesto prior to the shooting. 

For instance, soon after the shooting, CNN stated that three different sources had told the outlet that the manifesto had been “posted days before the shootings.” However, the FBI later stated less than a half hour before the shooting, while separate law enforcement sources told reporters that it was actually two hours before the shooting.

There is also a discrepancy regarding whether the manifesto was originally posted on 8chan and whether the shooter himself even posted it. Jim Watkins, who owns the 8chan message boards and has alerted federal authorities previously when past shooting manifestos were published at the site, stated

First of all, the El Paso shooter posted on Instagram, not 8chan…Later, someone uploaded the manifesto. However, that manifesto was not uploaded by the Walmart shooter. I don’t know if he wrote it or not, but it was not uploaded by the murderer; that is clear.” 

Facebook, which owns Instagram, said that it had disabled an Instagram account that belonged to Crusius and also noted that that account had been inactive for over a year. 

In the past, 8chan administrators had deleted manifestos minutes after they were posted and warned federal authorities that the documents had been published. In the case of the El Paso shooting, Watkins claimed that the site had informed federal authorities as soon as they were aware that the manifesto had been uploaded to its page.

The facts that the FBI knew in advance of the manifesto, that the manifesto may not have been uploaded by the shooter, and that the FBI was quick to link that document to the shooting event soon after it took place have led to speculation about how the FBI was able to make that connection so quickly. For instance, lawyer Robert Barnes stated the following on Twitter

How did [the] FBI identify the shooter before he began his attack from a post on an anonymous chat board? Usually, this means the shooter tipped them off either directly or indirectly (informant). Misuse of informants (including encouraging violence) is an underexplored problem.”

In addition, journalist Rachel Blevins posed a similar question on social media following the revelations, writing: 

It took just hours for the FBI to both identify the suspect in the El Paso shooting and connect him to a manifesto posted on 8chan, which raises the question… was the suspect included in the FBI’s surveillance, and were their agents in contact with him before the shooting?”

This possibility is worth considering, given the well-documented history of the FBI’s policy of manufacturing domestic terror plots within the United States, most of which are ultimately foiled at the last minute by the Bureau. In many of those cases, many alleged terrorists would not have planned or attempted those attacks without goading and support from the FBI, leading critics to accuse the FBI of deliberately using entrapment. For instance, a 2014 study by Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute found that “many of these people [in the cases examined in the study] would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts,” according to the study’s co-author Andrea Prasow. 

There are several instances where the FBI sought out mentally handicapped and unstable individuals with no resources of their own, giving them incentives, fake weapons and even driving them to the scene of the planned fake terror attack. Two high-profile domestic terror cases have also had hints of FBI involvement — including the Pulse nightclub shooting, where the shooter’s father was later revealed to be a FBI informant and the FBI had attempted to goad the Pulse shooter into committing a terror attack years prior to the Pulse shooting. In addition, the family of the Boston Marathon bombers claimed that the FBI regularly visited their family home and had cultivated a close relationship with one of the bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, prior to the bombing. 

Since late 2016, the FBI’s controversial policy of inducting individuals to commit acts of terror in the United States has expanded after a federal appeals court ruling in December of that year said that federal agents were allowed to target a person’s religious affiliation in order to “probe the attitudes” of an individual who may want to “do something to America” by entrapping them in fake terror act schemes. The ruling also permitted federal agents to create false friendships, referred to in the ruling as the “illusory cultivation of emotional intimacy,” as a means of manipulating individuals to commit acts of terrorism — as well as providing these unstable individuals with money, vehicles, businesses and even vacations to get them to agree to participate in fake attacks. 

As a result of this troubling trend, and given the FBI’s foreknowledge of the manifesto and its ease in connecting that document to the shooter, it becomes important to ask whether the FBI had more foreknowledge of the situation than it has publicly let on.

Though history indicates that FBI foreknowledge of the shooter is definitely plausible, 8chan has been a recent focus of the FBI in recent months. For instance, after the alleged manifesto of the shooter responsible for the massacre at the Poway Synagogue earlier this year was published on 8chan, the FBI issued a warrant for hundreds of 8chan user accounts that had commented on the Poway Synagogue shooter’s thread, including both users that supported his statement of intent and those who were appalled by it.

According to the Bureau’s application for a search warrant, the FBI was seeking the “IP address and metadata information about [Poway shooter John] Earnest’s original posting and the postings of all of the individuals who responded to the subject posting and/or commented about it.” The FBI further instructed, which hosts 8chan, “to make a digital copy of the entire contents of the accounts subject to seizure.”

It goes without saying that with the information on hundreds of 8chan users, the FBI would have had access to potential future informants and potential targets to be “groomed” by the FBI for a future domestic terrorism entrapment case. This is especially likely given that the FBI’s reasoning for obtaining this large amount of information in the warrant was to identify “individuals who are inspired by the subject posting [i.e., the Poway shooter manifesto].” One 8chan user who was contacted by the FBI after this search warrant and filmed the encounter, was asked by federal agents to help them with information-gathering on other 8chan users.

This possibility is further supported by the fact that the FBI agent who filed the search warrant application, FBI Special Agent Michael Rod, revealed that he had been active on 8chan and (perhaps inadvertently) revealed his user name on 8chan to be user “8f4812.” An archive of the Poway shooter’s 8chan thread, available here, reveals that Rod stated in that 8chan thread that Russia was to blame for the Poway shooting and Rod also claimed that he knew of the Poway shooting 15 minutes before it happened but was unable to warn the authorities because he “was shit posting and got tied up.”

In the wake of the recent shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, 8chan was taken offline after internet infrastructure company Cloudflare declined to continue supporting the website.


A tragedy foretold and exploited

William Barr’s warning that a “major incident” could occur “at any time” and “galvanize public opinion” around the unpopular encryption back-door policy he has been seeking seems to have come true in the weeks since the attorney general made those statements. Given Barr’s influence over the FBI, which operates under his jurisdiction, it is important to scrutinize the evidence that the FBI had apparent foreknowledge of at least one of these recent shootings, and consider that the Bureau may have failed to act to prevent the tragedy, allowing Barr’s prediction just weeks earlier to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Trump’s proposed solution to the recent spate of mass shootings is focused on giving Barr a mandate to work with social media and tech companies to prevent another mass shooting before it occurs. It seems evident that this solution is set to involve surveilling encrypted communications to ostensibly prevent another shooting while also providing Barr, and the DOJ at large, the back-door into encrypted apps and consumer products that they have long sought but have been unable to sell to either the public or those same tech companies.

Now, a public safety crisis has emerged in the wake of Barr’s recent speech, tipping the scales — as Barr had predicted — so the public would favor further reductions to their civil liberties and right to privacy so that the federal government could provide increased public safety through increased surveillance. Yet, taking this alongside the well-documented fact that the FBI regularly manufactures domestic terror plots, it is worth asking whether some of these recent shootings were allowed to happen and whether public officials like William Barr are manipulating the public’s reaction to these tragedies to advance their own political agendas and further the build-up of state power.

Feature photo | People visit a makeshift memorial at the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex, Aug. 6, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. John Locher | AP

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

The post Did Bill Barr Call His Shot? Unanswered Questions about FBI’s Foreknowledge of the El Paso Shooting appeared first on MintPress News.

Disgraced Nominee Ratcliffe’s Resume-Padding Recalls the Deeper Disgrace of Holy Land Foundation Five Prosecution

Thu, 2019-08-08 01:08

The nomination of John Ratcliffe to the post of U.S. Director of National Intelligence, though ultimately withdrawn, has brought new light to the Holy Land Foundation case, a case in which Ratcliffe claims to have had a hand. It was disturbing to hear Ratcliffe brag about his role in the case, a case that saw five innocent men charged with and convicted of crimes they did not commit. It was almost equally disturbing that those who opposed him did so because he did not, as he claimed, play a significant part in this injustice — that he had, in effect, padded his resume.

Either way, Shukri Abu-Baker, serving 65 years; Ghassan Elashi, serving 65 years; Mufid Abduqader, serving 20 years; Abdulrahman Odeh, serving 15 years; and Mohammad Elmezain, serving 15 years, are innocent men who are about to complete their eleventh year in federal prison for providing material support to Hamas, a designated terrorist organization.

My book on the case, titled Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five, was published in 2018. It took four years to write and the research included extensive interviews with the five men who were accused, their families, their lawyers, and many, many others related to the case. I read over twenty thousand documents regarding the case, many of them court transcripts, and yet not once did John Ratcliffe’s name come up. Upon hearing that he claimed to be involved in the case, I once again asked the people involved and not one confirmed Ratcliffe’s story. At best, he may have been involved in some minor capacity inconsequential to the case and kept confidential. Regardless, Ratcliffe’s claims present an excellent opportunity to discuss the case once again.


Rounding up the usual suspects

On December 4, 2001, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush declared that the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) had been designated a terrorist organization. Bush had HLF shut down by executive order and all of its assets frozen. It was a random act by a government in a state of panic that wanted to show that it had a handle on the situation. They picked Hamas and HLF even though neither Hamas and certainly not HLF had any connection to the attacks of 9/11. 

In his book, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill, Ron Suskind writes that the Treasury Department decided to start a “financial war on terror.” The first item on the agenda, according to Suskind, was to set up a legal structure that would allow the government to freeze assets on the basis of evidence that “would not stand up in court.” So a list of “usual suspects” was created and off the White House went to “freeze some assets.”

An easel with children’s drawings is confiscated from the offices of the Holy Land Foundation in Paterson, N.J., Dec. 4, 2001. Mike Derer | AP

HLF was a Muslim organization run by Palestinians. On top of that — as part of a smear campaign against HLF that was led by the Zionist organization, the Anti Defamation League, or ADL and goes back to the mid 1990’s — HLF had been wrongly implicated and sued for damages over the killing of David Boim, a Jewish American settler in the West Bank settlement of Beit El.

The stupidity and recklessness with which the government responded to the attacks of 9/11 are heightened when we compare them with the calm and confidence displayed by the officers of the HLF, which at that time was the largest Muslim relief organization in the U.S. and one of the most respected relief organizations in the world. John Boyd, one of several dedicated lawyers who represented the organization, told me that the officers of the HLF were not concerned: “They had all their tax returns, they had records and could account for every penny that went through their system.” They knew they had done nothing wrong, understood that the U.S. government was frightened and panicking, and they had full faith in the American justice system. 


Not a normal case

HLF sued the government, and the HLF lawyers presented an impressive body of evidence showing that HLF did no wrong; that, in fact, it had gone above and beyond to do everything right. The government presented its “administrative file,” which included the “evidence” to support its case against HLF. “The ‘administrative record’ was laughable,” Boyd said to me when I visited him at his office in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Not a single statement under oath, a bunch of unrelated documents, and a report that is not supported by any evidence that claims that Shukri Abu Baker is a member of Hamas.” 

Boyd continued with obvious frustration, “We filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to lift the blocking of the assets and undo the designation of HLF as a terrorist organization.” 

Instead of allowing the case to proceed, the presiding judge, Gladys Kessler, dismissed the case and struck all the evidence from the record. Why? That is not clear. When I wrote to ask her, she replied: 

Dear Mr. Peled, I can’t talk with you about the case — everything I know and think about it — especially all these years! — is contained in my Opinion.  Good luck with your book. — Judge Kessler.” 

Upon appeal the appellate court concluded that the judge was wrong, “However,” it said, this is not a “normal” case, because it involved “sensitive matters of national security,” and so her ruling was upheld. According to the lawyers, it could only mean one thing: In the post 9/11 atmosphere, their clients, being American Muslims of Palestinian origin, will not get a fair trial.


The trials and the Sixth Amendment

The U.S. government, in collusion with the government of Israel and with the full cooperation of the U.S. justice system, did everything in its power to get convictions. There were two trials, the first trial ending with a mistrial, a hung jury and not one conviction. In fact, the jury was hung except for one acquittal: Mufid Abdulqader was acquitted on all 32 charges, and for reasons beyond comprehension Mufid is now serving a 20-year sentence in federal prison. But we will touch on that later.

Abdulrahman Odeh is lifted by supporters in front of a federal court in Dallas after a mistrial was declared in his case in 2007. Matt Slocum | AP

The judges in the HLF trials allowed what was a blatant violation of the defendant’s right to confront their accusers, as prescribed in the Sixth Amendment. The amendment reads as follows: 

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” (emphasis added)

Two key expert witnesses for the prosecution were Israeli nationals — one, Major Lior, said to be an officer in the IDF intelligence; and the other, who was identified as “Avi,” said to be part of the Israeli Shabak, or secret police. Both testified anonymously. There was no real possibility for the defendants to confront them. In fact, to this day no one knows who they really are. 

