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MintCast Episode 1: Venezuela, Ecaudor and Netanyahu

Sat, 2019-04-20 06:57



Whitney Webb and Alan MacLeod discuss this week’s headlines, including Venezuela leaving the OAS, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election in Israel on the anniversary of the Deir Yassin Massacre and Lenin Moreno’s move towards authoritarianism in Ecuador.

The post MintCast Episode 1: Venezuela, Ecaudor and Netanyahu appeared first on MintPress News.

Thought Police: US, Israel Increasingly Banning & Deporting Ideological Enemies

Sat, 2019-04-20 04:54

TEL AVIV/WASHINGTON — Israel and the U.S. are simultaneously stepping up repression in the form of travel restrictions against critics of the apartheid state.

A Palestinian activist has been barred from entering the U.S. while an advocate with a leading human rights NGO – Human Rights Watch (HRW) – faced a ruling on Tuesday in Israeli courts which upheld the government’s deportation order against him.

Last week, the U.S. banned a founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, one Omar Barghouti, from entering its soil. Though the government’s official explanation was “immigration reasons,” there is plentiful evidence to suspect the ban was meant as a reprisal for his non-violent advocacy.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or popularly, BDS, is a campaign to economically pressure apartheid Israel into compliance with international law through boycotts of the government and Israeli companies.

Breaking: An Israeli court has reinstated my deportation, saying @hrw’s work calling on businesses to stop facilitating abuses in settlements constitutes boycott. They have given me until May 1 to leave, but we're appealing to Supreme Court. Our statement https://t.co/3118R0VWmf https://t.co/bCuUEQkRzn

— Omar Shakir (@OmarSShakir) April 16, 2019

Ariel Gold, national co-director of the anti-war women’s group Codepink, was deported last year from Israel after landing at Ben Gurion Airport. She told MintPress News:

I was denied entry and deported from Israel–even despite my being Jewish–solely for my political positions and peaceful BDS work for Palestinian rights. Last week the Trump administration partnered with Israel in the destruction of free speech when they denied BDS movement founder Omar Barghouti entry to the U.S”

Now Israel is deporting Omar Shakir, a human rights researcher from one of the world most credible human rights organizations–Human Rights Watch–for his and HRW’s peaceful advocacy to call on Israel should abide by international law and end its human rights abuses. This is shameful!”

Prior to her deportation, Gold had obtained a visa to study at Hebrew University. Anti-BDS minister (also known as the Minister for Strategic Affairs) Gilad Erdan said at the time:

We prevented Ariel Gold, an extreme boycott activist, from entering the country. Our policy is clear: Those who campaign towards boycotting Israel and come here in order to cause harm — won’t be allowed to enter the country. The rules have changed, and Israel will not show restraint towards those who try to hurt it.”

Her deportation followed a ban passed in Israel against Codepink and 19 other activist organizations.

Omar Barghouti – the BDS co-founder – had lined up some speaking engagements for his U.S. trip during which he planned to attend his daughter’s wedding. He had also scheduled meetings with journalists and politicians in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Chicago where Barghouti was scheduled to speak at a synagogue.

That was until he went to board his flight at Ben Gurion Airport. That is when the U.S. consulate told airline staff that he was banned, despite having obtained a visa. Barghouti writes:

Given my regular, unhindered travel to the US for years, this ban seems to be an ideologically and politically motivated measure that fits in with Israel’s escalating repression against human rights defenders. Israel’s far-right regime is not merely continuing its decades-old system of military occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, it is increasingly outsourcing its anti-democratic tactics to the US.

Like Gold, Barghouti claims he has been the subject of verbal attacks by Israeli officials.

I have been smeared by the Israeli government and banned from travel repeatedly, including in 2018 when I was prevented from going to Jordan to accompany my late mother during cancer surgery. Israel’s intelligence minister threatened me with “targeted civil elimination,” drawing condemnation from Amnesty International.”

With this denial of entry, Israel appears to have once again enlisted the Trump administration to do its bidding, this time to repress Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders. They wish to deny lawmakers, journalists and ordinary Americans their right to listen first-hand to a Palestinian human rights advocate calling for ending US complicity in Israel’s crimes against our people.”

On being unable to attend his daughter’s wedding, Barghouti wrote that he “cannot possibly compensate the personal loss of missing [it].”

Speakig on the new tactic, the American Civil Liberties Union, the premier civil rights group in the U.S., said:

Ideological exclusion has been used in the past to revoke or deny visas to some of the world’s leading artists and thinkers.

If the government is using this political censorship tool again, it’s a disgrace — and violates the First Amendment.”

Meanwhile, Israel has set a new precedent furthering the scope of their anti-boycott laws. On Tuesday, courts upheld a decision to have Omar Shakir, HRW’s Israel and Palestine Director, deported. The court based their decision off of a 2017 anti-boycott law. Shakir too came under attack from Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry, which compiled a dossier on him. The court even cited his pro-Palestine activism “dating back to 2006” when he was a student in the United States. The Interior Ministry, however, noted that “no information has surfaced” about Shakir promoting boycotts while with HRW in its initial ban on Shakir, which HRW tried, unsuccessfully, to litigate against.

In its 30 years of operations in Israel and Palestine, Human Rights Watch has never had one of its workers ordered to leave.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch wrote:

In a new and dangerous interpretation of the law, the court found that Human Rights Watch research and advocacy calling for businesses to stop facilitating abuses in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank constitutes a call for boycott. The ruling sets a precedent that could hamper the work of other advocacy organizations and jeopardize the status of other rights workers in Israel.”

The organization has fallen short of calling for boycotts but has called on Airbnb and Bookings.com to de-list rentals in the illegally occupied West Bank. It made no such calls regarding listings in the illegally occupied Golan Heights, however. It notes that the ruling “held that Israel’s anti-boycott law does not distinguish between boycotts directed at Israel and those directed at only West Bank settlements.”

HRW has previously found:

More than half a million Israeli settlers live in 237 settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem…There are approximately 1,000 companies operating in 16 to 20 settlement industrial zones; 9,300 hectares of settlement agricultural land; and 11 licensed settlement quarries. This represents only a part of the settlement economy, which also includes companies servicing and financing settlements.”

The report said that these businesses invariably benefit from and exacerbate Israel’s policies which “dispossess, discriminate against, and abuse the human rights of Palestinians.”

Feature photo | Israeli police escort a pro-Palestinian Israeli activist at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv April 15, 2012. Hundreds of police officers were deployed at Ben Gurion Airport after activists launched a “fly-in” to Israel. Ronen Zvulun | Reuters

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post Thought Police: US, Israel Increasingly Banning & Deporting Ideological Enemies appeared first on MintPress News.

Before Ousting Assange, Moreno Government Spied on the Journalist for Over a Year

Sat, 2019-04-20 04:03

LONDON — Like the proverbial “shot heard round the world,” the U.K.’s arrest and imprisonment of publisher and journalist Julian Assange officially signaled the Western world’s war on a free press. The Australian who founded WikiLeaks, but stepped down as editor-in-chief last year, was ousted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London last week after Ecuador President Lenin Moreno revoked his political asylum, and arrested by the U.K.’s Metropolitan Police. He was seen holding a copy of Gore Vidal: History of the National Security State while men dressed in suits — perhaps in a futile effort to make the arrest look a bit less repugnant — dragged the publisher out, handcuffed and resisting.

As in previous accounts given by visitors to the embassy, Assange looked thin and in need of health care but he appeared alert and defiant under the alarming circumstances. “The U.K. must resist! Resist this attempt by the Trump administration!” he hollered before being seen giving a thumbs up inside the police van as it rolled away. Within a few hours, authorities had hauled him into a courtroom devoid of any jury or the right to defend himself, where a judge found him guilty of violating bail conditions almost seven years ago. He will be sentenced in a few weeks, meanwhile remaining at Belmarsh, a southeast London prison notoriously known for housing terrorist suspects.

Assange’s arrest has been a long time in the making. Although Ecuador safeguarded his political asylum under former President Rafael Correa’s government, the political landscape in Ecuador shifted dramatically to the right with the election of Moreno, who has spent his entire presidency making backroom deals and manipulating Assange’s asylum in an effort to hand him over to the U.S.

For instance, President Donald Trump’s close friend Ivonne Baki, an Ecuadorian ambassador who is currently stationed in Qatar, brokered meetings with Paul Manafort and President Moreno during which Moreno expressed his desire to expel Assange in return for U.S. concessions. Baki also has a sordid history of lobbying in the interests of U.S. oil company Chevron, which was hit with a $9.2 billion judgment for egregiously damaging Ecuador’s environment and the health of those who lived in the areas they contaminated — a judgment that Moreno may very likely negate.

Moreno has also spent the last two years shoring up bilateral relations with the U.S. through private investments, military agreements, and billion-dollar IMF loans that the former foreign minister of Ecuador, Ricardo Patino, recently agreed had come with a price: the sovereignty of Ecuador for the delivery of Julian Assange.

As for direct attacks on Assange, Moreno forced him to live under a series of protocols that had no legal backing, restricted his speech, and were constructed as a tripwire to revoke his asylum. The arbitrary rules were implemented after Moreno cut off Assange’s access to phone calls and the internet over a year ago. But aside from Moreno’s illegal revocation of both Assange’s asylum and his Ecuadorian citizenship, which gave him protection from extradition under Ecuador’s constitution, perhaps the most underhanded assault that Moreno delivered was the one that nobody saw: the spying.

 

Moreno government spied on political asylee

Moreno’s decision to end Assange’s asylum and throw him to the wolves of Washington came after weeks of simmering tensions between the Ecuadorian government and the Australian publisher. On April 4 WikiLeaks accused Moreno of using the INA Papers — a leaked batch of documents uploaded to inapapers.org that included Moreno’s personal emails, text messages, and family photos — as a pretext to expel Assange from the embassy. The government denied the allegations but didn’t stop short of publicly accusing Assange of the hack.

The General Assembly in Ecuador has since opened an investigation into Moreno’s alleged criminal activities based on the leaked material, so it’s likely that he is using Assange’s expulsion and subsequent arrest to distract from the scandal. However, it’s also likely that he’s trying to bury the shocking revelations that his government, allegedly under his direction, conducted an extensive surveillance operation against Assange, revelations that have already been forgotten by the press.

Last Wednesday, WikiLeaks held a press conference with Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, and former consul to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Fidel Narvaez, in which they announced that Moreno’s government had been spying on Assange, a political asylee and journalist, for over a year.

Newly installed high-resolution cameras with the ability to record audio tracked Assange’s every move, including meetings with his attorneys and examinations performed by his doctor. Robinson said that they had “long been concerned about surveillance,” and that the Ecuadorian government’s actions were a severe breach of client-attorney privilege that undermined their ability to defend their client.

Even more brazen was the fact that embassy staff committed firsthand acts of espionage against Assange. In one particularly damning episode, Assange’s attorney left strategy notes for a court case against the state on a conference room table after which the staff actually stole and copied them.

WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hraffnson remarked that Assange’s life in the embassy was like the “Truman Show,” a reference to the 1998 movie starring Jim Carrey as an insurance salesman whose entire life is live-streamed 24 hours a day worldwide without his knowledge or consent. Narvaez, who spent six years at the embassy with Assange, described it as the most surveilled place on the planet. According to both men, the high-tech cameras that had captured and stored Assange’s life were installed in the embassy after Moreno came to power — and therein lies the heart of the matter.

 

Ecuador hires security services paid for by the Senain

When Assange was granted asylum in 2012, the Ecuadorian government hired a Spanish firm called UC Global for security services at the embassy in London. The private military company was founded in 2008 by David Morales, a former member of the Spanish Defense Marine Infantry who was once described as “the perfect mercenary.” His team consists of approximately 30 men, although the company’s database includes over 6,000 former military personnel “scattered throughout Latin America, the United States, England, Estonia” and Spain.

According to its monthly magazine, UC Global’s services include telephone and satellite communications, material and equipment, combat support and air evacuation, logistical support, critical infrastructure, intelligence, and maritime security. UC Global will also escort, transport, and interrogate detainees if a state hires it to do so and, according to an interview with Morales, most of its employees come from the ”NATO military sector.” Although the company generally operates around the globe, it is currently stationed in Spain, France, U.K., Mauritania, Tunisia, Ecuador, Portugal, Qatar, and the United States.

UC Global — and other security services at the embassy, such as Blue Cell — were paid directly by Ecuador’s intelligence service, the Senain, which was established by former President Rafael Correa in 2009, in response to concerns that the country’s intelligence services had been “co-opted” by the United States. The agency operated out of a mansion seized from the Isaias brothers, two convicted bankers wanted by Ecuador but currently being sheltered by the U.S.

Although Correa staunchly believed in national sovereignty and established the Senain with that in mind, Fidel Narvaez admitted that after it was created the agency became “an animal without god or law,” and that neither the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor the former ambassador in London had any control over the embassy’s security operations.

 

WikiLeaks Hacking Team emails expose the Senain

The greatest scandal to rock the Senain happened in 2015, when WikiLeaks released a tranche of emails from Hacking Team, an Italian tech company that specializes in spyware. The emails revealed that the agency had purchased a three-year license from Hacking Team for 30 packages from its Remote Control System; spyware that could “infect and monitor computers with Windows and MacOs programs as well as Android, iPhone, Blackberry, and Symbian phones.” The purchase also included vectors that could “infect equipment physically and remotely;” training in Italy for four agents; and intel analysis training for 12 people in Quito.

The Ecuadorian public was outraged and both the Senain and then-President Rafael Correa came under heavy fire for the spying tools that oppositional forces claimed had been used against citizens, activists, and detractors. Fernando Villavicencio — an activist and political figure who has spent years churning out anti-Assange, anti-Correa material for outlets such as Focus Ecuador, Plan V, and The Guardian — took the opportunity to lash out at Correa. A month after WikiLeaks released the emails, Villavicencio published an article entitled, “Assange spied on by the Intelligence of Ecuador,” detailing the Senain’s spying operations at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, which had been dubbed “Operation Hotel.”

However, rather than blast the Senain for spying on Assange, Villavicencio used leaked surveillance photos from the embassy and intelligence reports that may or may not have been doctored and that he had obtained from Cynthia Viteri, a politician who ran in both the 2006 and 2017 Ecuadorian presidential elections, to condemn the Correa government for allegedly surveilling and harassing its own citizens while simultaneously smearing Assange as a “bad houseguest.” Viteri, who appears in several WikiLeaks cables as being “eager to signal interest in better relations with the USG and Embassy,” was quoted as saying:

The operations of the Intelligence Secretariat — having conducted espionage on opposition politicians, social leaders, trade associations and ordinary citizens — violate the Constitution of the Republic and its own regulations, having used public resources to violate the privacy of our families.”

Following three years of public outcry, in March 2018, President Moreno abruptly announced that he was shutting down the Senain in response to what he called “the ethical clamor of the citizens.” However, what he was really trying to convey to the public, and what was pushed in the media, was that he was rooting out the corruption of former President Rafael Correa’s government.

 

Moreno shuts it all down

In a sign of what was to come, after visiting Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in December 2017, Rommy Vallejo, appointed head of the Senain since 2014, abruptly quit his job two months later and fled the country for his alleged involvement in the 2012 kidnapping of political figure Fernando Balda. Vallejo had also been under enormous public pressure over the Hacking Team spyware but both Vallejo and former President Rafael Correa had previously denied that the purchase had ever happened.

Less than a month after Vallejo quit the Senain — on March 13, 2018 — welivesecurity.com reported that Hacking Team’s Remote Control System had been detected in systems in 14 countries, suggesting that developers were “actively working on the development of this spyware.” It took only six days after the report for Lenin to announce that he was shutting down the Seinan and that the government was “working on the appropriate institutional framework to guarantee the country’s security objectives.” This framework would later be announced as a “Coordinating Unit of Public Security,” which reportedly came under Moreno’s direct control.

The Ecuadorian press applauded the president on his decision. ABC International wrote that “dismantling the office that was spying on and persecuting opponents, dissidents and journalists, during the mandate of Rafael Correa” was “one of the most impressive decisions” made by Moreno since taking office. La Republica stated that the Senain had become a Stasi-like agency. And Diego Salgado, a member of the International Affairs Committee of the Assembly, made it clear that the Senain had only served “to persecute the opponents of the correismo [the policies of Rafael Correa].” Former President Correa, however, criticized Moreno’s decision, fearing that it would lead to a state intelligence service lacking oversight or immunity from foreign influence.

On the same day that Moreno announced the shuttering of the agency, prosecutors filed what has been described as trumped-up charges against three former Senain agents for the alleged Balda kidnapping. Another former head of the Senain, Pablo Romero, was implicated in the crime, as was Correa himself. An arrest warrant and subsequent extradition order was issued for the former president, who fled to Belgium for safety.

Meanwhile in London, Moreno’s crackdown continued. He scaled back security at the embassy, rescinded UC Global’s security contract, and hired a new security team from PromSecurity. Based on WikiLeaks’ April 10 press conference, at some point he also had high-resolution cameras with audio installed in the embassy to spy on Assange. Then, on March 27, 2018, when Julian Assange was still in control of his Twitter account, he tweeted out what has since been described as “the forgotten message:”

Senain bought spy packages from Hacking Team for 3 years.”

Linked in the tweet was an article that had been published earlier that day in which it was reported, “While developers suspect that the Hacking Team (HT) spy program is still working, the National Secretariat of Intelligence of Ecuador (Senain) has not confirmed whether or not it terminated its relationship with this Italian company.” The news outlet had reached out to the agency for comment, but it did not respond. The article also mentioned the earlier welivesecurity.com report and the fact that 20 percent of Hacking Team’s shares had been sold to Cypriot Tablem Limited, a company related to Saudi Arabia.

Approximately four hours after Assange’s tweet, Lenin Moreno cut of all of his communications including internet access, telephone calls, and visitors. Two days later, WikiLeaks stated:

Although Ecuador claims it isolated Assange over his Tweeting about the detention of [Basque rebel leader Carles] #Puigdemont in Germany, the political context is his breaking the “Watergate” of Ecuador, #HackingTeam, which led to the implosion of the national spy service this month.”

However, cutting off the head of a snake doesn’t always mean the body will die; shutting down the Senain in no way curtailed Morano’s surveillance activities.

 

The Strategic Intelligence Center

Two months after articles started surfacing that suggested Moreno’s government may have renewed its license with Hacking Team, The Guardian went on a one-week bender about “Operation Hotel,” the spying operation at the embassy that was first reported by Fernando Villavicencio in 2015 — directly after the Hacking Team emails were originally released. This time, however, Villencio and other Guardian writers such as Luke Harding claimed that the Senain had spent an abhorrent amount of money on protecting Assange rather than spying on him.

Coupled with Moreno’s earlier announcement that he was shutting down the Senain, The Guardian’s articles only added fuel to the speculative fire that Correa’s government had been rife with corruption and that it was working hand-in-glove with Assange to build a “center for spying” at the embassy. This, of course, was happening at the same time Moreno’s government was trying to garner public support for the trumped-up charges against Correa (and others) for the kidnapping of Balda.

In September 2018, Moreno’s “Coordinated Unit of Public Security” officially became the new “Strategic Intelligence Center” (Centro de Inteligencia Estrategica or CIES), after he issued a questionable executive degree transferring the “competences, attributions, functions, representations, resource assets,” and all other assets and liabilities from the Senain over to the CIES. The government was given a December 20, 2018 deadline to make the switchover.

However, recent reports at the end of last month suggest that in no way has the transfer of “movable and immovable property from one institution to the other” occurred — including the Isaias mansion, which housed the Senain’s operations center and 251 boxes of physical files ranging from 2009 to 2017. Jairo Jimenez, a delegate of the CIES, reported that the “change in ownership was suspended due to the change of authority,” which had limited the transfer of Senain’s assets. He also stated that there is “alleged information in the files of the former Senain that does not exist in the physical file.”

Moreno has gone to extreme lengths to convince the public that he’s rooting out government corruption. With the shutdown of the Senain, the revocation of UC Global’s contract at the embassy, the persecution of Correa and Romero over the Balda kidnapping, the Guardian articles, and the creation of a new intelligence agency, he would have everyone believing that he saved the country from the evil trappings of Rafael Correa’s former government if he could.

However, it appears that Moreno betrayed Correa, under whom he had previously served as vice-president, and used him as a smokescreen to hide his own criminal behavior. Correa’s former Foreign Minister and the ambassador at the embassy had no control over the embassy’s surveillance operations because, as Fidel Narvaez put it, the agency had become “an animal without god or law.” We also know from the WikiLeaks press conference that a large-scale spying operation was put into place after Moreno came to power.

The failure to transfer Senain’s operations center, assets, and documents — some of which appear to be missing — raises multiple questions, such as whether or not Moreno’s government is in the process of destroying records. Also, is the Senain still operating unofficially despite being “shut down” and, if so, is it operating independently or through the Strategic Intelligence Center that Moreno now directly controls. And, finally, did the Moreno government renew its license with Hacking Team?

 

Extortion ring or intelligence operation?

With the revelation that Ecuador’s current president sanctioned a full-blown spying operation against Julian Assange that was likely carried out by the embassy’s PromSecurity team, the Senain and/or Strategic Intelligence Center, and possibly foreign actors, the strange case of a group of individuals who tried to extort WikiLeaks a few weeks ago presents itself as more of an intelligence operation than anything else.

According to Kristinn Hraffnson during WikiLeaks’ April 10 press conference:

We learned about some individuals in Spain who were peddling around that they had a massive trove of documents relating to Julian Assange from inside the embassy and that it entailed audio, video, photographs, and documents.”

Although Hraffnson didn’t elaborate on how or where these individuals were peddling said materials, curiously, he was able to message them for more information.

An individual going by the initials “P.M.” responded that the material they had mysteriously obtained had a price of 3 million euros and that if WikiLeaks didn’t pay they would start publishing it through the press. This despite the fact that P.M. later disclosed that they had already (and allegedly) received offers of up to 9 million dollars — not euros — from “various outlets for the material.” Naturally this begs the question of why they would quote offers in dollars if they were located in Spain; and, as for the alleged media outlets who saw the material, no public comment has been made and their identity remains unknown.

Even more interesting is the fact that the individuals involved in the extortion ring were willing to meet with Hraffnson in Spain to show him the extent of documents, videos, and photographs that they had. However, according to the Spanish police, one of the individuals had previously been convicted on similar charges. After reaching out to Raymond Johansen — an activist, founding member of mydata.org, and member of the Board of Directors of Pirate Parties International — he stated:

What does a previously convicted extortionist have to gain from actually physically meeting his victim…nobody is that stupid.”

Astonishingly, the meeting was set.