Yet for the first time in the history of the United States judicial system, testimony by anonymous expert witnesses, who were also foreign nationals, was permitted by the presiding judge, Joe Fish. Before they entered the courtroom the judge announced that only the defendants and their lawyers were allowed to remain in the courtroom. All others had to leave. Before they entered the judge also announced that they would be identified by a name other than their own because, apparently, “Israeli law requires it.”  In other words, the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens were violated in order to accommodate Israeli law.

The prosecution claimed, and these witnesses testified, that the local Palestinian charity organizations, called Zakat committees, with which HLF was working on the ground in Palestine, were “part of Hamas,” which in 1995 had been designated a terrorist organization. Therefore, the government claimed, HLF provided material support for a terrorist organization. 

In the cross-examination, defense lawyer John Cline asked “Avi” to identify which of the board members of the “Zakat” or charity committees listed in the indictment were known to be members of Hamas. “Avi” could not identify a single one. In fact, of all the members of the boards of all the Zakat committees, “Avi” recognized only a few names and none of them were ever designated as terrorists by the United States government. 

“Avi” was then questioned by another of the defense lawyers, Nancy Hollander. Hollander showed that the United States government had worked with the Zakat committees and that USAID had in fact financed hospitals and other projects in which the Zakat committees were involved. If closing down HLF and prosecuting its officers was justified because they had worked with these committees, then indeed USAID too should be shut down and its officers prosecuted.


A stellar witness for the defense

In an article I found on the Shabak website, the website of the Israeli secret police, the organization brags about the contribution made by its men in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation. But sending witnesses was not all that Israel did to help the prosecution of these innocent men. Thousands upon thousands of documents were sent over by the government of Israel to the U.S. to be used in the trial.  

The most damning statement to the case was made by defense witness Ed Abington, former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem. In his role as U.S. consul general — which, in the unique case of Jerusalem, is equivalent to an ambassador and answers directly to Washington — Abington received daily CIA briefings. When asked if he believed, in his role as a representative of the U.S. government, that Israeli intelligence was reliable, he replied, “No.” He then explained that the Israelis “apply intelligence in a selective fashion to try to influence U.S. thinking.” 

Abington testified that U.S. agencies were prohibited from working with Hamas because it was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government in 1995. However, he had never seen a directive that prohibited U.S. representatives from working with the Zakat committees. Hollander showed Abington documents that were provided by the U.S. government for the purpose of the trial and were presented by the prosecution and asked for his opinion. Abington’s response was: “The State Department considered the documents to be essentially a propaganda exercise by the Israelis.” 


A hanging judge

As stated earlier, the first trial ended with no convictions, and essentially one acquittal. In September of 2018, I was interviewed by Ralph Nader, who was familiar with the case and had read my book. In this interview, Nader characterized the judge, Jorge Solis, who presided over the second trial, as a “Hanging Judge.”

In other words, a judge that could be relied upon when the government wanted a conviction. Judge Solis allowed all the evidence that the previous judge permitted, and other witnesses and evidence that she did not. Indeed, the second trial was concluded with guilty verdicts for all the defendants. The details cannot be listed here, but are outlined in detail in my book. 


Appeals and a presidential pardon

Upon appeal, the appellate court concluded that, even though mistakes were made in the second trial, the verdicts would stand. Although they were presented with evidence showing that these mistakes were the reasons for the convictions, they still did not reverse the lower court’s decision. President Obama was petitioned to commute the sentences and deport the five innocent men to countries that were willing to give them citizenship. He declined. 


Mufid Abdulqader: acquitted then convicted

As mentioned earlier, in the first trial Mufid Abdulqader was found not guilty on all charges. However, in a bizarre and unprecedented development, when polled by the prosecution, one of the jurors, identified as “Juror number 6,” said she changed her mind regarding Mufid. The judge, ignoring the objections by the defense and the fact that she had signed her name agreeing with the jury’s decision, called a mistrial in Mufid’s case as well as the others. At the end of the second trial, Mufid was sentenced to 20 years. 

Mufid Abdulqader makes his way to the federal court in Dallas, Texas, Oct. 22, 2007. LM Otero | AP

I recently received an email from Mufid, with an appeal, regarding Compassionate Release Status in the First Step Act, which was passed into law in December of 2018. Here is the request from Mufid, edited for brevity:

Dear all,

Please go to and read about the new law which allows judges to release or reduce sentences for any prisoner if they can provide “Extraordinary and compelling reasons.” That is the only thing required and in our case there are so many compelling reasons. One of the most important ones is that if were convicted in Israel we would only serve 30 months maximum, not 65 years.

This is a unique opportunity to go back to court for the HLF 5. Please read the June 18 and June 24, 2019 blog on by a prisoner who is now an Associate Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center. President Trump Honored him on April 1, 2019 at [a] White House ceremony for his tireless work on criminal reform.

Already two judges in Texas had released inmates who were serving long sentences to time served under this specific law. District Judge Marina Barcia Marmolejo resentenced Conrado Cantu to time served using this new law and he is home. Also Judge Sim Lake reduced Arturo Cantu-Rivera’s prior sentence [he was sentenced to two concurrent Life sentences] and his sentence was reduced to time served and he is home. We have a chance to get back in court and try.

Nobody should forget us. We and our families have suffered enough with over 11 years in prison unjustly.

Please don’t disappoint me and my other brothers and our families.


Feature photo | Zaira Abu-Baker, 25, right, holds her head as Noor Elashi, 22, right, speaks during an interview at a cafe in Richardson, Texas, Nov. 20, 2008. Elashi and Abu-Baker waited each day while a jury considered whether in the retrial of the Holy Land Foundation. LM Otero | AP

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

The post Disgraced Nominee Ratcliffe’s Resume-Padding Recalls the Deeper Disgrace of Holy Land Foundation Five Prosecution appeared first on MintPress News.

Mega Group, Maxwells and Mossad: The Spy Story at the Heart of the Jeffrey Epstein Scandal

Thu, 2019-08-08 00:04

As billionaire pedophile and alleged sex-trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein sits in prison, reports have continued to surface about his reported links to intelligence, his financial ties to several companies and “charitable” foundations, and his friendships with the rich and powerful as well as top politicians. 

While Part I and Part II of this series, “The Jeffrey Epstein Scandal: Too Big to Fail,” have focused on the widespread nature of sexual blackmail operations in recent American history and their ties to the heights of American political power and the U.S. intelligence community, one key aspect of Epstein’s own sex-trafficking and blackmail operation that warrants examination is Epstein’s ties to Israeli intelligence and his ties to the “informal” pro-Israel philanthropist faction known as “the Mega Group.”

The Mega Group’s role in the Epstein case has garnered some attention, as Epstein’s main financial patron for decades, billionaire Leslie Wexner, was a co-founder of the group that unites several well-known businessmen with a penchant for pro-Israel and ethno-philanthropy (i.e., philanthropy benefiting a single ethnic or ethno-religious group). However, as this report will show, another uniting factor among Mega Group members is deep ties to organized crime, specifically the organized crime network discussed in Part I of this series, which was largely led by notorious American mobster Meyer Lansky.

By virtue of the role of many Mega Group members as major political donors in both the U.S. and Israel, several of its most notable members have close ties to the governments of both countries as well as their intelligence communities. As this report and a subsequent report will show, the Mega Group also had close ties to two businessmen who worked for Israel’s Mossad — Robert Maxwell and Marc Rich — as well as to top Israeli politicians, including past and present prime ministers with deep ties to Israel’s intelligence community. 

One of those businessmen working for the Mossad, Robert Maxwell, will be discussed at length in this report. Maxwell, who was a business partner of Mega Group co-founder Charles Bronfman, aided the successful Mossad plot to plant a trapdoor in U.S.-created software that was then sold to governments and companies throughout the world. That plot’s success was largely due to the role of a close associate of then-President Ronald Reagan and an American politician close to Maxwell, who later helped aid Reagan in the cover-up of the Iran Contra scandal. 

Years later, Maxwell’s daughter — Ghislaine Maxwell — would join Jeffrey Epstein’s “inner circle” at the same time Epstein was bankrolling a similar software program now being marketed for critical electronic infrastructure in the U.S. and abroad. That company has deep and troubling connections to Israeli military intelligence, associates of the Trump administration, and the Mega Group. 

Epstein appears to have ties to Israeli intelligence and has well-documented ties to influential Israeli politicians and the Mega Group. Yet, those entities are not isolated in and of themselves, as many also connect to the organized crime network and powerful alleged pedophiles discussed in previous installments of this series. 

Perhaps the best illustration of how the connections between many of these players often meld together can be seen in Ronald Lauder: a Mega Group member, former member of the Reagan administration, long-time donor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s Likud Party, as well as a long-time friend of Donald Trump and Roy Cohn.


From cosmetics heir to political player

One often overlooked yet famous client and friend of Roy Cohn is the billionaire heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics fortune, Ronald Lauder. Lauder is often described in the press as a “leading Jewish philanthropist” and is the president of the World Jewish Congress, yet his many media profiles tend to leave out his highly political past. 

In a statement given by Lauder to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman in 2018, the cosmetics heir noted that he has known Trump for over 50 years, going back at least to the early 1970s. According to Lauder, his relationship with Trump began when Trump was a student at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, which Lauder also attended. 

President-elect Trump walks with Ronald Lauder after meeting at Mar-a-Lago, Dec. 28, 2016, in Palm Beach, Fla. Evan Vucci | AP

Though the exact nature of their early friendship is unclear, it is evident that they shared many of the same connections, including to the man who would later count them both as his clients, Roy Cohn. While much has been said of the ties between Cohn and Trump, Cohn was particularly close to Lauder’s mother, Estee Lauder (born Josephine Mentzer). Estee was even counted among Cohn’s most high-profile friends in his New York Times obituary

A small window into the Lauder-Cohn relationship surfaced briefly in a 2016 article in Politico about a 1981 dinner party held at Cohn’s weekend home in Greenwich, Connecticut. The party was attended by Ronald Lauder’s parents, Estee and Joe, as well as Trump and his then-wife Ivana, who had a weekend home just two miles away. That party was held soon after Cohn had helped Reagan secure the presidency and had reached the height of his political influence. At the party, Cohn offered toasts to Reagan and to then-Senator for New York Alfonse D’Amato, who would later urge Ronald Lauder to run for political office.

Two years later, in 1983, Ronald Lauder — whose only professional experience at that point was working for his parent’s cosmetics company — was appointed to serve as United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Affairs. Soon after his appointment, he served on the Dinner Tribute Committee for a dinner hosted by the Jewish fraternal and strongly pro-Israel organization B’nai B’rith, the parent organization of the controversial Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in Roy Cohn’s honor. Cohn’s influential father, Albert Cohn, was the long-time president of B’nai B’rith’s powerful New England-New York chapter and Roy Cohn himself was a member of B’nai B’rith’s Banking and Finance Lodge.

The dinner specifically sought to honor Cohn for his pro-Israel advocacy and his efforts to “fortify” Israel’s economy, and its honorary chairmen included media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump and then-head of Bear Stearns Alan Greenberg, all of whom are connected to Jeffrey Epstein. 

During his time as deputy assistant secretary of defense, Lauder was also very active in Israeli politics and had already become an ally of the then-Israeli representative to the United Nations and future prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Lauder would go on to be one of the most important individuals in Netanyahu’s rise to power, particularly during his upset victory in 1996, and a major financier of Israel’s right-wing Likud Party. 

In 1986, the year that Roy Cohn died, Lauder left his post at the Pentagon and became the U.S. ambassador to Austria, where his tenure was shaped by his confrontations with the then-Austrian president and former Nazi collaborator, Kurt Waldheim. Lauder’s interest in Austrian politics has continued well into recent years, culminating in accusations that he sought to manipulate Austrian elections in 2012.

After leaving his ambassadorship, Lauder founded the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in 1987 and later went on to run for Mayor of New York against Rudy Giuliani in 1989. Lauder was encouraged to run by then-Senator Alfonse D’Amato, who had close ties to Roy Cohn and his long-time law partner Tom Bolan, who was D’Amato’s adviser. At the aforementioned 1983 B’nai B’rith dinner honoring Cohn, D’Amato was the featured speaker.

The likely reason was that Giuliani, though once an ally of the “Roy Cohn machine,” was at the time deeply disliked by the late Cohn’s associates for prosecuting Cohn’s former law partner, Stanley Friedman, for racketeering, conspiracy and other charges. Giuliani also had a history of bitter disagreements with D’Amato. Lauder’s primary campaign, though unsuccessful, was noted for its viciousness and its cost, as it burned through more than $13 million.