During the three-hour encounter, Hraffnson was shown hundreds of thousands of documents; videos of sensitive meetings that had occurred at the embassy, such as meetings with lawyers and doctors; copies of passports; and even that document Assange’s attorney had left in the embassy conference room that the staff stole and copied. Hraffnson said they had “pretty much everything on the life of Julian Assange inside the embassy.”

To date, it has not been disclosed how the extortion ring in Spain acquired such a large tranche of material that had obviously originated from the Senain and/or Intelligence Center, PromSecurity, or a foreign intelligence agency. According to Anonymous Scandinavia (@AnonScan):

We have reason to believe that the attempt of extorsion [sic] in the amount of three million euros, has connections to government officials cooperating with for example C 9 [Senain] and Prom Security.”

The Spanish police assisted WikiLeaks in setting up the sting operation in Madrid and they are now conducting a full investigation into the group’s attempts to extort the publishing outlet. However, as Johansen pointed out, “It’s a red flag to me that the Spanish police treated WikiLeaks that well,” in light of the fact that they believe Assange meddled in Catalonia’s struggle for independence. In fact, Moreno’s government issued a statement after cutting off Assange’s access to the internet and phone calls using that exact excuse.

With anomalies such as how did these individuals in Spain (where the headquarters of UC Global is located) manage to obtain the material; why were they still “peddling” the material after allegedly being offered $9 million by other media outlets; why the monetary discrepancy, i.e., euros vs. dollars; and why would a previously convicted extortionist set up a face-to-face meeting with the person he was trying to extort, it seems almost obvious that WikiLeaks had been caught up in an intelligence operation. Whether it was set up to actually extort the publishing outlet, threaten it, or for some other reason remains unclear.

 

Freedom of the press, freedom from persecution

The persecution of Julian Assange isn’t just about the freedom of the press to report and publish stories of public interest. His case also highlights the right for journalists, publishers, photographers, editors, and all media workers to work without fear of being retaliated against, harassed, hacked, wiretapped, surveilled, or even murdered. After all, the Saudi government used the Israeli company NSO’s spyware, Pegasus, to surveil Jamal Khashoggi before dismembering him in a Saudi consulate.

If a dictator from the other side of the world attacked a journalist — or, let’s be honest, a Western “mainstream” journalist — in the manner in which Moreno has attacked Assange, most people would call him a tyrannical madman because gagging a journalist, implementing obscene protocols that have no legal backing, smearing them publicly knowing they can’t respond, instituting a spy operation, running an intelligence operation to extort and/or threaten the publishing outlet the journalist works at, stripping them of their asylum and citizenship in return for financial concessions from which their own citizens will likely never prosper, and creating an elaborate smokescreen to fool the masses into believing it’s their opponent everyone should be worried about, is very, very mad.

As Randy Credico once said, “What are they so afraid of? It’s one man with a pen,” which, indeed, has always been mightier than the sword. Assange and other truth-tellers such as whistleblower Chelsea Manning — who is still imprisoned by the United States for refusing to take part in its secret grand jury system which, often times, is used against those who testify — brought the U.S. government to its knees by exposing its torture of Guantanamo Bay detainees and war crimes in Iraq. They have been trying to recover ever since and the Trump administration is now more than ever willing to exact full revenge upon those who exposed the truth.

Lenin Moreno’s corruption must be resisted, the U.K.’s arrest of Assange must be resisted, the United States’ extradition request for Assange and the imprisonment of Chelsea Manning must be resisted, and the Western world’s war on a free press must absolutely, categorically, be resisted.

Feature photo | Julian Assange leaves after greeting supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London May 19, 2017. Frank Augstein | AP

Jjimmysllama is an independent researcher and writer who provides balanced, critical analysis with a focus on the Boston bombings, Magnitsky Act, and WikiLeaks.  She is currently trying to stay warm in the Midwest.  You can read more of her work at jimmysllama.com and find her on Twitter at @jimmysllama.

The post Before Ousting Assange, Moreno Government Spied on the Journalist for Over a Year appeared first on MintPress News.

Former ISIS Commanders Rehabilitated as Traffic Cops in Raqqa Suburbs Under US Watch

Sat, 2019-04-20 01:02

EIN ISSA, SYRIA — Locals of Ein Issa, a Syrian town just north of the city of Raqqa are reportedly fed up with former ISIS members and commanders who have been rehabilitated by U.S. proxy forces as traffic cops.

“Reliable sources” told the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) that former Daesh militants have been converted into “security members” and are extorting the public.

The rehabilitated ISIS fighters are reportedly “imposing bribes” and royalties on vehicles, “not to mention the shameful acts against the pedestrians in the streets and the harassment of the citizen women.”

Earlier this year, according to the same outlet, American generals met with “administrative representatives” in the town.

SOHR is run by a single individual living in the U.K., Rami Abdulrahman, a man with pro-opposition sympathies. The outlet is funded by the British Home Office.

Typically in the aftermath of war, the losers are severely punished — especially snipers, and ISIS had many. Extrajudicial killings against suspected ISIS members have run rampant in Iraq and Syria, as citizens release their rage over being held captive for so many years. It is no surprise that the citizens of Raqqa and its suburbs, who are mostly Sunni Arabs, are incensed that former ISIS members, whom they may even recognize, are allowed to continue issuing traffic tickets and harassing women.

The issue is part of a larger problem facing the world in the wake of the collapse of ISIS as a terrorist group that once governed large swaths of land: what to do with its former operatives. Westerners who joined the terrorist organization are met with political firestorms when they return to the countries of origin. The U.S. and its regional allies have also been accused of shipping them into Afghanistan and Yemen.

 

Post-WW II parallel

If true, a historical parallel is apparent. After the Soviet Union liberated Berlin from the Nazis and the city was divided between the Allied-occupied western portion and the Soviet-controlled east, former Nazis were able to climb rank in the West German government and were even recruited to NATO.

Raqqa was the self-declared capital of the so-called caliphate until it was 80 percent destroyed by the U.S.-led coalition. Kurdish fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)  liberated the city on the ground as the U.S. and its allies pummeled it relentlessly from the air.

Ein Issa has been administered by Kurdish officials aligned with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S.’s main fighting force in Syria. The U.S. is believed to have more than a dozen military bases on land under the ostensible control of the group, including Ein Issa.

MintPress News previously reported that in the face of a possible Turkish onslaught in the wake of President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, “nearly 200 U.S. Army trucks carrying weapons and equipment left Iraq and have arrived at bases in Manbij, Raqqa and Ein Issa.” That move by Trump has, however, seems to have turned out to be bogus.

Top photo | A member of the Raqqah Internal Security Force learns from Coalition advisors how to “interact with locals” near Raqqa, Syria, March 17, 2018. Travis Jones | US Army

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post Former ISIS Commanders Rehabilitated as Traffic Cops in Raqqa Suburbs Under US Watch appeared first on MintPress News.

Yemen Protests Trump Veto of Congressional Resolution to Stop Supporting Saudi War

Sat, 2019-04-20 00:51

SANA’A, YEMEN — Tens of thousands of Yemenis held demonstrations in the country’s capital, Sana`a, Hodeida, Sada`a and others provinces on Friday to condemn U.S. President Donald Trump’s veto of a U.S. congressional resolution directing him to end support for the Saudi-led Coalition’s war against Yemen.

In what can only be described as boost to the Saudi-led Coalition and a tragedy for the civilians of Yemen, Trump vetoed a bill passed by Congress to end the U.S. role in the devastating Yemen war, dismissing concerns raised by U.S. senators, human rights organizations, and global activists fighting to bring an end to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Friday’s demonstrations came in response to a call to action from the Houthi movement, the main force countering the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen. Protesters carried Yemeni flags and banners denouncing the United States for supporting the war and blockade against their country.

“My message is only to the American people: is spilling more Yemeni blood acceptable to you?” a man in his seventies told MintPress.

Protesters accused the U.S. of being complicit in alleged war crimes committed in Yemen, where thousands have died and millions have been forced to the brink of starvation.

“There is no difference between the vampires and Donald Trump. Trump is a real character who insists on sucking more Yemeni blood,” a young protester told MintPress.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed AbdullSalam held the United States responsible for the “massacres, crimes and the unjust siege of Yemen” and told a crowd of protesters that Trump’s veto “proves that the United States is not only involved in the war on Yemen but also was behind the decision to go to war.”

 

Trump veto thrills Coalition

Needless to say, Trump’s veto was praised by members of the Saudi Coalition. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia’s main partner, praised Trump’s decision to veto the bill. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Wednesday:

President Trump’s assertion of support to the Arab Coalition in Yemen is a positive signal of U.S. resolve towards America’s allies. Common strategic interests are best served with this clear commitment.”

Gargash also termed Trump’s decision as “timely” and “strategic.”

Yemenis who spoke to MintPress about the move said they view Trump’s veto against ending U.S. involvement in their country as immoral and fear that it will enable the Saudi-led Coalition to commit more crimes against their people, who they insist have done nothing to the U.S. and pose no threat to it.

Trump’s latest dagger comes amid a precipitous climb in Saudi Coalition war crimes this month, including an attack that killed 14 schoolchildren when Saudi airstrikes targeted a factory in close proximity to schools, homes, and shops in Sana`a on the morning of April 8.

The UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, said that more than 7,500 children have been killed and maimed in the war, noting that “more than 3,000 children were verified as recruited and used [as child soldiers], and over 800 cases of denial of humanitarian access to children were documented.”

Gamba said the data was collated from April 2013 to the end of 2018, warning that many sexual assaults on children may have gone under-reported owing to the difficulty of obtaining information. She called on rival factions to take urgent measures to guarantee that their military operations adhere to relevant international laws. After Trump’s veto and its shot in the arm for the Coalition, the situation facing Yemen’s children will likely get worse, according to Yemeni activists who spoke to MintPress.

Since the war began, humanitarian organizations have repeatedly warned the United States that the Saudi Coalition is targeting civilians using U.S. weapons. A recent University Network for Human Rights (UNHR) report titled, “DAY OF JUDGMENT: The Role of the US and Europe in Civilian Death, Destruction, and Trauma in Yemen,” revealed that many Coalition attacks appeared to have taken place far from any potential military target. The report went on to say that Coalition forces took no adequate precautions to minimize harm to civilians, as required by international humanitarian law.

Moreover, the ongoing support of the Saudi-led military campaign against Yemen has resulted in the deaths of 15,250 civilians, including 3,527 children and 2,277 women, according to the Legal Center for Rights and Development in Yemen, a non-governmental organization monitoring human-rights violations immediately after their occurrence. These figures will likely increase in the wake of the ongoing U.S. support to Coalition as a result of Trump’s veto.

 

Trump on trial for murder in Hodeida

Demonstrations across Yemen also commemorated the first anniversary of the death of former President of Yemen’s Supreme Political Council Saleh al-Sammad, who was killed with his bodyguards on April 19, 2018 by Saudi airstrikes in Hodeida.  Demonstrators carried Yemeni flags, photos of al-Sammad, and banners emblazoned with messages of steadfastness and promises to take revenge on leaders of the Saudi-led Coalition.

In the Sada`a province in northern Yemen, hundreds of thousands took to the streets despite the ever-present Saudi warplanes hovering above.  Houthi air defenses eventually shot down one of the Saudi drones circling the area over the Bani Mu’ath district, the birthplace of al-Sammad. The remains of the drone were later found scattered in a field once owned by al-Sammad.

The drone was identified as a Wing Loong drone, a Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), developed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group in China. In March 2017, China announced it would deliver 300 Wing Loong II to Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, a specialized criminal court in Hodeida governorate began the trial of 62 defendants charged for their role in assassinating Yemen’s former president al-Sammad. Defendants include the president of the United States, Donald Trump.