A few years later, in the early 1990s, Lauder would join a newly formed group that has long evaded scrutiny from the media but has recently become of interest in connection with the Jeffrey Epstein scandal: the Mega Group.


Lauder, Epstein and the mysterious Austrian passport

Before getting to the Mega Group, it is worth noting one particular act apparently undertaken by Lauder while he was U.S. ambassador to Austria that has recently come to light in relation to the arrest in early July of Jeffrey Epstein, a finding first reported by journalist Edward Szall. When police recently discovered an Austrian passport with Epstein’s picture and a fake name after raiding his Manhattan residence, the source and purpose of the passport came under media scrutiny.

According to the Associated Press, Epstein’s defense lawyers specifically argued that “a friend gave it to him [Epstein] in the 1980s after some Jewish-Americans were informally advised to carry identification bearing a non-Jewish name when traveling internationally during a period when hijackings were more common.” This claim appears to be related to concerns that followed the hijacking of Air France Flight 139 in 1976 when Israeli and Jewish hostages were separated from other hostages based largely on the passports in their possession.

Given that Epstein was unable to meet the conventional qualifications for an Austrian passport — including long-term residency in Austria (the passport lists him as a resident of Saudi Arabia) and fluency in German — it appears that the only way to have acquired an Austrian passport was by unconventional means, meaning assistance from a well-connected Austrian official or foreign diplomat with clout in Austria.

Ronald Lauder, right, and Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima pose with students from the Lauder Chabad School in Vienna, Austria in 1999. Martin Gnedt | AP

Lauder, then-ambassador to Austria for the Reagan administration, would have been well-positioned to acquire such a passport, particularly for the reason cited by Epstein’s attorneys that Jewish-Americans could be targeted during travel, and in light of Lauder’s very public concerns over threats Jews face from certain terror groups. Furthermore, the passport had been issued in 1987, when Lauder was still serving as an ambassador.

In addition, Lauder was well-connected to Epstein’s former patron — former head of Bear Stearns Alan Greenberg, who had hired Epstein in the late 1970s immediately after the latter was fired from the Dalton School — and Donald Trump, another friend of Lauder and Greenberg who began his friendship with Epstein in 1987, the same year the fake Austrian passport was issued. In 1987, Epstein also began his relationship with his principal financier, Leslie Wexner, who is also closely associated with Lauder (though some sources claim that Epstein and Wexner first met in 1985 but that their strong business relationship was not established until 1987). 

Though Epstein’s defense attorney declined to reveal the identity of the “friend” who provided him with the fake Austrian passport, Lauder was both well-positioned to acquire it in Austria and also deeply connected to the Mega Group, which was co-founded by Epstein’s patron Leslie Wexner and to which Epstein has many connections. These connections to both the Austrian government and to Epstein’s mentor make Lauder the most likely person to have acquired the document on Epstein’s behalf.

Furthermore, Epstein and the Mega Group’s ties to the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, also suggest Lauder was involved in procuring the passport, in light of his close ties to the Israeli government and the fact that Mossad has a history of using ambassadors abroad to procure false, foreign passports for its operatives. 

Lauder himself has been alleged to have ties to Mossad, as he is a long-time funder of IDC Herzliya, an Israeli university closely associated with Mossad and their recruiters as well as Israeli military intelligence. Lauder even founded IDC Herzliya’s Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy. 

Furthermore, Lauder co-founded the Eastern European broadcasting network CETV with Mark Palmer, a former U.S. diplomat, Kissinger aide and Reagan speechwriter. Palmer is better known for co-founding the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an organization often described as an accessory to U.S. intelligence, and one whose first president confessed to the Washington Post that “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” A 2001 report in the Evening Standard noted that Epstein once claimed that during the 1980s he worked for the CIA, but Epstein later backed away from that assertion.


The origins of the Mega Group Mafia

The Mega Group — a secretive group of billionaires to which Lauder belongs — was formed in 1991 by Charles Bronfman and Leslie Wexner, the latter of whom has received considerable media scrutiny following the July arrest of his former protege Jeffrey Epstein. Media profiles of the group paint it as “a loosely organized club of 20 of the nation’s wealthiest and most influential Jewish businessmen” focused on “philanthropy and Jewishness,” with membership dues upwards of $30,000 per year. Yet several of its most prominent members have ties to organized crime.

Mega Group members founded and/or are closely associated with some of the most well-known pro-Israel organizations. For instance, members Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt formed Birthright Taglit with the backing of then- and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Steinhardt, an atheist, has stated that his motivation in helping to found the group was to advance his own belief that devotion to and faith in the state of Israel should serve as “a substitute for [Jewish] theology.” 

Other well-known groups associated with the Mega Group include the World Jewish Congress — whose past president, Edgar Bronfman, and current president, Ronald Lauder, are both Mega Group members — and B’nai B’rith, particularly its spin-off known as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The Bronfman brothers were major donors to the ADL, with Edgar Bronfman serving as the ADL’s honorary national vice-chair for several years.

Former Israeli president Shimon Peres, second from left, listens to Edgar Bronfman during a 1995 lunch thrown in Peres’ honor. From left are: Laurence Tisch, Chairman, President and Chief executive officer of CBS; Israeli Ambassador to the United States. Itamar Rabinowitz and Bronfman. David Karp | AP

When Edgar Bronfman died in 2013, long-time ADL Director Abe Foxman said, “Edgar was for many years Chair of our Liquor Industry Division, Chair of our New York Appeal, and one of our most significant benefactors.” Other Mega Group members that are donors and major supporters of the ADL include Ronald Lauder, Michael Steinhardt and the late Max Fisher. As previously mentioned, Roy Cohn’s father was a long-time leader of B’nai B’rith’s influential New England-New York chapter and Cohn was later a celebrated member of its banking and finance lodge.

In addition, Mega Group members have also been key players in the pro-Israel lobby in the United States. For instance, Max Fisher of the Mega Group founded the National Jewish Coalition, now known as the Republican Jewish Coalition — the main pro-Israel neoconservative political lobbying group, known for its support of hawkish policies, and whose current chief patrons, Sheldon Adelson and Bernard Marcus, are among Donald Trump’s top donors.

Though the Mega Group has officially existed only since 1991, the use of “philanthropy” to provide cover for more unscrupulous lobbying or business activities was pioneered decades earlier by Sam Bronfman, the father of Mega Group members Edgar and Charles Bronfman. While other North American elites like J.D. Rockefeller had previously used philanthropic giving as a means of laundering their reputations, Bronfman’s approach to philanthropy was unique because it was focused on giving specifically to other members of his own ethno-religious background.

Sam Bronfman, as was detailed in Part I of this series, had long-standing deep ties to organized crime, specifically Meyer Lanksy’s organized crime syndicate. Yet, Bronfman’s private ambition, according to those close to him, was to become a respected member of high society. As a consequence, Bronfman worked hard to remove the stain that his mob associations had left on his public reputation in Canada and abroad. He accomplished this by becoming a leader in Canada’s Zionist movement and, by the end of the 1930s, he was head of the Canadian Jewish Congress and had begun to make a name for himself as a philanthropist for Jewish causes.

Yet even some of Bronfman’s activism and philanthropy had hints of the mobster-like reputation he tried so hard to shake. For instance, Bronfman was actively involved in the illegal shipping of arms to Zionist paramilitaries in Palestine prior to 1948, specifically as a co-founder of the National Conference for Israeli and Jewish Rehabilitation that smuggled weapons to the paramilitary group Haganah. 

At the same time Bronfman was abetting the illegal smuggling of weapons to the Haganah, his associates in the criminal underworld were doing the same. After World War II, close aides of David Ben-Gurion, who would later become the first prime minister of Israel and was instrumental in the founding of Mossad, forged tight-knit relationships with Meyer Lansky, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Mickey Cohen and other Jewish gangsters of the period. They used their clandestine networks to establish a vast arms smuggling network between the United States and Zionist settlements in Palestine, arming both the Haganah and the Irgun paramilitary groups. As noted in Part I of this report, at the same time these gangsters were aiding the illegal arming of ZIonsit paramilitaries, they were strengthening their ties to U.S. intelligence that had first been formally (though covertly) established in World War II. 

After Israel was founded, Sam Bronfman worked with future Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres to negotiate the sale of Canadian armaments at half-price to Israel and the bargain weapons purchase was paid for entirely by a fundraising dinner hosted by Bronfman and his wife. Many years later, Peres would go on to introduce another future prime minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, to Jeffrey Epstein.

The rest of the Bronfman family’s march on “the road to respectability” was undertaken by Bronfman’s children, who married into aristocratic families such as the European Rothschilds and the Wall Street “royalty” of the Lehmans and the Loebs

The Bronfmans’ newfound respectability did not mean that their association with the Lansky-led criminal empire had dissolved. Indeed, prominent members of the Seagrams dynasty came under fire in the 1960s and 1970s for their close association with Willie “Obie” Obront, a major figure in Canadian organized crime, whom Canadian professor Stephen Schneider has referred to as the Meyer Lansky of Canada.

However, Edgar and Charles Bronfman were hardly the only members of the Mega Group with deep and long-standing ties to the Lansky-led National Crime Syndicate. Indeed, one of the group’s prominent members, hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt, opened up about his own family ties to Lansky in his autobiography No Bull: My Life in and out the Markets, where he noted that his father, Sol “Red McGee” Steinhardt, was Lansky’s jewel fence of choice and a major player in New York’s criminal underworld. Sol Steinhardt was also his son’s first client on Wall Street and helped him jumpstart his career in finance.

The ties between the Mega Group and the National Crime Syndicate don’t stop there. Another prominent member of the Mega Group with ties to this same criminal network is Max Fisher, who has been described as Wexner’s mentor and is also alleged to have worked with Detroit’s “Purple Gang” during Prohibition and beyond. The Purple Gang were part of the network that smuggled Bronfman liquor from Canada into the United State during Prohibition, and one of its founders, Abe Bernstein, was a close associate of both Meyer Lansky and Moe Dalitz. Fisher was a key adviser to several U.S. presidents, beginning with Dwight D. Eisenhower, as well as to Henry Kissinger.

Max Fisher, center, and Henry Kissinger, right, meet with leaders of Jewish organizations prior to Kissinger’s 1975 Middle East trip. Henry Burroughs | AP

In addition to Fisher, Mega Group member Ronald Lauder was connected to Roy Cohn and Tom Bolan, both of whom were closely associated with this same Lansky-led crime network (see Part I and Part II) and who regularly represented top Mafia figures in court. Furthermore, another member of the Mega Group, director Steven Spielberg, is a well-known protege of Lew Wasserman, the mob-connected media mogul and long-time backer of Ronald Reagan’s film and later political career, discussed in Part II of this series.

One surprise connection to Cohn involves Mega Group member, and former president of U.S. weapons firm General Dynamics, Lester Crown, whose brother-in-law is David Schine, Cohn’s confidant and alleged lover during the McCarthy hearings, whose relationship with Cohn helped bring about the downfall of McCarthyism.

Another member of the Mega Group worth noting is Laurence Tisch, who owned CBS News for several years and founded Loews Corporation. Tisch is notable for his work for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA, where Donald Barry, who hired Epstein at the Dalton School, also served and which forged ties with Lansky’s criminal empire during World War II. 


Wexner’s mansions and the Shapiro murder 

Leslie “Les” Wexner, the other Mega Group co-founder, also has ties to organized crime. Wexner’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein have come under scrutiny following the latter’s recent arrest, as Wexner was the only publicly acknowledged client of Epstein’s suspicious hedge fund, the source of much of this wealth, and the previous owner of Epstein’s $56 million Manhattan townhouse, which Wexner transferred to an Epstein-controlled entity for free. 

Before Epstein received the townhouse, Wexner appears to have used the residence for some unconventional purposes, noted in a 1996 New York Times article on the then-Wexner-owned residence, which included “a bathroom reminiscent of James Bond movies: hidden beneath a stairway, lined with lead to provide shelter from attack and supplied with closed-circuit television screens and a telephone, both concealed in a cabinet beneath the sink.” The Times article does not speculate as to the purpose of this equipment, though the allusion to famous fictional superspy James Bond suggests that it may have been used to snoop on guests or conduct electronic surveillance.

The 1996 Times article also noted that, after Wexner bought the residence for $13.2 million in 1989, he spent millions more decorating and furnishing the home, including the addition of the electronic equipment in the “James Bond” bathroom, only to apparently never live in it. The Times, which interviewed Epstein for the piece, quoted him as saying that “Les never spent more than two months there.” Epstein told the Times, which identified Epstein as Wexner’s “protege and one of his financial advisers,” that the house, by that time, already belonged to him.