Top photo | An effigy of Donald Trump with the words “Yemeni child murderer” is burned at a protest in Hodeida, Yemen condemning the US’ ongoing military support for the Saudi-led Coalition war in Yemen. Photo | AnsarAllah Media Center

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post Yemen Protests Trump Veto of Congressional Resolution to Stop Supporting Saudi War appeared first on MintPress News.

Nearly 100,000 Pentagon Whistleblower Complaints Have Been Silenced

Fri, 2019-04-19 00:43

I don’t know if I’d have the nerve to be a whistleblower. I’d like to think I would. We all like to think we would, just like we all like to think we could catch the game-winning touchdown, triumph on “America’s Got Talent,” and fold a fitted sheet quickly and without cursing.

But to blow the whistle on a huge organization with a lot of power, likely drawing that power to come crashing down on your head—that takes some serious spine-age. Now, imagine the organization you’re calling out is arguably the largest, most powerful, most secretive and most violent organization on planet Earth. I’m speaking, of course, of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Yet thousands, even tens of thousands, of people have taken that step over the past five years. (More on this in a moment.)

All the while our organized human murder machine continues its work around the world. Every day. Every hour. Never a moment of rest. Never pausing to clip their toenails or scratch their ass. Bombs dropped. Buildings blown up. People killed or imprisoned. No end in sight.

By the way, that’s the term I like to use instead of “military”—Organized Human Murder Machine.

It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? “Mili-tary” sounds too boring, too banal. Sounds like a super-lame couple you met at a party. “Yeah, Millie and Terry over there are accountants. If I have to hear one more joke about capital gains taxes, I’m gonna kill myself.”

But that’s not what the military is. The military is a gigantic organized human murder machine, and even if you “support” every action our military has ever taken, you can still acknowledge it’s an organized human murder machine. (You would just bizarrely argue that all the murder has been just and sound and pure.)

Eleven months ago I covered $21 trillion of unaccounted-for adjustments at the Pentagon over the past 20 years. Don’t try to think about the number $21 trillion because you’ll pass out and hit your head on the desk. If your salary is $40,000 a year, in order to earn $21 trillion, it would take you 525 million years. (At which point you can’t even enjoy the new jet ski you just bought with all your money because you’re almost certainly a brain in a jar … though a nice embroidered jar that only the rich brains can afford.)

Over the past year, there has been a little more coverage of the utterly preposterous amount of money unaccounted for at our human murder machine. The Nation magazine, Forbes and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all covered it. Then the white blood cells of the military-industrial complex kicked into action in order to destroy the “infection.” The New York Times and Vox both claimed the $21 trillion is merely the result of large-scale misdocumentation and therefore doesn’t matter at all. Of course, the idea that tens of TRILLIONS of dollars of unaccountable adjustments don’t matter and couldn’t mask any fraud, abuse or corruption is an assertion that makes Charlie Sheen’s statement that he runs on tiger blood seem downright levelheaded.

Probably the best article to date on the $21 trillion was written a few weeks ago by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Point is, even though most of the mainstream media won’t get near this subject (or worse yet—actively attack those who do), the word is getting out: There is a giant sucking sound in the center of the Pentagon, and whatever’s down there feeds on trillions of secretive dollars, then shits out incalculable death and destruction. (It’s the Death Star if officials at the Death Star spent $10,000 on a toilet seat.)

A month ago the Government Accountability Office came out with a report showing the total number of whistleblower complaints over the past five years at the Department of Defense. It’s nearly 100,000. Here’s the only part of the report that references that number:

The Department of Defense Inspector General identified 8 substantiated violations of whistleblower confidentiality between fiscal years 2013 and 2018, representing approximately .01 percent of the 95,613 contacts handled by the Inspector General during that time….”

95,613 whistleblower complaints over five years.

Sadly, the Government Accountability Office was trying to brag in that sentence. They were proudly stating, “We only breached the confidentiality of .01 percent of our 95,000 whistleblower complaints. Aren’t we heroes?!”

It’s kind of like saying, “Of the 10,000 dolphins I’ve killed, not a single one has accidentally been a human.” The sane response is, “Well, I’m glad to hear that, but did you say you killed 10,000 dolphins?”

To try to get the 95,000 number to make a little more sense, that averages out to a whistleblower every six minutes of every weekday for five straight years. (That waiting room must be truly nuts. I bet all the good magazines were claimed years ago.)

But maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. Perhaps the number 95,613 shouldn’t be all that shocking, and I need to roll my tongue back up and store it back within my mouth. When you have $21 trillion of unaccounted-for adjustments, it means a seizure-inducing amount of money, parts, pieces, bombs, missiles, manpower and devices are flying around with no accountability—likely creating loads of fraud, which would probably create loads of whistleblowers. Hence, maybe we all should have expected this number of whistleblowers rather than being shocked.

For example, there’s the time in 2003 when the U.S. flew $12 billion in cash to Iraq and promptly lost track of it. As the Guardian makes clear in this article, this was not an instance of hackers on a computer system stealing a bunch of ones and zeroes. This was giant pallets of cash money vanishing without a trace. In fact, it was 281 million $100 bills, weighing in at 363 tons. That’s not really the type of thing you can just smuggle away in your sweatshirt while humming “She’ll be comin’ ‘round the mountain.”

Or here’s another example journalist David DeGraw highlights from the Government Accountability Report:

… according to a Department of Defense official, during an initial audit, the Army found 39 Blackhawk helicopters that had not been recorded in the property system. [$819 million in value] Similarly, the Air Force identified 478 buildings and structures at 12 installations that were not in the real property systems. …

The Army lost and then found 39 helicopters.

The Air Force lost and then found 478 buildings.

How does one lose a goddamn building? Unless you just had a bad breakup with David Copperfield, there’s no explanation for losing a building. (Side note: It must suck divorcing David Copperfield. “Really, honey? You think you’re gonna take the house?? PAFOOMPF! What house?!”)

Ya see this madness stems from the fact that the Pentagon has a standard operating procedure of simply making up numbers to fill their books—which for normal human beings is termed “fraud.” But in the case of the Pentagon, it’s termed, “We get to make shit up because … ummm… national security.”

Here’s more from a 2013 Reuters article:

“Linda Woodford spent the last 15 years of her career inserting phony numbers in the Department of Defense’s accounts. … but many mystery numbers remained. For those, Woodford and her colleagues were told by superiors to take “unsubstantiated change actions”—in other words, enter false numbers, commonly called “plugs,” to make the Navy’s totals match the Treasury’s.”

Have no fear, patriotic Americans, this is not “lying to the American people, stealing their money, and using it for war,” this is just “unsubstantiated change actions.” Try that on your next tax return. Put in $10,000 marked “Unsubstantiated change actions.” I’m sure they’ll love that.

So let’s sum this up, shall we? The Pentagon sucks up 55% of all the discretionary tax money we pay to our government (thanks to our bought-off Congress who receive more Christmas cards from weapons contractors than they do from relatives). Those who work at the Pentagon have no idea where or how the money is spent. They make up many of the numbers resulting in tens of trillions of dollars of unaccounted-for adjustments. They lose helicopters, buildings and, in a few instances, even nuclear warheads. There is an unimaginable amount of fraud and corruption at every level and literally thousands of whistleblowers have tried to come forward every single year—one every six minutes. When they do take that incredibly brave action, over 90% of the claims are dismissed without even being investigated.

You would think, in this topsy-turvy world, if there were one organization we could trust with a trillion dollars a year of our taxpayer money, it would be the Department of Unauthorized Highly Secretive Mass Human Murder.

If you think this column is important, please share it. Also you can join Lee Camp’s free email newsletter here.

 This column is based on a monologue Lee Camp wrote and performed on his TV show “Redacted Tonight.”

Top photo | Top Image: Jared Rodriguez | Truthout Flickr CC

Source | Truthdig

The post Nearly 100,000 Pentagon Whistleblower Complaints Have Been Silenced appeared first on MintPress News.

American Wars Are off the Charts Under Donald Trump

Thu, 2019-04-18 21:07

Here’s a statement it might be hard to disagree with: American war is off the charts. Still, I’d like to explain — but I’m nervous about doing so. I know perfectly well that the next word I plan to write will send most of you tumbling elsewhere in a universe in which “news” is the latest grotesque mass shooting; the craziest tweet from you-know-who; celebrities marching into court over college-admissions scandals; or even a boy, missing for years, who suddenly turns up only to morph into a 23-year-old impostor with a criminal record.

How can America’s wars in distant lands compete with that? Which is why I just can’t bring myself to write the next word. So promise me that, after you read it, you’ll hang in there for just a minute and give me a chance to explain.

Okay, here goes: Somalia.

A country in the horn of Africa, it once glued American eyeballs, but that was so last century, right? I mean, there was that bestselling book and that hit Hollywood movie directed by Ridley Scott (Blade RunnerAlien!) about the disaster early in Bill Clinton’s presidency that came to be known as Black Hawk Down (aka the battle of Mogadishu).

In the age of Donald Trump, wasn’t that a million presidencies ago? Honestly, can you even tell me anymore what in the world it was all about? I couldn’t have, not without looking it up again. A warlord, starvation, U.S. intervention, 18 dead American soldiers (and hundreds of dead Somalis, but that hardly mattered) in a country that was shattering. President Clinton did, however, pull out those troops and end the disastrous mission — and that was that, right? I mean, lessons learned. Somalia? Africa? What in the world did it all have to do with us? So Washington washed its hands of the whole thing.

And now, on a planet of outrageous tweets and murderously angry white men, you probably didn’t even notice, but more than two years into the era of Donald Trump, a quarter-century after that incident, American airstrikes in… yep, Somalia, are precipitously on the rise.

Last year’s 47 strikes, aimed at the leaders and fighters of al-Shabaab, an Islamist terror outfit, more than tripled the ones carried out by the Obama administration in 2016 (themselves a modest increase from previous years). And in 2019, they’re already on pace to double again, while Somali civilians — not that anyone (other than Somali civilians) notices or cares — are dying in significant and rising numbers.

And with 500 troops back on the ground there and Pentagon estimates that they will remain for at least another seven years, the U.S. military is increasingly Somalia-bound, Congress hasn’t uttered a peep on the subject, and few in this country are paying the slightest attention.

So consider this a simple fact of the never-ending Global War on Terror (as it was once called): the U.S. military just can’t get enough of Somalia. And if that isn’t off the charts, what is? Maybe it’s even worth a future book (with a very small print run) called not Black Hawk Down II but U.S. Down Forever and a Day.

And now that I’ve started on the subject (if you still happen to be reading), when it comes to the U.S. military, it’s not faintly just Somalia. It’s all of Africa.

After all, this country’s military uniquely has a continent-wide Africa Command (aka AFRICOM), founded in 2007. As Nick Turse has often written for TomDispatch, that command now has its troops, thousands of them, its planes, and other equipment spread across the continent, north to south, east to west — air bases, drone bases, garrisons, outposts, staging areas, you name it. Meanwhile, AFRICOM’s outgoing commanding general, Thomas Waldhauser, only recently told Congress why it’s bound to be a forever outfit — because, shades of the Cold War, the Ruskies are coming! (“Russia is also a growing challenge and has taken a more militaristic approach in Africa.”)

And honestly, 600-odd words in, this wasn’t meant to be a piece about either Somalia or Africa. It was meant to be about those U.S. wars being off the charts, about how the Pentagon now feeds eternally at the terror trough, al-Shabaab being only a tiny part of the slop it regularly digests. So, for the seven of you still reading, let me change the subject to something a little more appealingly — to quote a well-known authority — “ridiculous” when it comes to American war.