That same year, Epstein was commissioning artwork for Wexner’s Ohio mansion. A recent article from the Times noted that: 

In the summer of 1996, Maria Farmer was working on an art project for Mr. Epstein in Mr. Wexner’s Ohio mansion. While she was there, Mr. Epstein sexually assaulted her, according to an affidavit Ms. Farmer filed earlier this year in federal court in Manhattan. She said that she fled the room and called the police, but that Mr. Wexner’s security staff refused to let her leave for 12 hours.”

Farmer’s account strongly suggests that, given the behavior of his personal security staff at his mansion following Epstein’s alleged assault on Farmer, Wexner was well aware of Epstein’s predatory behavior towards young women. This is compounded by claims made by Alan Dershowitz — a former lawyer for and friend of Epstein’s, who has also been accused of raping underage girls — that Wexner has also been accused of raping underage girls exploited by Epstein on at least seven occasions.

The presence of the electronic equipment in his home’s bathroom, other oddities related to the townhouse, and aspects of the links between Epstein and Wexner suggest there is more to Wexner, who has rather successfully developed a public image of a respectable businessman and philanthropist, much like other prominent members of the Mega Group. 

Leslie Wexner and his wife Abigail tour the “Transfigurations” exhibit at the Wexner Center for the Arts. Jay LaPrete | AP

However, bits and pieces of Wexner’s private secrets have occasionally bubbled up, only to be subjected to rapid cover-ups amidst concerns of “libeling” the powerful and well-connected billionaire “philanthropist.” 

In 1985, Columbus (Ohio) lawyer Arthur Shapiro was murdered in broad daylight at point-blank range in what was largely referred to as a “mob style murder.” The homicide still remains unsolved, likely due to the fact that then-Columbus Police Chief James Jackson ordered the destruction of key documents of his department’s investigation into the murder.

Jackson’s ordering of the documents’ destruction came to light years later in 1996, when he was under investigation for corruption. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Jackson justified the destruction of one “viable and valuable” report because he felt that it “was so filled with wild speculation about prominent business leaders that it was potentially libelous.” The nature of this “wild speculation” was that “millionaire businessmen in Columbus and Youngstown were linked to the ‘mob-style murder.’”

Though Jackson’s efforts were meant to keep this “libelous” report far from public view, it was eventually obtained by Bob Fitrakis — attorney, journalist, and executive director of the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism — after he was “accidentally” sent a copy of the report in 1998 as part of a public records request.

The report, titled “Shapiro Homicide Investigation: Analysis and Hypothesis,” names Leslie Wexner as linked “with associates reputed to be organized crime figures” and also lists the names of businessman Jack Kessler, former Columbus City Council President and Wexner associate Jerry Hammond, and former Columbus City Council member Les Wright as also being involved in Shapiro’s murder. 

The report also noted that Arthur Shapiro’s law firm — Schwartz, Shapiro, Kelm & Warren — represented Wexner’s company, The Limited, and states that “prior to his death, Arthur Shapiro managed this account [The Limited] for the law firm.” It also noted that, at the time of his death, Shapiro “was the subject of an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service because he had failed to file income tax returns for some seven years prior to his death, and he had invested in some questionable tax shelters.” It also stated that his death prevented Shapiro from his planned testimony at a grand jury hearing about these “questionable tax shelters.”

As to Wexner’s alleged links to organized crime, the report focuses on the close business relationship between Wexner’s The Limited and Francis Walsh, whose trucking company “[had] done an excess of 90 percent of the Limited’s trucking business around the time of Shapiro’s murder,” according to the report. Walsh was named in a 1988 indictment as a “co-conspirator” of Genovese crime family boss Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, whose long-time lawyer was Roy Cohn; and the Shapiro murder report stated that Walsh was “still considered associates of the Genovese/LaRocca crime family, and Walsh was still providing truck transportation for The Limited.” 

Notably, the Genovese crime family has long formed a key part of the National Crime Syndicate, as its former head, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, co-created the criminal organization with his close friend Meyer Lansky. Upon Luciano’s imprisonment and subsequent deportation from the United States, Lansky took over the syndicate’s U.S. operations and his association with Luciano’s successors continued until Lansky’s death in 1983. 


The “Mega” Mystery and the Mossad

In May 1997, the Washington Post broke an explosive story — long since forgotten — based on an intercepted phone call made between a Mossad official in the U.S. and his superior in Tel Aviv that discussed the Mossad’s efforts to obtain a secret U.S. government document. According to the Post, the Mossad official stated during the phone call that “Israeli Ambassador Eliahu Ben Elissar had asked him whether he could obtain a copy of the letter given to [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat by [then-Secretary of State Warren] Christopher on Jan. 16, the day after the Hebron accord was signed by Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.”

The Post article continued: 

According to a source who viewed a copy of the NSA transcript of the conversation, the intelligence officer, speaking in Hebrew, said, ‘The ambassador wants me to go to Mega to get a copy of this letter.’ The source said the supervisor in Tel Aviv rejected the request, saying, ‘This is not something we use Mega for.’”

The leaked communication led to an investigation that sought to identify an individual code-named “Mega” that the Post said “may be someone in the U.S. government who has provided information to the Israelis in the past,” a concern that subsequently spawned a fruitless FBI investigation. The Mossad later claimed that “Mega” was merely a codeword for the U.S.’ CIA, but the FBI and NSA were unconvinced by that claim and believed that it was a senior U.S. government official that had potentially once been involved in working with Jonathan Pollard, the former U.S. naval intelligence analyst later convicted of spying for the Mossad. 

Almost one year to the day after the “Mega” spy scandal broke, the Wall Street Journal was the first outlet to report on the existence of a little-known organization of billionaires that was “informally” called the Mega Group and had been founded years prior in 1991. The report made no mention of the spy scandal that had spread concerns of Israeli espionage in the U.S. only a year prior. However, the group’s distinctive “informal” name and the connections of its members to the Mossad and to high-ranking Israeli politicians, including prime ministers, raise the possibility that “Mega” was not an individual, as the FBI and NSA had believed, but a group.

In 1997, when the “Mega” spy scandal broke, Netanyahu had recently become prime minister of Israel after an upset victory, a victory that was largely credited to one well-connected Netanyahu backer in particular, Ronald Lauder. Beyond being a major donor, Lauder had brought Arthur Finklestein on to work for Netanyahu’s 1996 campaign, whose strategies were credited for Netanyahu’s surprise win. Netanyahu was close enough to Lauder that he personally enlisted Lauder and George Nader to serve as his peace envoys to Syria.

Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara with Ronald Lauder in 1997. Photo | Reuters

Nader, who was connected to the Trump 2016 campaign and Trump ally and Blackwater founder Erik Prince, was recently hit with federal child sex trafficking charges last month, soon after Jeffrey Epstein had been arrested on similar charges. At the time Nader was picked to work with Lauder on Netanyahu’s behalf, he had already been caught possessing large amounts of child pornography on two separate occasions, first in 1984 and later in 1990.

This strong connection between Netanyahu and Lauder during the time of the 1997 “Mega” spy scandal is important considering Mossad answers directly to Israel’s prime minister. 

Another possible connection between the Mega Group and the Mossad owes to the Mega Group’s ties to Meyer Lansky’s criminal network. As was detailed in Part I, Lansky had established deep ties to U.S. intelligence after World War II and was also connected to the Mossad through Mossad official Tibor Rosenbaum, whose bank was frequently used by Lansky to launder money. In addition, Lansky collaborated on at least one occasion with notorious Mossad “superspy” Rafi Eitan, who he helped acquire sensitive electronic equipment possessed only by the CIA but coveted by Israeli intelligence. Eitan is best known in the U.S. for being the Mossad handler of Jonathan Pollard.

Notably, Eitan was the main source of claims that the code-word “Mega” used by the Mossad officials in 1997 referred to the CIA and not to a potential source in the U.S. government once linked to Pollard’s spying activities, making his claims as to the true meaning of the term somewhat dubious.

Given that the organized crime network tied to the Mega Group had ties to both U.S. and Israeli intelligence, the “Mega” codeword could plausibly have referred to this secretive group of billionaires. More supporting evidence for this theory comes from the fact that prominent members of the Mega Group were business partners of Mossad agents, including media mogul Robert Maxwell and commodities trader Marc Rich.


The mysterious Maxwells

The Maxwell family has become a source of renewed media interest following Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest, as Ghislaine Maxwell, long described in the media as a British “socialite,” was publicly cited as Epstein’s long-time “on and off” girlfriend, and Epstein’s victims, as well as former wives of Epstein’s friends, have claimed that she was Epstein’s “pimp” and procured underage girls for his sexual blackmail operation. Ghislaine Maxwell is also alleged to have engaged in the rape of the girls she procured for Epstein and to have used them to produce child pornography. 

Ghislaine was the favorite and youngest daughter of media mogul Robert Maxwell. Maxwell, born Jan Ludvick Hoch, had joined the British Army in World War II. Afterwards, according to authors John Loftus and Mark Aarons, he greatly influenced the Czechoslovakian government’s decision to arm Zionist paramilitaries during the 1948 war that resulted in Israel’s creation as a state, and Maxwell himself was also involved in the smuggling of aircraft parts to Israel. 

Around this time, Maxwell was approached by British intelligence outfit MI6 and offered a position that Maxwell ultimately declined. MI6 then classified him as “Zionist — loyal only to Israel” and made him a person of interest. He later became an agent of the Mossad, according to several books including Seymour Hersh’s The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy, and Robert Maxwell: Israel’s Superspy by Gordon Thomas and Martin Dillon. 

According to Victor Ostrovsky, a former Mossad case officer: 

Mossad was financing many of its operations in Europe from money stolen from Maxwell’s newspaper pension fund. They got their hands on the funds almost as soon as Maxwell made the purchase of the Mirror Newspaper Group with money lent to him by Mossad.”

In exchange for his services, the Mossad helped Maxwell satisfy his sexual appetite during his visits to Israel, providing him with prostitutes, “the service maintained for blackmail purposes.” It was later revealed that the hotel in which he stayed in Israel was bugged with cameras, allowing the Mossad to acquire “a small library of video footage of Maxwell in sexually compromising positions.” As with the CIA, the Mossad’s use of blackmail against both friend and foe is well-documented and known to be extensive.

Maxwell was also a close associate and friend of Israeli “superspy” Rafi Eitan, who, as previously mentioned, was Jonathan Pollard’s handler and who had previously worked directly with Meyer Lansky. Eitan had learned of a revolutionary new software being used by the U.S. government known as “Promis” from Earl Brian, a long-time associate and aide to Ronald Reagan. Promis is often considered the forerunner to the “Prism” software used by spy agencies today and was developed by William Hamilton, who leased the software to the U.S. government through his company, Inslaw, in 1982.

Ariel Sharon (right)meets with Robert Maxwell in Jerusalem on Feb. 20, 1990. Photo | AP

According to author and former BBC investigative journalist Gordon Thomas, Brian was angry that the U.S. Department of Justice was successfully using Promis to go after organized crime and money-laundering activities and Eitan felt that the program could aid Israel and restore his own standing within the Israeli intelligence community, which had been damaged by the public disclosure of Eitan’s involvement in the Pollard affair and Iran Contra. 

A plan was hatched to install a “trapdoor” into the software and then market Promis throughout the world, providing the Mossad with invaluable intelligence on the operations of its enemies and allies while also providing Eitan and Brian with copious amounts of cash. According to the testimony of ex-Mossad official Ari Ben-Menashe, Brian provided a copy of Promis to Israel’s military intelligence, which contacted an Israeli American programmer living in California who then planted the “trapdoor” in the software. The CIA was later said to have installed its own trapdoor in the software but it is unknown if they did so with a version of the already bugged software and how widely it was adopted relative to the version bugged by Israeli intelligence. 

After the trapdoor was inserted, the problem became selling the bugged version of the software to governments as well as private companies around the world, particularly in areas of interest. Brian first attempted to buy out Inslaw and Promis and then use that same company to sell the bugged version. 

Unsuccessful, Brian turned to his close friend, then-Attorney General Ed Meese whose Justice Department then abruptly refused to make the payments to Inslaw that were stipulated by the contract, essentially using the software for free, which Inslaw claimed to be theft. Some have speculated that Meese’s role in that decision was shaped, not only by his friendship with Brian, but the fact that his wife was a major investor in Brian’s business ventures. Meese would later become an adviser to Donald Trump when he was president-elect.

Inslaw was forced to declare bankruptcy as a result of Meese’s actions and sued the Justice Department. The court later found that the Meese-led department “took, converted, stole” the software through “trickery, fraud and deceit.” 

With Inslaw out of the way, Brian sold the software all over the world. Eitan later recruited Robert Maxwell to become another Promis salesman, which he did remarkably well, even succeeding in selling the software to Soviet intelligence and conspiring with Republican Texas Senator John Tower to have the software adopted by the U.S. government laboratory at Los Alamos. Dozens of countries used the software on their most carefully guarded computer systems, unaware that Mossad now had access to everything Promis touched.