 

A “Ridiculous” War

Maybe you won’t be surprised to learn that what I have in mind is the war in Afghanistan, another of Washington’s off-the-charts affairs.

It might even qualify as the original one (if you don’t count Vietnam, which would take you back to the Neolithic Age of the U.S. military’s infinite wars). Lest you think I only mean the war that began in Afghanistan after the terror attacks of 9/11, think again. I’m talking about the American war in that distant land that started in 1979, the decade-long conflict in which the U.S. supported extreme Islamists (including a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden) — they were our guys, then — to successfully force the Red Army out of Afghanistan.

That was in 1989, 30 years ago, and a triumphant Washington promptly took more than a decade-long holiday, while a brutal set of civil wars continued in already devastated Afghanistan and the Taliban rose to power in most of the country.

Then, as in Somalia, having learned their lesson (the wrong one, of course), George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and crew decided after 9/11 to emulate… well, the Red Army (even though the Soviet Union had imploded a decade earlier) and occupy the Afghan capital, Kabul. For the only great power left on the planet, facing a lightly armed extremist group, what could possibly go wrong?

Seventeen and a half years later, Congress has rarely focused on the war (not) to end all wars and there are still 14,000 American troops (and the usual set of private contractors) there, along with enough U.S. air power to… well, blow up a lot but not change anything decisively. Of course, the Taliban was long ago sent to hell in a handbasket…Whoops!  The Taliban in 2019 is stronger and in control of more territory than at any moment since it was driven from power in November 2001.

Staggering billions of American taxpayer dollars have gone into the “reconstruction” of that land to little effect (while the domestic infrastructure of the United States has begun to crumble without significant new federal investment). Meanwhile, the security forces of the American-backed Afghan government have been taking casualties at a reportedly unsustainable rate.

After not paying much attention to all of this for something like a decade and a half, the American people did, however inadvertently, vote into the White House a presidential candidate who had long had dissident thoughts about the Afghan War. Typical was this 2012 tweet of his: “Why are we continuing to train these Afghanis who then shoot our soldiers in the back? Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home!”

And it’s not a set of thoughts Donald Trump tossed overboard once he entered the Oval Office either. Only the other day, he ludicrously praised the “great strides in Afghanistan” that the U.S. military and NATO are(n’t) making in an awkward meeting with that alliance’s secretary general (in which he also managed to claim that his father — distinctly from the Bronx, New York — had been born and raised in Germany).

He then doubled back and termed the Afghan War “ridiculous” and “unfortunate.” And last December, soon after he announced that he was pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria (on which more in a moment), he essentially demanded that the U.S. military cut its forces in Afghanistan from 14,000 to 7,000 as part of its route (not rout!) out. That number was assumedly meant to include the 3,000 troops he had been persuaded to add to U.S. forces there in his first year in office.

As it happened, however, the Pentagon had its own forward-looking ideas on how to “withdraw” from Afghanistan. Having already turned that war into the longest in American history, the high command was now evidently vying for another awe-inspiring record: the longest withdrawal of American forces from a war zone ever — a three-to-five-year span of time with perhaps an initial cut of 7,000 somewhere in the months to come (though I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting). In that way, they were working to produce an American war of at least 21 years (USA! USA!), while perhaps also hoping to outlast this president and get one willing to commit to forever war forever.

Admittedly, the Trump administration has also launched peace talks with the Taliban and who knows where they might lead sooner or later. Still, when it comes to the “ridiculous” war the president continues to belittle, give credit where it’s due. It remains robustly, even disastrously, ongoing and off the charts.

 

The Trump Surge

And none of that compares to Trump’s Syrian debacle. In December, the president publicly overruled his advisers and ordered that the 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in that country be withdrawn within 30 days. “We have won against ISIS,” he declared in a video posted on Twitter. “Our boys, our young women, our men — they’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now.”

I think of what followed as “the Trump surge,” the third of the era.

The first, of course, was General David Petraeus’s 2007 surge into Iraq with more than 20,000 American troops. Its aim: to turn the disastrous occupation of that country that followed George W. Bush’s May 2003 “mission accomplished” moment into a raging success. Petraeus, in fact, made his reputation on that turn-around of a surge… until, of course, it wasn’t, and by then he had moved on.

The second surge was President Obama’s decision to send more than 30,000 new U.S. troops into Afghanistan in 2009 — and, of course, you know how that turned out. (See above.)

Now, appropriately enough, we’ve had an upside down, inside-out surge in Syria. Honestly, it could have been a Saturday Night Live routine, complete with Alec Baldwin.

In response to Trump’s withdrawal decision, Secretary of Defense James Mattis promptly resigned and was almost instantly lauded as an all-American hero by a Congress and a media in an uproar over the decision. We’re talking, of course, about “Mad Dog” Mattis, the former Marine general who so classically said of fighting the Taliban, “It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.”

And then, in February, as the pressure on the president ramped up, there was the first partial retreat.  Think of it as the beginning of a withdrawal from the withdrawal.

The news leaked out that, in a “concession” to Pentagon officials, 200 U.S. troops would be left in Syria “for a period of time.” It only took another day for that number to rise to 400. Then, in mid-March, the Wall Street Journal reported that, in reality, 1,000 troops would be left in that country, a figure promptly and definitively denied (“factually incorrect”) by no less a personage than the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford. By month’s end, however, that factually incorrect figure had been confirmed — 1,000 U.S. personnel would indeed remain indefinitely, or at least until the fall of 2020.

Where the Trump surge will go from here we simply don’t know, as the subject has largely dropped from the news.

 

The President From Riyadh?

Meanwhile, don’t forget the war that, unlike Afghanistan and Syria, Donald Trump may not be able to imagine ending, the only one on which, since 2001, Congress has taken a stand. I’m thinking, of course, about the grim U.S.-backed Saudi and Emirati war in Yemen.

As April began, Congress passed a resolution calling on the president to “remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting” Yemen within 30 days. (Of course, you already know how well such 30-day deadlines work when it comes to America’s wars.) In the single most obvious situation in which a war (or at least American involvement in it) might possibly be ended, in which the president with the help of Congress might actually override the national security state’s urge to fight on anywhere and everywhere, President Trump then signed second veto of his term in office and nixed the congressional resolution.

Who could be surprised? It’s obviously the wrong off-the-charts war for the president from Riyadh to end — or have I, like the president himself, gotten confused about which Trump was born where?

Oh yes, and talking about learning one’s lessons, as well as truly going off the charts…

As the 2020 elections approach, watch out. There’s one possible American war still to come in the Greater Middle East. You know, the one that won’t be off the charts, that’s bound to turn out well given the deep pool of experience and reflection on American war making that will have preceded it.

I’m thinking, of course, about a potential war with Iran (the one the Bush administration’s top officials wished for before they bogged down so disastrously in Iraq and Afghanistan). President Trump’s foreign-policy team — National Security Advisor John Bolton (a relic of the Bush years) and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — are visibly dying (if that’s the right word) for just such a war and the president who ripped up the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal, recently declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terror group, and has been threatening Iran ever since, seems all too open to it as well.

So, for the last few of us still here thinking about American wars, I would say that when it comes to off the charts, it’s possible that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Top photo | President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence greet military personnel during a visit to the Pentagon, July 20, 2017. Pablo Martinez Monsivais | AP

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs TomDispatch.com and is a fellow of the Type Media Center. His sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books).

Source | TomDispatch

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Is the United States Giving up on Its Project in Venezuela ?

Thu, 2019-04-18 20:37

The silence is almost deafening. Is it the quiet before the storm? – Or is the US giving up on Venezuela? I don’t think so. It’s more like a regrouping after a first defeat, well, it’s a multiple defeat, if we start counting since the failed coup attempt against Hugo Chavez on 11 April 2002.

However, Washington is not giving up. The first blows come flying. Pompeo to Maduro – open your borders for humanitarian aid, or else…. which implies the usual, “all options are on the table – ’humanitarian’ military intervention is an option”.

Washington – April 10, 2019, high level US and South American (members of the infamous and nefarious Lima Group, naturally) politicians and military held a secret meeting about the strategic next steps to subdue Venezuela, how to “regime-change” the Maduro Government, by ‘military options’, as reported by investigative journalist Max Blumenthal. The meeting was dubbed ‘Assessing the Use of Military Force in Venezuela.’ It was hosted by the DC-based neoliberal think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Venezuela’s ambassador to the UN, Samuel Moncada, denounces Trump’s preparations for war to the entire UN community. The UN Community is increasingly taking note of the atrocities and lawlessness of the one rogue UN member that has the arrogance of thinking and acting as if it were above the law, above every law, even the laws made by its own lawmakers, the United States of America. In the context of the failed coup attempt on Venezuela, a group of about 60 UN members formed, including Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and many more, representing about half of the world population, in support of Venezuela and especially in support of the UN Charter. The group requests and will enhance actions for UN members to respect the UN principles, the laws and rules upon which the United Nations were created almost 75 years ago. This is a new twist within the UN body.

On 11 April, US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, met in Washington with 16 ministers of finance and representatives of 20 countries (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Guyana, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Portugal, Peru, Spain, and the UK) – to enhance the support of some 50 countries of the self-declared president Juan Guaidó, and how to support Venezuela, once the Maduro Government “is gone”. – Hilarious, if it wasn’t so serious. It is as if these, otherwise smart people, were falling into the trap of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister – if a lie is repeated enough, it becomes the truth. Indeed, there is no other country in recent history that emulates Hitler and his approaches to world dominance by manipulation as well as Washington. And indeed, it is not quite clear, who was teaching whom.

Venezuela’s Vice-president, Delcy Rodriguez, denounces the preparation of military intervention in Venezuela by the US, Colombia and Brazil. She warns the world from a humanitarian disaster if the global community, allows the United States and its minions to interfere in Venezuela.

Mexico’s new President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), also vehemently rejects any interference in Venezuela – and offers his Government’s services to mediate a dialogue between the Maduro Government and the opposition, a dialogue to which President Maduro has invited the opposition already many times. To no avail. Mostly because the orders from Washington are clear, no dialogue – no compromise, the Maduro Government must go.

We will inject the necessary capital into the inefficient oil industry, and our petrol corporations are eager to revive Venezuela’s hydrocarbon industry and make it profitable again. These are the bold and honest words of John Bolton, US National security Adviser. Let’s see where all this hoopla may lead. If it sounds like wishful thinking, it is wishful thinking.

Even though the true media hero, Julian Assange is for totally illegal reasons behind bars in the UK. And this because laws are made in Washington as Washington sees fit, as Trump signs papers, shows them on TV and they becomes law – and laws of the US are applied throughout the US vassalic world, and especially by its poodle puppets in London. Never mind this minor detail of human derailment. More importantly, it seems that Mr. Assange’s spirit and that of his creation of truth-telling, Wikileaks, is increasingly reflected by politicians and journalists – who, though somehow coopted into the ‘system’, feel discomfort with this very system and decide to leak so-called classified information into the non-mainstream truth-telling media.

A classical case may be the secret ‘RoundTable’ that took place in Washington on 10 April to discuss the fate of Venezuela. The news about it was first published by the Grayzone portal on 13 April. Mr. Blumenthal has obtained the information along with a “check-in list” of the high-flying participants to this private ‘round-table’. When confronted and asked for interviews on the event, most members on the list were surprised, even stunned, and refused to talk. Somebody from inside must have leaked the information about the clandestine meeting.

 

A new Leak-Culture takes hold

On a totally different issue, but equally important for the concept and philosophy of leaking information to the outside world, is the recent disclosure – “leak” – by someone in the French military that sophisticated French weaponry was used by Saudi Arabia to attack and kill defenseless Yemenis. And this, although the French – and especially Roi Macron himself, has always denied that the French were participating offensively in this also illegal US-UK-NATO proxy war. The French narrative was and is that France’s weapons were only defensive. Sounds as stupid as calling the US War Ministry, the Ministry of Defense.

Are we entering a Leak-zone (no pun intended) – an epoch of leaking, of divulging ‘secret’ and classified information? Have we had enough impunity? It’s time to stop it. What is this “classified” and secret information anyway? In a so-called Democracy – why are the elected government officials privileged to hold on to secret information, unknown to the public who lives under the illusion that they elected them, and – more importantly, or even worse – the public, who pays for them. Can’t you see, dear People, what aberration of “democracy” we have moved into? – Please, just open your eyes and see all these contradictions, contradictions for us, but they serve the chosen- and you believe elected-by-you – elite, lining their pockets and increasing their power.

Now the public must know the truth. This new Leak-Culture may take hold. – If so, its high time, but never too late. It would be another sign towards the empire heaving on its last breath, or as Andrew Vltchek so adroitly puts it, when he describing the ultimate crime of the lawless London gang, the police manhandling a sick and defenseless Julian Assange, “By dragging him from the embassy into a police van, it [the empire] has admitted that it already has begun sewing its own funeral gown.”

Back to Venezuela. Has Washington given up? Most likely not. Although their first coup attempt has failed. The Venezuelan military did not defect. Despite Trump’s warning, even threats, they stood and still stand behind Nicolás Maduro. The humanitarian aid trucks at the border in Cúcuta did not cross into Venezuela. In fact, they were burned by the very opposition, hoping to make believe that Maduro’s troops put them on fire. No. They were indeed the opposition forces and their allies in Colombia. Ironically, the mayor of Cúcuta, after the humanitarian aid stayed stuck at the border, asked Colombian President Duque, whether he, the mayor, might distribute the aid among the poor people of Cúcuta, because this aid was more needed in Cúcuta than in Venezuela.

Second, Juan Guaidó was never able to mobilize the crowds as Washington expected. Guaidó, a US lackey in the first place, lacks any charisma. He does not appeal even to the majority of Venezuela’s opposition. So, he is a dead horse. Bad choice by Washington.

Third, a direct military intervention seems unlikely – at least at this point – as Russia quietly but with considerable force has made known her presence in the country. And so does China. Though China may not have sent military personnel, China’s position was and is: Don’t mess with Venezuela. China and Russia have both huge investments in Venezuela’s hydrocarbon industry.

In the meantime, Bolton and Pompeo have already accused, in addition to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua as spreading ‘socialism’ in the region. That’s their crime. It’s now in the open – it’s not just the oil, it’s also ideology. They are going to be sanctioned. In Cuba invoking again the 1996 Helms–Burton Act, under which foreign companies are prohibited from doing business in Cuba, lest they are prevented from doing business in the US. In addition, the amount of money Cuban American’s may send home is again limited, after Obama lifted the restrictions. – And exile Cubans – mostly applying to those in Florida – may now sue Cuba in US courts for confiscated and nationalized land after the revolution. And that after 60 years. I wonder, what US courts have to meddle in Cuba. This latest US arrogance stinks to heaven.

Will the world smell it? – Is Washington at the end of the rope with Venezuela? – We’ll see. Not voluntarily; that’s for sure. But if leakers keep leaking, it’s a sign that even insiders have had it.

Top photo | Graffiti that asks in Spanish “A normal country?” covers a wall in the middle-class neighborhood of Alta Florida in Caracas, Venezuela, April 15, 2019. The message is a tart comment in a place where talk of what is normal, or should be normal, has become common and touches nerves. Boris Vergara | AP

Peter Koenig is an economist and geopolitical analyst. He is also a water resource and environmental specialist. He worked for over 30 years with the World Bank and the World Health Organization around the world in the fields of environment and water. He lectures at universities in the US, Europe and South America. He writes regularly for Global Research; ICH; RT; Sputnik; PressTV; The 21st Century; TeleSUR; The Saker Blog, the New Eastern Outlook (NEO); and other internet sites. He is the author of Implosion – An Economic Thriller about War, Environmental Destruction and Corporate Greed – fiction based on facts and on 30 years of World Bank experience around the globe. He is also a co-author of The World Order and Revolution! – Essays from the Resistance.

Source | The Saker

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With Russia and China Now in its Sights, US Army to Spend $50B on New Stuff

Thu, 2019-04-18 19:05

U.S. Army top brass recently announced that they are briefing “top military commanders” about the construction of new weapons that would better prepare them in an all-out war — or, in their words, a “high-intensity conflict” — against Russia and China.

Army officials have already briefed Admiral Philip Davidson, who oversees all military personnel in the Asia-Pacific theater.

“We want to talk to [U.S. European Command] as well,” Army Secretary Mark Esper said, according to Defense One.

The move is in line with Pentagon goals to prepare the United States military for “great power competition,” the new, primary objective of the Defense Department first put forth in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. This document, now official doctrine, prioritizes this goal over all other objectives of the military, including combating terrorism and counter-insurgency.

Though concerning that the main fighting force of the U.S. military is seeking better equipment in preparation for a potential “high-intensity conflict” with its two most formidable foes, there is no reason to panic, at least not immediately.

“Everything we are laying in place right now, by 2028, if all goes well, you’ll see these things roll off and roll into units,” Esper told Bloomberg.

Esper said that he wants to reallocate funds from vehicles and aircrafts made for “different conflicts” — i.e., Afghanistan and Iraq, where the U.S. Army has been fighting for 17 years, and Syria — into what he “need[s] to penetrate Russian or Chinese air defenses.” He’s also looking to acquire artillery that could “hold at bay Chinese ships.”

Among the new war toys on the U.S. Army wish list are: long-range artillery, attack and reconnaissance aircraft, air and missile defenses, and command-and-control networks, according to Defense One.

According to Bloomberg, this year’s budget proposal “plants the seeds for a new generation of long-range cannons and rockets, vertical-lift aircraft, vehicles and soldier gear.” The outlet elaborates on the reallocation of funds:

  • “Long-range precision fire capability — $6.4 billion, up from $1 billion.
  • Next generation combat vehicles — $14.7 billion, up from $5.4 billion.
  • Future Vertical Lift, advanced helicopters — $5.38 billion, up from $690 million.
  • Air and Missile Defense — $9.65 billion, up from $5.68 billion.
  • ‘Soldier lethality’ improvements — $5.93 billion, up from $1.4 billion.
  • Improving battlefield communications networks — $12.5 billion, up from $8.2 billion.”

 

Corporate and congressional pork on the taxpayers’ bill

The weapons investments will come at a cost of $54.56 billion to American taxpayers. The reallocated funds, which the Army stated were intended to help it prepare for a war against Russia and China, account for about $25 billion.

The Army hopes to reap the fruits of these changes by 2024.

Funds for these projects may come from cuts to others. Last year, Esper and Army Chief of Staff Mar Milley spent months in “night court” weighing their options. “They operated as judge, jury and sometimes executioner over about 500 programs,” according to Bloomberg.

Cuts were made to 186 weapons programs.

“What I don’t have right now is an attack/reconnaissance aircraft,” Esper reportedly said on Tuesday during a Pentagon briefing. “That’s what I need to penetrate Russian or Chinese air defenses. I’m not going to do that with a CH-47.”

Of course, as with any kind of change of priorities or new projects taken on by the military, defense contractors will be soon scrambling for a piece of the pie, as will the folks on the Hill looking to bring the pork home to their states and districts.

Let the bidding wars begin before the real one wipes us all out.

Top photo | The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell launches a SM 2 missile during a MSLEX exercise. MSLEXs are designed to increase lethality in an “Era of Great Power Competition”, March 17, 2018. Jeremy Graham | DVIDS

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post With Russia and China Now in its Sights, US Army to Spend $50B on New Stuff appeared first on MintPress News.

The Assange Poop Smear Was Concocted to Cover Ecuador’s $4.2 B IMF Loan

Thu, 2019-04-18 02:13

Now that journalist Julian Assange is in the hands of Western authorities thanks to Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, their media lapdogs are scraping from the bottom of the barrel to smear the WikiLeaks editor with increasingly absurd claims.

While Assange is no stranger to smears, this set is particularly distasteful. It started with Ecuadorian Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo, who told reporters on the day of Assange’s arrest that he was “putting feces on the walls of the embassy and other behaviors of that nature.”

What follows is a list of major outlets that have regurgitated the claim, some on multiple occasions: CNN, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Vox, ABC News, Reuters, The Associated Press, Daily Mail, The Daily Caller, Fox News, NBC News, BBC, The Independent, The Daily Beast, Mediaite, Vice News, the Wall Street Journal and Business Insider.

The Root even concluded its article by re-repeating the smear: “Did I mention that he put feces on the wall? Also, white privilege.”

On Thursday, Moreno was likely emboldened by the lack of critical coverage of the ‘poop smearing’ smear, and so he not only repeated it in Washington to the Inter American Dialogue, but also to the BBC.

#Ecuador president #LeninMoreno tells me ⁦⁦#JulianAssange smeared the walls of the embassy with feces and that is why they revoked his asylum. The #WikiLeaks leader exhausted their tolerance, the president told me ⁦@BBCBreakingpic.twitter.com/bGGBcjZ4ry

— Jon Sopel (@BBCJonSopel) April 16, 2019

With Moreno’s reinvigoration, and validation, of the lie, it is set to become official record regarding the arrest of Julian Assange. Yet, there is no evidence.

Ecuador made a series of other accusations against Assange too. Apparently, another impetus for the revocation of his asylum was that he scuffed up the walls of the embassy while skateboarding indoors. To bolster this claim, they released surveillance footage of Assange playing around on a skateboard. Yet they, for whatever reason, didn’t find it necessary to release any evidence of Assange smearing his excrement on the walls

Recounting his last meeting with Assange prior to Assange being kicked out of the embassy for being a journalist, reporter Charles Glass wrote of the surveillance of Assange he witnessed:

He made coffee, glancing up at surveillance cameras in the tiny kitchen and every other room in the embassy that recorded his every movement.”

Assange was under total surveillance while in the embassy. They didn’t release the footage of him smearing his poop on the walls because it simply doesn’t exist. It’s a crock of shit.

 

Assange’s lawyer pushes back

Even prior to Moreno echoing the claim, Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, was asked about it in an interview with Sky News: “A lot of allegations and rumors over the relationship breakdown, including that he spread feces on the walls, I mean — what has it been like for him living there?”

“Ecuador has been making some outrageous allegations to justify what was an unlawful and extraordinary act of allowing British police to come inside an embassy,” Robinson says.

“So it’s not true?” the interviewer asks.

“That’s not true.”

 

The real reasons Assange was expelled

The poop smear serves an effective propaganda purpose: it deflects from the real scandal. That’s because it’s not just the Ecuadorians giving their supposed side of the story: the crude tale was eaten up by reams of “reporters.” It was put forth as the reason for his expulsion in stories with headlines like “Here’s why Ecuador kicked Assange out of the embassy” and “Why did Ecuador give up Assange after seven years?”