Whereas the Mossad’s past reliance on gathering intelligence had relied on the same tactics used by its equivalents in the U.S. and elsewhere, the widespread adoption of the Promis software, largely through the actions of Earl Brian and Robert Maxwell, gave the Mossad a way to gather not just troves of counterintelligence data, but also blackmail on other intelligence agencies and powerful figures. 

Indeed, Promis’ backdoor and adoption by intelligence agencies all over the world essentially provided the Mossad with access to troves of blackmail that the CIA and FBI had acquired on their friends and foes for over half a century. Strangely, in recent years, the FBI has sought to hide information related to Robert Maxwell’s connection to the Promis scandal.

According to journalist Robert Fisk, Maxwell was also involved in the Mossad abduction of Israeli nuclear weapons whistleblower Vanunu Mordechai. Mordechai had attempted to provide the media with information on the extent of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, which was eventually published by the Sunday Times of London. Yet, Mordechai had also contacted the Daily Mirror with the information, the Mirror being an outlet that was owned by Maxwell and whose foreign editor was a close Maxwell associate and alleged Mossad asset, Nicholas Davies. Journalist Seymour Hersh alleged that Davies had also been involved in Israeli arms deals.

Per Fisk, it was Maxwell who contacted the Israeli Embassy in London and told them of Mordechai’s activities. This led to Mordechai’s entrapment by a female Mossad agent who seduced him as part of a “honey trap” operation that led to his kidnapping and later imprisonment in Israel. Mordechai served an 18-year sentence, 12 years of which were in solitary confinement.

Then, there is the issue of Maxwell’s death, widely cited by mainstream and independent media alike as suspicious and a potential homicide. According to authors Gordon Thomas and Martin Dillon, Maxwell had sealed his own fate when he attempted to threaten top Mossad officials with the exposure of certain operations if they did not help him rescue his media empire from crippling debt and financial difficulties. Many of Maxwell’s creditors, who had grown increasingly displeased with the media mogul, were Israeli and several of them were alleged to be Mossad-connected themselves.

Thomas and Dillon argue in their biography of Maxwell’s life that the Mossad felt that Maxwell had become more of a liability than an asset and killed him on his yacht three months after he demanded the bailout. On the other extreme are theories that suggest Maxwell committed suicide because of the financial difficulties his empire faced.

Ghislaine Maxwell, far right, Robert Maxwell’s daughter, looks on his casket is unloaded from a plane in Jerusalem, Nov. 8, 1991. Heribert Proepper | AP

Some have taken Maxwell’s funeral held in Israel as the country’s “official” confirmation of Maxwell’s service to the Mossad, as it was likened to a state funeral and attended by no less than six serving and former heads of Israeli intelligence. During his funeral service in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir eulogized him and stated: “He has done more for Israel than can today be said.” Other eulogies were given by future Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert (then Health Minister) and Shimon Peres, with the latter also praising Maxwell’s “services” on behalf of Israel.


Swimming in the same swamp

As he built his business empire — and even became a member of Parliament, Maxwell was also doing work for Israeli intelligence, as several of the Israeli companies in which he invested became fronts for the Mossad. In addition, as he became a media mogul, he developed a bitter rivalry with Rupert Murdoch, a close friend of Roy Cohn and an influential figure in American and British media.

Maxwell also partnered with the Bronfman brothers, Edgar and Charles — key figures in the Mega Group. In 1989 Maxwell and Charles Bronfman partnered up to bid on the Jerusalem Post newspaper and the Post described the two men as “two of the world’s leading Jewish financiers” and their interest in the venture as “developing The Jerusalem Post and expanding its influence among world Jewry.” A year prior, Maxwell and Bronfman had become top shareholders in the Israeli pharmaceutical company Teva. 

Maxwell also worked with Charles Bronfman’s brother Edgar in the late 1980s to convince the Soviet Union to allow Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel. Edgar’s efforts in this regard have received more attention, as it was a defining moment of his decades-long presidency of the World Jewish Congress, of which Ronald Lauder is currently president. Yet, Maxwell had also made considerable use of his contacts in the Soviet government in this effort.

Maxwell also moved in the circles of the network previously described in Parts I and II in this series. A key example of this is the May 1989 party Maxwell hosted on his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine — named for his youngest daughter and Epstein’s future “girlfriend.” Attendees of the party included Roy Cohn’s protege Donald Trump and his long-time law partner Tom Bolan. A close friend of Nancy Reagan was also present, journalist Mike Wallace, as was literary agent Mort Janklow, who represented Ronald Reagan and two of Cohn’s closest friends: journalists William Safire and Barbara Walters.

The CEO of what would soon become Time Warner, Steve Ross, was also invited to the exclusive event. Ross’ presence is notable, as he had built his business empire largely through his association with New York crime lords Manny Kimmel and Abner “Longy” Zwillman. Zwillman was a close friend of Meyer Lansky, Michael Steinhardt’s father, and Sam Bronfman, father of Edgar and Charles Bronfman.

Another attendee of the Maxwell yacht party was former Secretary of the Navy and former Henry Kissinger staffer Jon Lehman, who would go on to associate with the controversial neoconservative think tank, Project for a New American Century. Prior to being secretary of the Navy, Lehman had been president of the Abington Corporation, which hired arch-neocon Richard Perle to manage the portfolio of Israeli arms dealers Shlomo Zabludowicz and his son Chaim, who paid Ablington $10,000 month. A scandal arose when those payments continued after both Lehman and Perle joined the Reagan Department of Defense and while Perle was working to persuade the Pentagon to buy arms from companies linked to Zabludowicz. Perle had been part of the Reagan transition team along with Roy Cohn’s long-time friend and law partner Tom Bolan (another Maxwell yacht guest).

In addition to Lehman, another former Kissinger staffer, Thomas Pickering was present at Maxwell’s yacht part. Pickering played a minor role in the Iran-Contra affair and, at the time of the Maxwell yacht party, he was U.S. ambassador to Israel. Senator John Tower (R-TX), who allegedly conspired with Maxwell in the Mossad-bugged Promis software at the Los Alamos laboratories, was also present. Tower died just months before Maxwell in a suspicious plane crash.

Ghislaine Maxwell was also at this rather notable event. After her father’s mysterious death and alleged murder on the same yacht that bears her name in 1991, she quickly packed her bags and moved to New York City. There, she soon made the acquaintance of Jeffrey Epstein and, a few years later, developed close ties to the Clinton family, which will be discussed in the next installment of this series.


Jeffrey Epstein and the new “Promis”

After it was revealed that Epstein had evaded stricter sentencing in 2008 due to his links to “intelligence,” it was the Mossad ties of Ghislaine Maxwell’s father that have led many to speculate that Epstein’s sexual blackmail operation was sharing incriminating information with the Mossad. Former CBS executive producer and current journalist for the media outlet Narativ, Zev Shalev, has since claimed that he independently confirmed that Epstein was tied directly to the Mossad. 

Donald and Melania Trump with Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell at the Mar-a-Lago club, Palm Beach, Florida in 2000. Photo | Davidoff Studios

Epstein was a long-time friend of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who has long-standing and deep ties to Israel’s intelligence community. Their decades-long friendship has been the source of recent political attacks targeting Barak, who is running in the Israeli elections against current Prime Minister Netanyahu later this year. 

Barak is also close to Epstein’s chief patron and Mega Group member Leslie Wexner, whose Wexner Foundation gave Barak $2 million in 2004 for a still unspecified research program. According to Barak, he was first introduced to Epstein by former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who eulogized Robert Maxwell at his funeral and had decades-long ties with the Bronfman family going back to the early 1950s. Peres was also a frequent participant in programs funded by Leslie Wexner in Israel and worked closely with the Mossad for decades.

In 2015, a few years after Epstein’s release from prison following his conviction for soliciting sex from a minor in 2008, Barak formed a company with Epstein with the chief purpose of investing in an Israeli start-up then known as Reporty. That company, now called Carbyne, sells its signature software to 911 call centers and emergency service providers and is also available to consumers as an app that provides emergency services with access to a caller’s camera and location and also runs any caller’s identity through any linked government database. It has specifically been marketed by the company itself and the Israeli press as a solution to mass shootings in the United States and is already being used by at least two U.S. counties.

Israeli media reported that Epstein and Barak were among the company’s largest investors. Barak poured millions into the company and it was recently revealed by Haaretz that a significant amount of Barak’s total investments in Carbyne was funded by Epstein, making him a “de facto partner” in the company. Barak is now Carbyne’s chairman

The company’s executive team are all former members of different branches of Israeli intelligence, including the elite military intelligence unit, Unit 8200, that is often likened to Israel’s equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). Carbyne’s current CEO, Amir Elichai, served in Unit 8200 and tapped former Unit 8200 commander Pinchas Buchris to serve as the company’s director and on its board. In addition to Elichai, another Carbyne co-founder, Lital Leshem, also served in Unit 8200 and later worked for Israeli private spy company Black Cube. Leshem now works for a subsidiary of Erik Prince’s company Frontier Services Group, according to the independent media outlet Narativ

The company also includes several tie-ins to the Trump administration, including Palantir founder and Trump ally Peter Thiel — an investor in Carbyne. In addition, Carbyne’s board of advisers includes former Palantir employee Trae Stephens, who was a member of the Trump transition team, as well as former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. Trump donor and New York real-estate developer Eliot Tawill is also on Carbyne’s board, alongside Ehud Barak and Pinchas Buchris.

Narativ, which wrote the first expose on Carbyne after Epstein’s arrest, noted that the Chinese government uses a smartphone app very similar to Carbyne as part of its mass surveillance apparatus, even though the original purpose of the app was for improved emergency reporting. According to Narativ, the Chinese Carbyne-equivalent “monitors every aspect of a user’s life, including personal conversations, power usage, and tracks a user’s movement.”

Given the history of Robert Maxwell — the father of Epstein’s long-time “girlfriend” and young-girl-procuring madam, Ghislaine Maxwell — in promoting the sale of Carbyne’s modified Promis software, which was also marketed as a tool to improve government efficacy but was actually a tool of mass surveillance for the benefit of Israeli intelligence, the overlap between Carbyne and Promis is troubling and warrants further investigation.

It is also worth noting that Unit 8200-connected tech start-ups are being widely integrated into U.S. companies and have developed close ties to the U.S. military-industrial complex, with Carbyne being just one example of that trend. 

As MintPress previously reported, Unit 8200-linked outfits like Team8 have recently hired former National Security Agency (NSA) Director Mike Rogers as a senior advisor and gained prominent Silicon Valley figures, including former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, as key investors. Many American technology companies, from Intel to Google to Microsoft, have merged with several Unit 8200-connected start-ups in recent years and have been moving many key jobs and operations to Israel with backing from key Republican donors like Paul Singer. Many of those same companies, particularly Google and Microsoft, are also major U.S. government contractors.


Who was Epstein really working for?

Even though Jeffrey Epstein appears to have had ties to the Mossad, this series has revealed that the networks to which Epstein was connected were not Mossad-exclusive, as many of the individuals close to Epstein — Lesie Wexner, for instance — were part of a mob-connected class of oligarchs with deep ties to both the U.S. and Israel. As was discussed in Part I of this series, the sharing of “intelligence” (i.e., blackmail) between intelligence agencies and the same organized crime network connected to the Mega Group goes back decades. With Leslie Wexner of the Mega Group as Epstein’s chief patron, as opposed to a financier with direct ties to the Mossad, a similar relationship is more than likely in the case of the sexual blackmail operation that Epstein ran.

Given that intelligence agencies in both the U.S. and elsewhere often conduct covert operations for the benefit of oligarchs and large corporations as opposed to “national security interest,” Epstein’s ties to the Mega Group suggest that this group holds a unique status and influence in both the governments of the U.S. and of Israel, as well as in other countries (e.g., Russia) that were not explored in this report. This is by virtue of their role as key political donors in both countries, as well as the fact that several of them own powerful companies or financial institutions in both countries. Indeed, many members of the Mega Group have deep ties to Israel’s political class, including to Netanyahu and Ehud Barak as well as to now-deceased figures like Shimon Peres, and to members of the American political class. 

Ultimately, the picture painted by the evidence is not a direct tie to a single intelligence agency but a web linking key members of the Mega Group, politicians, and officials in both the U.S. and Israel, and an organized-crime network with deep business and intelligence ties in both nations.