But the truth is far more squalid. Ecuador, once among the Latin American “pink tide” nations, since Moreno came into power has been making fast strides towards neoliberalizing its economy. That means cozying up to the U.S.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, several paragraphs after giving air to the poop smear:

Central to Mr. Moreno’s shift was an interest in deepening ties with the U.S. Mr. Moreno, a 66-year-old who uses a wheelchair since being shot during a robbery two decades ago, ended Ecuador’s alliance with Venezuela and a leftist bloc of nations, choosing instead to pursue a trade deal with Washington.

He has sought to renegotiate Chinese oil-backed loans and signed a bailout package with the International Monetary Fund to shore up a troubled economy.

‘I think it is very unlikely they didn’t talk to the U.S. first’ about ending Mr. Assange’s asylum, said Sebastian Hurtado, president of Profitas, a Quito political-risk consulting firm.

Ecuadorian business leaders hope removing Mr. Assange from the embassy will speed up talks for a trade agreement with Washington.”

After former Ecuadorian President Rafel Correa, who originally granted Assange his asylum, tweeted a picture of a document showing that Moreno’s government was “auditing” Assange’s asylum and his naturalization in Ecuador — which prevents him from being extradited — WikiLeaks (which has never gotten a story wrong) asserted that a bailout for the country from the International Monetary Fund was conditioned on its “handing over Assange and dropping environmental claims against Chevron” for its pollution of the Amazon.

As MintPress News previously reported:

On February 21, Ecuador signed a deal securing the controversial IMF loan for a total of $4.2 billion, in addition to another $6 billion from other U.S.-dominated financial institutions like the World Bank, for a total of $10.2 billion.”

After the IMF deal was struck, Ecuador laid off more than 10,000 public-sector employees, slashed spending, and decreased the minimum wage.

There is also the fact that WikiLeaks republished documents detailing corruption by Moreno, members of his family, and his inner circle.

As The Grayzone reported:

WikiLeaks’s decision to republish the details of Moreno’s use of off-shore bank accounts in Panama, infamously titled INA Papers after the name of the shell corporation at the center of the scandal (INA Investment Corporation), appears to be the main cause for the president’s decision to expel Assange from the embassy.

Ecuadorian Communications Minister Andrés Michelena even went as far as claiming that the INA Papers were a conspiracy plot between Julian Assange, the former president Rafael Correa and the current Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.”

While Moreno was in Washington for the Inter American Dialogue, journalist Helena Villar grilled him on the INA Papers and the IMF loan’s role in the forfeiture of Assange to British authorities:

There is some information and also the former president said that there was a link between the decision about Assange and the promotion of the INA Papers and the debt with the IMF. What do you have to say about that?”

“Miss, that is a lie,” Moreno said, drawing laughter from other reporters for using the term “Señorita.” Moreno went on to, ironically, pontificate about the nature of “truth” and “lies”:

We only tell the truth. Sometimes, it’s not so nice, miss. It is not so imaginative or creative as the lie. A lie has different ways to manifest. Novels wouldn’t be so successful, then. Lies are more attractive but we believe in truth. And we think telling the truth is the most important thing.”

Momento en el que pregunto al presidente de Ecuador sobre la presunta relación entre la publicidad dada por Wikileaks al escándalo de corrupción #INApapers y la deuda del FMI con la decisión de retirar el asilo a #Assange. La respuesta: pic.twitter.com/Yh54uCbXIQ

— Helena Villar (@HelenaVillarRT) April 17, 2019

 

Tried and true tactic

The smear follows an already well-established pattern: the U.S. or one of its allies captures an official enemy, and so, in order to quash any domestic or international support he or she might receive, they lie, make stuff up, and do anything they can to dehumanize their captive.

Journalist and author Max Blumenthal got wise to this tactic years ago. He wrote:

Apparently it wasn’t enough that Osama Bin Laden had spawned a movement of mass murdering fanatics who killed thousands of innocent people around the world, most of whom were Muslim. Now US ‘officials’ speaking ‘on the condition of anonymity’ are claiming that Bin Laden was a porn hound who kept an ‘extensive’ stash of adult films in his home.

The revelations about our latest national folk devil’s perversions made me wonder if Bin Laden borrowed his porn stash from the jailed former Panamanian strongman and bygone boogeyman Manuel Noriega.”

Noriega was accused by the press, trumpeting U.S. authorities, of having “pictures of Adolf Hitler,” “pornography,” “50 kilos of cocaine,” and a “bucket of blood and entrails” that the Americans claimed “may have been used for occult rites.”

The only problem? There were no voodoo rituals, the cocaine was tortilla flour, and the picture of Hitler came from a photojournalism project on World War II history.

It doesn’t stop there. Blumenthal notes other examples of this smear tactic against those no longer able to defend themselves publicly — including Osama Bin Laden allegedly having marijuana, Saddam Hussein’s son having pornography and pictures of George W. Bush’s twin daughters, and Kurdish communist leader Dursun Karatas having caviar and “a large screen television.”

Top photo | Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno is seen through a television camera viewfinder as he addresses the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, April 17, 2019, in Washington. Patrick Semansky | AP

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post The Assange Poop Smear Was Concocted to Cover Ecuador’s $4.2 B IMF Loan appeared first on MintPress News.

CIA Docs Shows UK, France and West Germany Wanted to Bring “Operation Condor” To Europe

Thu, 2019-04-18 01:57

SANTIAGO, CHILE — A recently declassified CIA document has revealed that members of the intelligence agencies of France, the United Kingdom and West Germany discussed how to establish “an anti-subversive organization similar to [the CIA’s Operation] Condor” in their own countries. Described by the CIA as “a cooperative effort by the intelligence/security services of several South American countries to combat terrorism and subversion,” Operation Condor was a campaign of state terrorism originally planned by the CIA that targeted leftists, suspected leftists and their “sympathizers” and resulted in the forced disappearances, torture and brutal murders of an estimated 60,000 people, as well as the political imprisonment of around half a million people. Around half of the estimated murders occurred in Argentina.

The document, released last Friday as part of a release of newly declassified U.S. government documents related to the U.S.-backed military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983, states that:

Representatives of West German, French and British intelligence services had visited the Condor organization secretariat in Buenos Aires during the month of September 1977 in order to discuss methods for establishment of an anti-subversion organization similar to Condor” due to their view that “the terrorist/subversive threat had reached such dangerous levels in Europe.”

The representatives from the three countries then stated that they felt that pooling “their intelligence resources in a cooperative organization such as Condor” would be an important way of combating the “subversive threat.” Notably, England at the time was already involved in an international “intelligence sharing” program known as ECHELON, a program between the “Five Eyes” intelligence pact between the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand that continues in a different form today.

The document, which was written in 1978, came two years after Operation Condor targeted left-wing Latin American exiles living in Europe. Several other documents in the recent release discuss a decision made by Condor member countries in May 1976 to train and send a military unit to “conduct physical attacks” against left-wing Latin American exiles and their supporters in France, in what was codenamed “Teseo.” Several Condor countries, aside from Brazil and Bolivia, were eager to participate and the training of the “Teseo” unit did occur, though the CIA was apparently unaware whether the unit was actually sent to France.

 

Operation Condor: Made in the West

European interest in bringing home a state-sponsored terror campaign may seem shocking, given Europe’s publicly stated concerns at the time regarding Condor member countries’ mind-boggling human rights abuses and state-sponsored murders. But it will hardly surprise those who have studied Operation Condor, as the operation itself was a Western invention that was imposed on Latin America through a series of military coups, which again were backed by Western governments.

Operation Condor officially began in 1975, though CIA documents in this recent release suggest that the inter-country intelligence-sharing aspect had likely begun a year earlier in 1974. The countries involved — Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, and Bolivia — were all backed and supported by the U.S., which was also incidentally the largest weapons dealer to these government over this same time frame. During the latter portion of Operation Condor, one of the recently declassified documents claims that Israel took over key roles played by the U.S. in Operation Condor, including the “training of local personnel and sales of certain types of advanced military equipment,” despite the many innocent Jews murdered by several of the Condor dictatorships.

Several of the Condor countries had seen their military dictatorships installed with U.S. government involvement, as was the case in Chile and Brazil, with the U.S. government suspected in other coups that preceded Operation Condor by only a few years, such as the 1971 coup in Bolivia and the 1973 coup in Uruguay. After the 1976 coup in Argentina — Argentina’s sixth and final coup of the 20th century — it too joined Operation Condor.

The U.S. provided planning, training, funding and arms for Operation Condor, and European nations also provided a significant number of weapons. France — one of the countries interested in creating a Condor-style program for Europe — was noted in one of the recently declassified documents for its “excellent prospects for sales of jet aircraft and air defense systems” to Condor dictatorships; while West Germany, another country interested in a European Condor, “should be able to market missiles, ground force equipment and submarines.”

U.S. and European intelligence agencies were well aware of what Condor dictatorships were doing with those weapons, as indicated by past and recent document releases that detail horrific descriptions of the torture and murder of those suspected of being left-wing and those suspected of sympathizing with the left, as well as those who opposed the neoliberal economic policies imposed by all of the U.S.-backed Condor dictatorships.

Some of the more infamous tactics used by Condor nations had also been inspired by past European and U.S. war crimes. This includes the “death flights,” where victims were drugged, bound and placed in plastic body bags, and/or had their stomachs cut open before being thrown out of a plane or helicopter over the ocean. This tactic was said to have been inspired by the actions of French armed forces during the Algerian war and, according to the 2003 documentary The Death Squads: The French School, French intelligence had taught these and other methods to Argentine military officials during the dictatorship.

 

Whitewashing away the full horror of Condor

Notably, much of the recent coverage of Operation Condor and the CIA releases has sought to whitewash the program’s horrific legacy, with The Guardian describing Operation Condor as “a secret programme in which the dictatorships of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador conspired to kidnap and assassinate members of leftwing guerrilla groups in each other’s territories.” This, of course, implies that those targeted were guerilla members and thus combatants.

However, many — and one could convincingly argue the majority — of those killed, tortured and imprisoned were not members of guerilla groups, as there are thousands of documented cases of college students, musicians, writers, journalists, priests and nuns, pregnant women, teachers, indigenous leaders, union members and others who were subject to the extreme prejudice of Operation Condor despite not being combatants in any capacity. The Guardian also dramatically downplayed the program’s death toll, claiming that “the conspiracy led to the deaths of at least 100 people in Argentina,” while the actual figure is around 30,000. The Guardian also failed to mention the intimate role of the U.S. and other Western nations in facilitating and arming the program.

Such poor reporting is offensive to those who lost their lives and to their families, many of which have never stopped looking for their lost loved ones. Many of those families, such as Argentina’s “Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo,” have spent the last several decades looking for the estimated 500 children and babies separated from their disappeared and murdered parents and given to dictatorship-supporting families.

In a clear testament to how the effects of Operation Condor are still felt today, one of those babies — now over 40 years old — was identified on April 9 and is set to be reunited with her father, who survived the dictatorship and has spent the last several decades looking for his lost daughter. The mother was kidnapped while pregnant, allowed to give birth to the baby and killed immediately afterwards.

The very idea that European countries wanted to bring such a horrific terror campaign to their continent to target “subversives” should serve as a cautionary tale to Europeans who trust their government’s professed interest in promoting democracy and human rights, all while exporting terror overseas.

Top photo | Former Argentina’s president Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla, left, talks with Paraguay’s dictator Gen. Alfredo Stroessner. Videla, led the military dictatorship and the so-called Dirty War against political dissents between1976-83, more than 12,000 people died or disappeared, the vast majority have never been found or identified. Eduardo Di Baia | 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.