Though this series has so far focused on the ties of this network to main Republican Party affiliates, the next and final installment will reveal the ties developed between this web and the Clintons. As will be revealed, despite the Clintons’ willingness to embrace corrupt dealings during the span of their political careers, their mostly friendly relationship with this network still saw them use the power of sexual blackmail to obtain certain policy decisions that were favorable to their personal and financial interests but not to the Clintons’ political reputation or agendas.

Feature photo | Graphic by Claudio Cabrera

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

The post Mega Group, Maxwells and Mossad: The Spy Story at the Heart of the Jeffrey Epstein Scandal appeared first on MintPress News.

This Iran War Vet Has Some Advice for Trump: Don’t Play Checkers with the Grandmasters of Chess

Wed, 2019-08-07 21:07

Dear President Trump,

In a recent Tweet, you claimed that “Iranians never won a war, but never lost a negotiation.” As a world citizen and a veteran of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, I have firsthand experience with the bitterness of war, and I have a few suggestions and responses for you.

First, I would advise you against using the words win and winning to describe war, especially from a US perspective. American history is filled with bitter experiences of losing wars. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and even the engagement in Yemen—none of these horrifying interventions has ever reached their goals.

You should recognize that the first step in any combat is understanding your adversary. As an experienced Iranian war veteran, I strongly suggest you study the culture and history of an old civilization like Iran. Iranians, those you label as living in a “terrorist nation,” are proud that in the past 250 years we have never initiated a war. We are proud that we have never invaded, intruded and oppressed other nations, neither in our neighborhood nor even in response to our foes.

Nonetheless, there is a delicacy in the sophisticated culture of Iran that separates us from you and your hawkish #Bteam—Bolton, Bin Salman and Bibi Netanyahu. The major difference is the view we each have toward war. For us, war is not an option; we never choose to go to war; we only respond to war.

In 1915, during WWI, Rais Ali Delvary, a young man from a tiny village near the Persian Gulf, gathered a group together to defend the country from the British invaders. They stopped the intruders who violated Iran’s neutrality during the war. Rais Ali’s slogan at the time is still applicable today. “We are in this war not to win over the invaders’ capital and assets; we are in this war to save our capital and assets from loss.” That is how we define losing and winning in a war. Rais Ali and his people won that war, as his disciples did almost a century later, and will do it again if they have to.

Mr. President, Iran has never initiated a war. Iran has never seized other nations’ resources to gain wealth and benefit for itself but Iran, of course, has and will vigorously defend its belongings, resources, life, and identity. Iran has done that throughout its four thousand years of history and will do it again if necessary. Rais Ali and his team did it in 1915. People in my generation did it in 1980-88 when the whole world stood behind Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain and helped him throughout those terrible eight years of war. We Iranians sacrificed everything to defend our nation.

Under the world’s watch, Saddam Hussain dropped bombs and used chemical weapons on civilians. In the end, he was not able to seize even an inch of our homeland. Iranians became one body in defense of our homes and families.

We lost hundreds of thousands of precious lives. To this day, Iranians, despite our differences, are all proud of the eight years we spent defending our country. Losing so many lives was a terrible tragedy and the nation still mourns the lives lost during those eight years. However, we stood firm and saved our homeland. Iran is still Iran; we did not lose an inch of terrain.

Mr. President, in our lexicon, the one who starts a war is the only loser. The one who plans to steal the happiness, life, and wellbeing of others is the real loser.

War is not our business, but negotiations and diplomacy are. War is not our purpose. Peace is our mission. Peace is our philosophy in life, and you are right, diplomacy is our art.

Iran has proven its mastery in the art of diplomacy. Diplomacy, forbearance and patience are inclinations that cannot be achieved by billions of dollars of weapons. The United States’ allies in the region, including Saudi’s Bin-Salman and Israel’s Bibi Netanhayu, can testify to that. They have spent many billions of dollars in arms sales but have not been able to dominate Iran.

Just be aware, Mr. President, that your friends on the #Bteam are pushing you into the same quagmire they created with Iraq. In desperation, they have now tied the hands of our master of diplomacy, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, by imposing sanctions on him. They should have learned their lesson by now—they might be able to ties the hands of our master chessplayers, but we will find other ways to move the pawns and horses. And a final word of advice: Don’t play checkers with the grandmasters of chess.


Habib Ahmadzadeh

Feature photo | Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks to the media after arriving at Viru Viru International Airport in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, early, July 23, 2019. Zarif is on a tour of Latin America that includes Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia. Juan Karita | AP

The post This Iran War Vet Has Some Advice for Trump: Don’t Play Checkers with the Grandmasters of Chess appeared first on MintPress News.

A Syrian Leader Tells His Country’s Story: An Interview with SAA General Hassan Hassan

Tue, 2019-08-06 03:46

For years, international headlines spotlighting Syria have claimed that the Syrian government, army, and its allies were guilty of a variety of atrocities. Yet as time has passed, many of the accusations levied at government and its allies have been shown to have been either falsified, staged (as in the case of allegations of chemical attacks in eastern Ghouta), or actually committed by the myriad terrorist groups operating in the country.

For their part, Syrian leadership has maintained from the start that the uprisings leading to the civil war in their country were not peaceful. Media in the West and the Gulf vilified Syria’s leadership, featuring story after story of government-imposed violence while ignoring or whitewashing the violence of the burgeoning armed groups flooding into Syria.

From as early as 2011, armed groups were throwing civilians from rooftops and committing beheadings, kidnappings, and massacres. The year 2011 alone saw multiple massacres of civilians and security forces committed by what the media called “unarmed protesters” and later by the “Free Syrian Army.” This was the same year that many in the media were insisting that a “peaceful revolution” was underway.

Since that time, those same armed groups, as well as the many iterations they spawned, have starved, tortured, imprisoned, murdered, maimed and even harvested the organs of Syrian civilians, in addition to killing Syrian and allied soldiers and journalists and destroying much of the country’s infrastructure.

To give a voice to the often ignored “other side” — those Syrians that have been working to defend their country since 2011 —  Eva Bartlett interviewed the Syrian Arab Army’s Head of Political Administration, General Hassan Hassan. A stout military man with styled hair and a clean shave, General Hassan’s shelves and large wooden desk are covered with stacks of books, family photos, and various homages to the country he serves — the general holds a Ph.D. in geopolitical studies. The following is a transcript of Bartlett’s interview with Hassan following the 74th anniversary of the founding of the Syrian Arab Army.


Eva Bartlett (EB) | I would like to begin by asking you your thoughts on how honest Western and Gulf media’s reporting on Syria has been, especially regarding their choice of lexicon — for example, regarding the Syrian Army, the Syrian Government, what they call rebels — and the events in Syria in general.

General Hassan (GH) | Media has been one of the weapons of mass destruction used in this war on Syria. The biased media, in addition to the takfiri [Salafi] fatwas — especially the fatwas — have been the weapons that contributed most to the destruction taking place in Syria, including the destruction of human beings, vegetation, civilization,…everything.

President Bashar al-Assad emphasized more than once the necessity of countering the rhetoric used. I can elaborate for two or more hours on the terms used. However, I will limit myself to some examples.

The Free [Syrian] Army is among the lexicons used. What “army” and what “freedom” are they talking about? Every army is known for its discipline, hierarchy, fighting strategies in both defense and attack, and the cause it fights for.

The so-called Free Syrian Army has none of these qualities, except for the ability to kill. The media tried to put into circulation the term Assad’s Brigades or Assad’s Forces. Our army is the Syrian Arab Army, which includes in each of its formations soldiers from all Syrian governorates, with no exception.

I’ll give you an example. Almost three months ago, the militants supported by Turkey targeted a Syrian army position to the north of Latakia. Twelve soldiers were martyred as a result. Each soldier is from a different governorate. This is the Syrian Arab Army. 

They used the term “defection.” There is no defection in the Syrian Arab Army; defection did not really occur in the Syrian Arab Army but there are some cases of soldiers running away. The term “defection” is used when a brigade or a squad defect from a certain army. Until now, the Syrian Arab Army has not witnessed what might be called defection even within its smallest units.

In order to spread the idea of defection they resorted to unsophisticated lies. In 2012 they said that General Mohammad al-Rifa’i, commander of the Fifth Squad, had defected from the army. This lie was circulated through the media. Yet, Syrian TV interviewed the general, who had retired in 2001, 11 years prior.

Gangs would stop civilian or military vehicles on highways, hold soldiers hostages, film them and force them at gunpoint to declare that they had defected [from the army].

I’ll give an example available from the internet of their lies regarding the term the Free Syrian Army. Anyone can check the Free Syrian Army term through Google. We type Abu Saqr al-Asadi — right here, I have typed Abu Saqr al-Souri [the Syrian]. We now find [the result] “face to face with the fighter Abu Saqr al-Asadi who ate the heart of a soldier.” (Abu Saqr is also transliterated as Abu Sakkar, as per the BBC article referred to by General Hassan).

That was in 2013 when he was filmed cutting into the chest of the soldier and eating his heart. It is here on Google from the BBC Arabic website. This is not a Syrian media outlet. It is a Western outlet. It is not a pleasant sight to watch him chewing the soldier’s heart.

Abu Saqr al-Asadi was a fighter in the Al-Farouq Brigades, which was an armed rebel organization formed by the Free Syrian Army. When he died he was a member of the Nusra Front. So, he was a member of the Free Syrian Army, used to be with the Farouq Brigades, and then joined the Nusra Front.

I could speak for hours about the issue of lexicon. For instance, they talked about what is called the armed opposition. How could opposition be armed?! Opposition is a political term. Opposition is a political party that did not win elections. Such a party plays the role of opposition in the parliament. These militant groups want to govern the country, the people and everything by armed force. Does this sound normal? Never was there a term called “armed opposition,” except when they spoke about these terrorist gangs.


EB | So in the article you’ve just shown, the English version, the BBC did not report it as an act of carnage. They humanized Abu Saqr and asked him what drove him to do such a desperate act?

GH | This is the media war. Either they say he is violent or they say he is an angel; hasn’t he demonstrated how he cut out an organ and ate a piece of it? When the BBC describes a man who ate the heart of a dead soldier as a peaceful man, how then would they describe beasts?


EB | Regarding events in Syria in 2011, both Western and Gulf media called it a peaceful unarmed uprising for many months, even for up to a year. Do you have an example of attacks by what the West called unarmed protesters against the Syrian army, police or security forces in 2011?

GH | In 2011 they said the reason behind the first spark was that the army, or another security body, pulled out the nails of some children in Dara`a. Over the past eight years, it has become clear that all of the armed groups are equipped with video cameras and live-streaming devices. Can any of them provide us with a video of one child whose nails were pulled out? Where are these children? Why couldn’t the media that fabricated such lies film the pulled-out nails?

Let’s go back to the peaceful uprising. On April 10, 2011, less than a month after the beginning of the so-called uprising, an army convoy transporting soldiers back to their homes was intercepted on the highway from Tartous to Banias. Nine people were martyred: two officers, five warrant officers, and two civilians. They also fired at the ambulances that tried to reach the wounded.

Other examples are the Nawa massacre in Dara`a, the Jisr al-Shoghur massacre, and the Asi River massacre — where they live-streamed the dumping of people into the river. All these massacres were perpetrated before the end of June 2011.

That is the peaceful [Arab] spring the Western and Gulf media talked about. 

Are these examples enough, or should I cite more? It’s important to me that Western readers know how many lies and how much deception there has been, especially by the media.

I’ll give you another minor example. Usually, the BBC, Al-Jazeera and France 24, etc. would broadcast that an explosion took place in a certain area. However, there was no explosion. But 15 to 30 minutes later an explosion would take place in the same area. It was like a code to the armed groups to carry out the explosion. 

I’ll provide you with a more comprehensive example. When the area of Ma`raba [near al-Tal, a suburb of Damascus] was targeted by the Israeli enemy, cameras were focused on the targeted area even before the missiles hit.


EB | So, they were ready?

GH | The cameras were aimed at the area where the missiles were supposed to hit. At the moment that the missiles hit the targeted area, members of armed groups began cheering “Allahu Akbar… Allahu Akbar.” This was documented by their cameras; definitely not Syrian media cameras. At the same time, armed groups in eastern Ghouta attacked Damascus from seven fronts.

As an ordinary person — not as a military figure– I could tell it was a role carried out by three. First, the one who carried out the aggression, and that is the Zionist entity [Israel].

Second, the media outlets that were assigned to broadcast the aggression before it was carried out.  And third, the armed groups who attacked Damascus. Therefore, the cameraman and those militants are substitute recruits of the Israeli enemy. I cannot call them but the substitute army of Israel and the United States.

According to confessions by Israeli and American officials, including previous U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ISIS was made by America. Later on, ISIS was classified as a terrorist organization.

Thus, those terrorists made in the U.S. are the rebels of the peaceful [Arab] spring later circulated in the region by means of the foreign media outlets.


EB | According to Israeli media, Israel is fighting terrorism, Muslim extremists. However, there are reports of Israel treating militants or terrorists in Israeli hospitals. Can you please outline Israel’s role in the war on Syria?

GH | Everything that has taken place in Syria and in the region — all the blaze erupting in the region,  under what they falsely called the Arab Spring — serves the interests of Israel. These are not my own conclusions; rather, it is the Israeli media who talk about this. The Israeli prime minister appeared on television when he visited wounded terrorists, injured while fighting the Syrian army, being treated in Israeli hospitals. This is number one.

The other issue is that every time the Syrian Arab Army is making an apparent advance, Israel conducts an aggression [airstrike]. When Israel is unable to achieve its objective, it seeks the help of the United States, just as it did when the U.S. Air Force targeted the Tharda Mountains in Deir ez-Zor as the Syrian army was en route to clear Deir ez-Zor of terrorists.

I hope that you underscore the following statement: Those who sponsor terrorism don’t fight it. Israel is an entity based on both killing and falsehood. When Palestine was already inhabited, they claimed that Palestine was a land without people and wanted to give it to people without a land. Thus, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, gave what the U.K. didn’t own to those who didn’t deserve it.

In 2019, Trump did the same and gave the Golan to Israel as if Trump inherited it from his own father. Who gave Trump the right to give other people’s property to others? The issue here is that international law needs power to protect it. Unfortunately, the United States is still the superpower of the world and the financial and economic despot of the world. U.S. officials are indifferent to falsehood, humanity, law or human rights. All this means nothing to them.

I would like to remind foreign readers that Iraq was destroyed under the pretext of having weapons of mass destruction. The whole world still recalls Colin Powell when he presented what he called a satellite image as evidence of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction. When Powell left office, he admitted to U.S. media outlets that that moment was the darkest in his lifetime. The question is: When did he admit it? How many innocent victims were killed as a result?

How come a sovereign state was occupied without international legitimacy? American officials don’t care about this. Wherever the U.S. has interfered around the world, the result has been more killing, destruction, and suffering and successive U.S. administrations are competing to serve Israel. 


EB | Syria has been accused of using chemical weapons against civilians. Does the Syrian army use chemical weapons against civilians?

GH |  An official mission came to Syria and demanded that the Syrian government carry out an official investigation. They delayed for years before the mission arrived. And those who came submitted an untruthful report. A while ago, I received British journalist Vanessa Beeley. At the headquarters of the United Nations, she showed a film documenting how such claims were fabricated. 

Syria signed the agreement and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) visited Syria and checked all places and the existing stockpile [of chemical weapons] was destroyed on a U.S. vessel. Accordingly, The OPCW announced that Syria was chemical

The Syrian Government has been accused of using chemical weapons many times, in eastern Ghouta and in other areas. Under this pretext, [th U.S. and its allies] launched their aggression on Syria. Syria affirmed many times through statements by Syrian officials, both before and after the agreement was signed, that Syria does not in any way intend to use chemical weapons and that Syria has not used nor will it use chemical weapons.

After the declaration of this organization [OPCW] that Syria is free from chemical weapons, how could Syria use something that it does not have? Despite evidence that chemical substances and weapons entered into areas under the control of militant groups in Syria through Turkish borders, investigations were not resumed.

There are a number of videos showing how the armed groups were the ones using chemical weapons themselves. Each time Syria was accused of using chemical weapons, the Syrian army was on the verge of finishing a military operation. Is it logical they’d use chemical weapons — which would prevent the declaration of victory?

With regard to their claim of using chemicals in Ghouta, the areas there are interconnected. Those who use chemical weapons cannot protect themselves. When those terrorists used chemicals there, both the civilians and the military were hit, as was the case in Khan al-Asal and elsewhere. This was exposed in the [UN] Security Council by Bashar al-Ja’afari. 

Syria does not possess chemical weapons. Syria has never used chemical weapons before. Syria cannot use a chemical weapon for a simple reason, or for two reasons in fact: Ethically, Syria does not believe in using chemicals [weapons]. This is number one. Second, Syria does not own chemical weapons.


EB | The Rukban Camp is near the U.S. base of al-Tanf. One question is about the U.S. relationship with ISIS in that area and whether or not America has been fighting ISIS in the area. Also, according to Western media, refugees evacuated from Rukban to centers in Homs, for example, are taken and thrown in prison.

For example, the Canadian Globe & Mail, citing a Qatari-based organization, said that from 2017 to 2019 around 2,000 Syrians who returned to government-controlled areas (in general and not from Rukban specifically) were detained and 784 are still in prison. How would you reply to accusations that people returning home were detained or forced to serve in the Syrian army?

GH | In relation to ISIS and the U.S., I can say that a mother does not eat her own son. ISIS is a U.S. product, according to American confessions. However, America sometimes becomes a cat and eats some of its own kittens when they become a burden. 

America uses ISIS, fights with ISIS, not against ISIS. Whenever the role of some armed ISIS fighters comes to an end, the U.S. abandons or gets rid of them. The U.S. does not care whether those members get killed or not. 

However, when the U.S. needs them, it sends helicopters to evacuate them, just like what happened when Deir ez-Zor was liberated. American helicopters would land and evacuate ISIS leaders together with their families and fly them somewhere else.

Rukban Camp is within the sight of the Americans in the Tanf base. U.S. surveillance can distinguish a hen from a rooster on a street anywhere in the world. How is it that ISIS members are able to move at the Tanf border without being observed by the U.S. military there? How can the U.S. convince the world that it is fighting ISIS when the latter’s members move freely under U.S. observation? 

Four months ago, I was working with the Head of the Russian Reconciliation Centre, General Victor Kopcheshen. He told me that the Russian government received an official reply from the Americans that they would not allow any Syrian or Russian to come close to the 55-kilometer line around Rukban Camp to help evacuate people from the camp.

Less than four months ago we first began evacuating a few hundred [people] from Rukban. Now, the number of people who returned from Rukban Camp has exceeded 15,000 (As of July 31, that number has reached 17,458 according to Russia’s Ministry of Defense). Can anyone provide me with the name of even one person who left Rukban and got detained? These claims are flagrant lies.

Author’s note | I asked officials at the UN about the accusation that the Syrian government was imprisoning former residents of Rukban, I detailed their reply in a separate article for MintPress:

“David Swanson, Public Information Officer Regional Office for the Syria Crisis UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs based in Amman, Jordan, told me regarding claims of substandard conditions and of Syrians being forcefully held or mistreated in the centers that:

‘People leaving Rukban are taken to temporary collective shelters in Homs for a 24-hour stay. While there, the receive basic assistance, including shelter, blankets, mattresses, solar lamps, sleeping mats, plastic sheets, food parcels and nutrition supplies before proceeding to their areas of choice, mostly towards southern and eastern Homs, with smaller small numbers going to rural Damascus or Deir-ez-Zor.

The United Nations has been granted access to the shelters on three occasions and has found the situation there adequate. The United Nations continues to advocate and call for safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian assistance and access to Rukban as well as to all those in need throughout Syria. The United Nations also seeks the support of all concerned parties in ensuring the humanitarian and voluntary character of departures from Rukban.’

Hedinn Halldorsson, the Spokesperson and Public Information Officer for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) based in Damascus, told me:

‘We looked into this when the rumours started, end of April, and concluded they were unfounded – and communicated that externally via press briefings in both Geneva and NY. The conditions in the shelters in Homs are also adequate and in compliance with standards; the UN has access and has done three monitoring visits so far.’”

GH | I would like to stress a point concerning military service in the army. Several presidential decrees have been issued. Any Syrian citizen [living] abroad who wishes to settle his status and return to Syria can benefit from those decrees, which invalidate any other verdict issued against that Syrian citizen. 

These decrees do not nullify a Syrian citizen’s rights nor their duties. Syrian citizens who return to Syria are still Syrian citizens and therefore still have the duties of Syrian citizens. The decrees granted them a grace period of six months to settle their legal status. 

For example, a person who lost their official ID, or army service registry or anything, can settle their legal status during this period. It is a normal official procedure to call for duty those who are subject to mandatory or reserve military service. This procedure has been applied to all Syrian citizens in all provinces, not only those who return. 

I cannot say just respect the rights and ignore the duties. Everyone is equal before the law. They have to obey what Syrian law states and the majority of them are loyal and doing their duties enthusiastically. 

But the people who have their status settled do not have the right to commit a crime. If I had a son living abroad who returned and settled his status, does it give him the right to commit an offense against his neighbors or to kill somebody or commit a crime? The law is the law and must be adhered to.


EB | Western media say that Iran and Russia’s presence in Syria is an attempt to occupy Syria and control it. What are the roles of Iran and Russia in Syria?

GH | Before I answer your question, let us decide what logic we’re using. Are we using the logic of international law or the law of the jungle? Who has the right to speak in the name of the Syrian people? It is only the Syrian state that has the right to speak in the name of the Syrian people. No other side has the right to speak for them. Surely, those who are speaking in the name of the Syrian people do not know the Syrian people. It is really strange that the governments of those who kill the Syrian people are acting as if they were advocates of the Syrian people.

According to international law, it is the right of any state to defend itself when such a country faces hazards endangering its own existence. Such a country has the right to defend its existence and sovereignty by using all means possible. In this respect, this country has the right to rely on its relations with friends and allies as well, no matter whether those allies are Russian, Iranian or any other ally. Neither the U.S., Israel nor the Gulf states have anything to do with this. It is a matter of Syrian sovereignty.

The other thing has to do with the military presence of any country on the territory of another state. Such a presence can be legal in one of the following two cases: when invited by the state concerned, or through a resolution issued by the [UN] Security Council. Otherwise, such a presence is an occupation.

Therefore, there is no reason for the Syrian state to be ashamed of its stance on the presence of Iran or Russia in Syria. The Syrian State declares its stances clearly and explicitly: that the presence of Iran, Russia and Hezbollah is based upon an official invitation by the Syrian government. Thus, their presence is legal according to international law. Can anyone in the West — or the media outlets who claim to be neutral — convince any Syrian citizen that the U.S. presence or the Turkish presence is legal?

The Syrian State says they are forces of occupation. There is no [UN] Security Council resolution allowing them to be present in Syria. So what is the meaning behind their presence? They are using the law of force, rather than the force of law. Thus, they are referring back to the law of the jungle and not to the force of international law.

Those occupiers support terrorism, created terrorism, and are still financing it according to a confession made by the former Qatari prime minister that his country spent $37 billion to arm and finance armed groups in Syria. The Qatari PM confessed that his country and the armed groups had agreed to destroy Syria. Yet, they disputed when things went out of their control. They paid the armed groups to hunt the prey. However, they disputed among themselves when the prey escaped.


EB | Syria welcomed Palestinian refugees and has supported the Palestinian resistance. Could you please explain the role of some Palestinians in the events in Syria within the past few years, whether in fighting terrorism or supporting it.

GH | The Syrian State does not deal with people and does not take stances based on reactions. The Syrian state has its own constants and principles, and it [continues to] adhere to these constants and principles even in its ninth year of war. Syria still believes that the cause of Palestine is the central cause of the Arab world. 

So, when some Palestinian groups choose to affiliate themselves with the Muslim Brotherhood rather than being loyal to the Palestinian cause and to Syria, it makes Syria [even] more committed to its principles. Especially as these days, the world knows well that the Muslim Brotherhood [has become] the basis of evil since they’ve adopted terrorism. 

The Palestinian cause remains the central cause. Syria will always take interest in the Palestinian cause, in spite of the fact that some [Palestinians] were eager to be part of the war on the Syrian State. Even though weapons that were supposed to be used to fight Israel were used in the war on Syrian citizens. 

The Syrian State is now recovering and history will remember those [Palestinians] as traitors. History will show that Syria has been, and will be, loyal to the Palestinian cause. 

The Yarmouk Camp is back under Syrian sovereignty. The camp is now free from those who carried weapons and used them against Syrian citizens, whatever names they used — ISIS, Nusra or otherwise — and regardless of their nationality, Palestinian or otherwise. All of them are now gone, thanks to the sacrifices made by the Syrian people the heroism of the Syrian Arab Army and the wisdom of our leader, President Bashar al-Assad.


EB | Some Palestinians remained loyal to Syria, including in fighting terrorism, like the Quds Brigade…

GH | Yes, of course. Surely. There are loyal people even inside occupied Palestine. Not all people are ungrateful to those who help them. Not all people bite the hand that is stretched out to help them. Only traitors bite that hand.


EB | When eastern Aleppo and eastern Ghouta were being liberated, Western and international media said that the Syrian army was massacring and raping civilians there and that both the Syrian and the Russian militaries were bombing hospitals. Now, they are saying that 29 hospitals in Idlib have been targeted. What would you say about these accusations?

GH | We have liberated eastern Ghouta. We have also liberated eastern Aleppo. In both locations, a number of field hospitals were shown on television with piles of medicine. This implies that these hospitals were not bombed. This is very briefly. 

The other point is that when a building is selected as a command center for armed groups under the pretext of its being a hospital, does this mean we should let those positioned in eastern Ghouta target Damascus on a daily basis with their shells? 

Didn’t the world watch those angels of mercy, when they entered Adra industrial town, burning people alive in ovens and throwing civilians off fourth and fifth floors? 

We’re talking about war here, we’re talking here about armies of terrorists equipped with light, medium and heavy weapons and empires of media around the world, in addition to the regional and world powers supporting them. 

It is the duty of the Syrian State, before being its own right, to provide the Syrian people with protection against terrorism. The problem with the national Syrian media is that it does not reach the West. 

Crossing points are identified as corridors for the exit of civilians before any military operation gets started in a populated area. Such corridors are then equipped with ambulances, medical services and every other need. Who targeted the nurses, doctors and civilians on their way out when citizens were evacuated from eastern Ghouta? 

Has anybody seen the photo of the Syrian soldier carrying an old woman on his back and a child on his arm? That soldier knew he could drop as a martyr carrying this heavy load. Other soldiers fell as martyrs while they were helping civilians escape.

That number, 29 hospitals, is a lie in itself. It is more than the number of [national] hospitals available all over Syria. Do they allocate a hospital for every twenty or thirty people? This is illogical.

There is also something strange about all the field hospitals that we discovered. Saudi, Israeli and U.S. medicine was found in these hospitals. How did such medicine reach the terrorists? Did it come from underneath the ground? 

And those who had been targeting Damascus and Aleppo are all of sudden depicted as angels of mercy, peace and freedom advocates calling for democracy?

It’s worth pointing out to people in the West that it has been proven that only a limited number of the fighters in armed groups came from western Europe and North America, while tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, came from other countries. 

The Turkish president declares that such terrorists are free to leave Syrian territory whenever he gets upset with Europe or the U.S. Subsequently, EU countries and the U.S. get so horrified at the possibility of those terrorists returning home. 

The EU countries and the U.S. do not want any of those terrorists to return. Why is it that they do not want them to come back? Are they not their own citizens? They say that such terrorists will spread terrorism, so they spread terrorism there while they plant roses and flowers here? Is it okay for terrorists to spread terror here while they’re forbidden to return to their own countries? 

Briefly, these are the types of lies spread by the West. 

I’m calling on each and every citizen of Western countries, as I am absolutely sure that they have pure human emotion, not to believe the Western media. I want them to be certain that their governments have participated in the killing of the Syrian people and in the killing of Syrian children. Their governments participated in the killing of Syrian women and the killing of the Syrian elderly and convinced them [Western citizens] that they were promoting something else [freedom].


EB | Recently, journalists from CBS and Sky News were in Idlib. I believe one of the two groups, Sky News, claimed that it was targeted by the Syrian army. Could they be reporting independently of al-Qaeda or any of the other terrorist groups in Idlib? They claim they are not [embedded] with al-Qaeda. Is this feasible? Is this realistic? 

GH | It’s a funny question. You’re a journalist. Surely, this is not the first time you have visited Syria. Have you faced any obstacles while entering Syria as a journalist? Do any Western or European countries accept the entry of foreign journalists illegally into their countries? 

Sky News, the BBC, and Al Jazeera teams conduct live transmissions while embedded with armed groups — the terrorists. I wish that the mental power of the Syrian soldiers could become super advanced so that they can order shells to avoid foreign correspondents who are side by side with terrorists. The army is responding to attacks launched by terrorists — soldiers and officers of the Syrian army cannot give orders to an exploding shell to avoid this or that. 

The most important question is this: What are they doing there? How did they enter? Who is in control in Idlib? Isn’t it the Nusra Front? How are they [the journalists] allowed to be there? They are there under the protection of the Nusra Front. They are under the protection of an internationally-designated terrorist organization. Their countries should hold them accountable for communicating with terrorist groups before asking why the army is targeting them.


EB | How can Idlib be liberated when Turkish forces occupy northern Syria and there are civilians in Idlib, in addition to the 70,000 al-Qaeda and other terrorist fighters?

GH | There were civilians and armed groups in Homs. There were civilians and armed groups in Ghouta as well. There were civilians and armed groups all over Dara`a.  All these regions have been liberated. The majority of citizens remained there while the terrorists were wiped out. Idlib is no exception. Eastern parts of the Euphrates are no exception either. 

Each square centimeter of Syrian land is part and parcel of Syria as a whole. It is the duty and the right of the Syrian State to eradicate terrorism.

Unless under an invitation by the Syrian government, any foreign military presence on the Syrian territory is a force of occupation. The Syrian State is entitled to face such an occupation with every possible means.

The Syrian State has opened the door wide for reconciliation. The Syrian State trusts the wisdom of Russian and Iranian friends and relies on its relations with Turkey.

Surely each Syrian citizen, civilian or military, wishes that not even one drop of blood be spilled. This does not mean to yield to occupation in any way.

Idlib will be freed either through reconciliations or a political agreement. Otherwise, the Syrian State will find the means to liberate Idlib in the same way it liberated all other regions. I am absolutely certain — not as an officer but rather as a citizen — I know how Syrian citizens think; they believe that Idlib will be freed, as will each and every inch of the Syrian territory.

The presence of U.S., Turkish, or any other occupation force does not mean such a force is a destiny that cannot be faced. As long as we [the Syrian State] spare no effort or means — whether military, political, economic or diplomatic —  to win this war [against terrorism] by God’s will, and I hope it is not going to be through military action. But if things reach a dead-end, Idlib will not remain under occupation.


EB | Can you speak to the importance of liberating Idlib, not only for Syria’s territorial integrity but also for the villages in Northern Hama that are affected by terrorists in Idlib? The media is not talking about Mahardeh, Sqailbiyeh and other places being attacked by terrorists.

GH | When Mhardeh and Sqailbiyeh are targeted, as a Syrian citizen, I do not see these two towns as less important than Damascus. Likewise when the neighborhoods of Homs were targeted. 

All areas inhabited by Syrian citizens under the control of the Syrian State have been targets for those armed terrorist groups that are supported by the West, which claims it is standing by human rights and cares about the interests of the Syrian people.

For Syrian citizens, the liberation of each centimeter, or rather each grain of sand, is as important as the liberation of Idlib. Of course, the existence of armed groups in Idlib leads to abnormal circumstances that cause dysfunction in citizens’ daily lives. Thus, it is important to liberate Idlib to guarantee the return of normal life in Mahardeh, Sqailbiyeh and other areas. 

At the same time, it is important to end the occupation by the U.S. and its allies. 

I hope that each European or American citizen will ask: Why do Syrian citizens return to areas that have been liberated? Why do citizens welcome the army? Why do citizens — except those who are held hostage by terrorists — flee from areas under the control of terrorist groups?

The civilians residing in terrorist-held areas are helpless hostages. A year ago all of the neighborhoods in eastern Ghouta were populated by terrorists. If the Syrian army had been shelling civilians in the past, why not do now? Why are people now living in peace there?

These are questions that I put forward to people living in the West. I hope they are human enough to ask [themselves] these questions.


EB | Regarding misinformation from international media on the Syrian Arab Army, portraying them as murderers and rapists. Can you speak about the sacrifices of the Syrian Arab Army throughout these eight years of war?

GH | I will answer your question with a question. Syria is an area of 185,000 square kilometers. According to United Nations documents, 360,000 armed terrorists infiltrated Syrian territory.

I would like to draw an example other than Syria. I’ll give the U.S., the superpower of the world, as an example. Let’s suppose that 36,000, rather than 360,000, terrorists infiltrate any state of the United States. That’s 10 percent of the number of terrorists who made their way into Syria. Let’s also suppose that such terrorists are supported by world powers. What would have happened to the U.S.?

The achievements of the Syrian Arab Army are not ordinary; these achievements are miraculous accomplishments. 

The two greatest armies in modern history have failed to achieve what the Syrian Army has accomplished. In Afghanistan, fewer than 10 percent of the number of terrorists in Syria were able to defeat two armies: the Red Soviet Army and the U.S. Army. 

But, the Syrian Army defeated such terrorism. According to military theory, any fight between an army and terrorist militia of armed gangs will end with the armed gangs winning. This has been evident throughout military history.

For the first time in the history of humankind, a traditional army has defeated armies of militant groups. The Syrian Army fought battles that can be classified as new in military science. The Syrian Army fought above ground and underground battles in addition to their battles against the media war, intelligence war, information war, economic war, gang and street-to-street wars. Despite all of that, the Syrian Army achieved victory. Therefore, can we imagine the magnitude of the sacrifices made in this respect by the Syrian Army?

In the first months of this war, the Syrian leadership realized that the terrorists wanted Syrians to be used to seeing blood everywhere. So, soldiers were forbidden from carrying weapons, even handguns, when they went to areas of so-called demonstrations to prevent demonstrators from destroying infrastructure. 

For months the soldiers confronted the militants knowing that they could be martyred. However, the discipline of the Syrian army pushed the soldiers to do their missions without carrying a weapon.

Let any Western citizen imagine how it would be for a soldier with no weapons facing armed militants to stop them from destroying infrastructure and targeting civilians. 

This is the Syrian army. The Syrian army cleared most of the Syrian regions occupied by the fiercest types of terrorism ever witnessed in the history of mankind.


EB |  Thank you very much for your time and for the interview in general.

GH |  I also would like to thank you all for what you’ve done so far and for all of the questions you raised. I kindly request that you share my replies with foreign readers.

Personally, I think your role as an objective journalist transcends the traditional role of journalism. It reflects an ethical responsibility of telling the truth about what you’ve seen. If you want to help the Syrian people, the greatest help you can offer the Syrian people is to tell the truth you have seen with your own eyes, not just what is said all over the internet.

Again, anyone can look up Abu Saqr al-Souri and see how he ate the heart of a dead soldier. He was a member of the so-called peaceful group of the Free Syrian Army, when he was killed — he was with the Nusra Front. This can be enough to convey the message.

Feature photo | Syrian General Hassan Hassan, center, is interviewed by Eva Bartlett, right in his office. A translator is seated to the left. Photo | Eva Bartlett

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian independent journalist and activist. She has spent years on the ground covering conflict zones in the Middle East, especially in Syria and occupied Palestine, where she lived for nearly four years. She is a recipient of the 2017 International Journalism Award for International Reporting, granted by the Mexican Journalists’ Press Club (founded in 1951), was the first recipient of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism, and was short-listed in 2017 for the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. See her extended bio on her blog In Gaza. She tweets at @EvaKBartlett

The post A Syrian Leader Tells His Country’s Story: An Interview with SAA General Hassan Hassan appeared first on MintPress News.

The End of a Cocaine-Fueled Presidency? Juan Orlando Hernandez Faces Regime Change in Honduras

Tue, 2019-08-06 00:01

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS — Flanked by ministers and military and police leadership, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez — embattled after being slapped with new drug trafficking allegations in the U.S. — held a press conference on the night of Saturday, August 3rd to declare his innocence. The accusations against him include funneling cocaine profits into his re-election campaign and shielding his brother and other drug kingpins from prosecution.

While Hernandez’s presidency is infamous for its categorical illegality under the constitution, his time in office has also seen Honduras turn into the hemisphere’s largest throughway for drugs. Meanwhile, the damage to society done by neoliberal austerity measures backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and violent repression by police and death squads has brought about steady flows of migrants out of the country and to the southern border of the U.S.

But Juan Orlando’s enemies — he said on Saturday — are really just angry at the phenomenal success of his anti-drug policies and have made false charges against him. Among those complicit in this sinister attempt at revenge were his political rivals, former president Mel Zelaya (ousted in the U.S.-supported 2009 coup) and Salvador Nasralla. Nasralla, the candidate of the Opposition Alliance, was the rightful winner of the 2017 Honduran presidential election, but Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) was able to snatch it from him in a re-election for a second term that was unconstitutional in Honduras but backed nonetheless by the United States. Fraud by JOH’s National Party is also widely recognized.

In response to the accusations against him, JOH promised to crack down harder than ever before on organized crime: 

I call on all good Hondurans…to join together…to continue in the struggle to recuperate our country as we have been doing…and finally finish off all these criminal organizations that have caused so much suffering and pain for the Honduran people. We continue to fully collaborate with national and international authorities…so that anyone who has broken the law will face justice…because no one is above the law.”