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War Versus Peace: Israel Has Decided and So Should We

Thu, 2019-04-18 01:17

So, what have we learned from the Israeli legislative elections on April 9?

A whole lot.

To start with, don’t let such references as the “tight race” between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his main rival, Benny Gantz, fool you.

Yes, Israelis are divided on some issues that are particular to their social and economic makeup. But they are also resolutely unified around the issue that should concern us most: the continued subjugation of the Palestinian people.

Indeed, ‘tight race’, or not, Israel has voted to cement Apartheid, support the ongoing annexation of the Occupied West Bank, and carry on with the Gaza siege.

In the aftermath of the elections, Netanyahu emerged even more powerful; his Likud party has won the elections with 36 seats, followed by Gantz’s Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) with 35 seats.

Gantz, the rising star in Israeli politics was branded throughout the campaign as a centrist politician, a designation that tossed a lifeline to the vanquished Israeli ‘left’ – of which not much is left anyway.

This branding helped sustain a short-lived illusion that there is an Israeli alternative to Netanyahu’s extremist right-wing camp.  

But there was never any evidence to suggest that Gantz would have been any better as far as ending the Israeli occupation, dismantling the Apartheid regime and parting ways with the country’s predominantly racist discourse.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Gantz has repeatedly criticized Netanyahu for supposedly being too soft on Gaza, promising to rain yet more death and destruction on an a region that, according to the United Nations, will be unlivable by 2020.

A series of videos, dubbed “Only the Strong Survives”, were issued by the Gantz campaign in the run up to the elections. In the footage, Gantz was portrayed as the national savior, who had killed many Palestinians while serving as the army’s chief of staff between 2011 and 2015.

Gantz is particularly proud of being partly responsible for bombing Gaza “back to the stone age.”

It apparently mattered little to Israeli centrists and the remnants of the left that in the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza, dubbed Operation “Protective Edge”, over 2,200 Palestinians were killed and over 11,000 were injured. In that most tragic war, over 500 Palestinian children were killed, and much of Gaza’s already ailing infrastructure was destroyed.

But then again, why vote for Gantz when Netanyahu and his right-wing extremist camp are getting the job done?

Sadly, Netanyahu’s future coalition is likely to be even more extreme than the previous one.

Moreover, thanks to new possible alliances, Netanyahu will most likely free himself of burdensome allies, the likes of former Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

One significant change in the likely makeup of the Israeli right is the absence of such domineering figures, who, aside from Lieberman also include former Education Minister, Naftali Bennett and former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

All the grandstanding from Bennett and Shaked, who had recently established a new party called “The New Right”, didn’t even garner them enough votes to reach the threshold required to win a single seat in the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset. They needed 3.25 percent of the vote, but only achieved 3.22 percent. They are both out.

The defeat of the infamous duo is quite revealing: the symbols of Israel’s extreme right no longer meet the expectations of Israel’s extremist constituencies.  

Now the stage is wide open for the ultra-orthodox parties, Shas, which now has eight seats, and United Torah Judaism, with seven seats to help define the new normal in Israel.

The Israeli left – if it was ever deserving of the name – received a final blow; the once prominent Labor Party, won merely six seats.

On the other hand, Arab parties that ran in the 2015 elections under the united banner of the “Joint List”, fragmented once more, to collectively achieve only 10 seats.

Their loss of three seats, compared to the previous elections, can be partly blamed on factional and personal agendas. But, that is hardly enough to explain the massive drop in Arab voter participation in the elections: 48 percent compared to 68 percent in 2015.

This record low participation can only be explained through the racist ‘Nation State Law”, which was passed by the right wing-dominated Knesset on July 19, 2018. The new Basic Law, declared Israel as the “nation state of the Jewish people” everywhere, relegating the rights of the Palestinian people, their history, culture and language, while elevating everything Jewish, making self-determination in the state an exclusive right for Jews only.

This trend is likely to continue, as Israel’s political institutions no longer offer even a symbolic margin for true democracy and fair representation.

But perhaps the most important lesson that we can learn in the aftermath of these elections is that in today’s Israel, military occupation and apartheid have been internalized and normalized as uncontested realities, unworthy of national debate. This in particular should summon our immediate attention.  

During election campaigns, no major party spoke about peace, let alone provided a comprehensive vision for achieving it. No leading politician called for the dismantling of the illegal Jewish settlements that have been erected on Palestinian land in violation of international law.

More importantly and tellingly, no one spoke of a two-state solution.

As far as Israelis are concerned, the two-state solution is dead. While this is also true for many Palestinians, the Israeli alternative is hardly co-existence in one democratic secular state. The Israeli alternative is Apartheid.

Netanyahu and his future government coalition of like-minded extremists are now armed with an unmistakably popular mandate to fulfill all of their electoral promises, including the annexation of the West Bank.

Moreover, with an emboldened and empowered right-wing coalition, we are also likely to witness a major escalation in violence against Gaza this coming summer.

Considering all of this, we must understand that Israel’s illegal policies in Palestine cannot and will not be challenged from within Israeli society.

Challenging and ending the Israeli occupation and dismantling apartheid can only happen through internal Palestinian resistance and external pressure that is centered around the strategy of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).  

It is now incumbent on the international community to break this vicious Israeli cycle and support the Palestinian people in their ongoing struggle against Israeli occupation, racism and apartheid.

Top photo | Israeli border police officers stand guard next to posters depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Ha’tikva market in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 2, 2019. Oded Balilty | AP

Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a widely published and translated author, an internationally syndicated columnist and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. 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  www.ramzybaroud.net.

The post War Versus Peace: Israel Has Decided and So Should We appeared first on MintPress News.

As Ukraine Descends to Failed-State Status, US-Backed Fascists Exploit the Chaos

Thu, 2019-04-18 00:36

KIEV, UKRAINE — Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently issued a damning report of atrocities committed by the Ukranian Security Forces, titled “Ukraine: Events of 2018.” For the past five years, eastern Ukraine has been plunged into a bloody civil war after the United States backed a Neo-Nazi coup dubbed EuroMaidan to overthrow the democratically elected government of Ukraine, which was allied with Russia.

Those in the west of the country and in the capital, Kiev, wished for stronger ties with Europe, those in the east are ethnically Russian and wish for ties with Russia. This caused a bloody conflict as Ukrainian troops advanced eastward and have fought against local militias that support the Russian government.

While the pro-Russian groups were also implicated in the HRW report on Ukraine, most of the atrocities have been committed by the Ukranian army and government, armed and supported by the United States.

In its report, HRW documents how Ukraine strayed away from democratic values and adopted  fascist policies that targeted the country’s most vulnerable:

The [Ukrainian] government took further steps to restrict freedom of expression and association. Violence by radical groups promoting hatred put ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, activists, and journalists at risk.”

Among the crimes of the current Western-backed Ukrainian government is arbitrary, indefinite detention, complete with all the cruelty that flourishes in the haze of war. Especially in a war where rules of engagement have been thrown out the window. According to HRW:

Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) continued to deny the secret and prolonged detention of 18 civilians in its Kharkiv secret detention facility from 2014 to 2016. All 18 were unofficially freed by the end of 2016 and their detention was never acknowledged.”

 

The repressive-government playbook

Ukraine is following the playbook of repressive governments both extinct and extant.

As press freedom is under seige in the U.S., the West, and all over the globe, Ukraine is no exception. The report shows that censorship is the bread and butter of Ukraine’s post-EuroMaidan information landscape:

The Ukrainian government continued restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of information, and media freedom, seeking to justify them by citing the need to counter Russia’s military aggression in eastern Ukraine and anti-Ukraine propaganda.

According to the Institute for Mass Information, a media freedom watchdog, as of October [2018], 201 press freedom violations took place in 23 regions. These ranged from threats and intimidation to restricting journalists’ access to information.”

The Ukranian government has tried to quash any dissent by the pro-Russian press. This is crucial, as the reason there’s still a bloody civil war is that so many in the East of the country are ethnically Russian and speak Russian at home:

In May, the SBU deported two journalists from the main Russian-state television channel, Channel 1, alleging that they had planned to spread disinformation about Ukraine. Also in May, the Ukraine editor of the Russian state wire service, RIA Novosti, in Ukraine, Kirill Vyshinsky, was arrested on treason charges for his alleged participation in “propaganda campaigns” to legitimize Russia’s actions in Crimea. Security services raided the outlet’s office in Kyiv.”

Atrocities are occurring on and off the battlefield, as Ukraine is a haven for hate groups. This is what is occurring off the battlefield:

Members of groups advocating hate and discrimination carried out at least two dozen violent attacks, threats, or instances of intimidation against Roma people, LGBT people, and rights activists in several Ukrainian cities. In most cases, police failed to respond or effectively investigate.”

In Ukraine, homosexuality is not a generally accepted lifestyle. Often the most vulnerable victims are not given police protection. This is not unique to Ukraine, but the level of Neo-Nazism in Ukraine is much higher than in other European countries. As HRW found:

In March, hate groups attacked events to promote women’s rights in Kyiv, Lviv, and Uzhgorod. In Kyiv, they physically assaulted participants while police looked on. In June, members of a far-right group attacked a Roma settlement in Lviv, killing a man and seriously injuring several others.”

The police failed to do their job in dense urban centers. The political affiliation of the police is unknown but it is possible that the Neo-Nazi groups are so powerful that the police didn’t dare to help the women and minorities. In another pogrom detailed by HRW:

In April, members of a radical group in Kyiv, authorized by the local municipality to carry out patrolling, attacked a Roma settlement. They torched tents and chased women and children with rocks and pepper spray. Two criminal investigations were launched, but at time [sic] of writing, those investigations had not led to any prosecutions.”

Whenever a mob action occurs and there are no prosecutions, that’s is often perceived as tacit support for the mob actions, especially when it is frequently repeated and becomes the norm:

In May, hate groups disrupted an equality festival in Chernivtsi while local police failed to effectively protect participants. Also in May, hate groups in Kyiv disrupted an Amnesty International LGBT rights event in Kyiv. Police present took no action and made homophobic comments..”

 

Fascists adore a failed state

Shameful as the civilian actions are, conduct on the battlefield is truly of critical importance. The war is being fought in eastern Ukraine, which is more rural and, where people are fewer and farther between, atrocities can occur without as many witnesses:

According to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission, as of October, at least 212 civilians were injured or killed in 2018, mostly from shelling and light weapons fire.”

Aside from deaths and injuries, people’s homes and livelihoods are at stake and victims are at risk for everything from PTSD to extreme poverty. HRW cataloged the damage:

Shelling across or near the contact line separating the two sides continued to damage civilian homes and infrastructure and to threaten civilian lives. Since 2014, 740 education facilities were damaged during the conflict, 16 from January to October 2018. Both sides carried out indiscriminate or deliberate attacks on schools and used them for military purposes.”

The sheer number of schools that have fallen prey to this war is something on the order of what is seen in some African countries, certainly not in Europe, and is indicative of a failed state.

It’s often fascists who rise to prominence in failed states. They are able to capitalize on anarchy and promise to restore order. Ukraine is certainly ripe for such promises, and it certainly has a strong right-wing presence.

The United States has a longstanding policy of supporting Neo-Nazi militias, doing this covertly during the height of EuroMaidan. According to journalist Stephen Cohen writing in The Nation:

[T]he snipers who killed scores of protestors and policemen on Kiev’s Maidan Square in February 2014, thereby triggering a “democratic revolution” that overthrew the elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, and brought to power a virulent anti-Russian, pro-American regime — it was neither democratic nor a revolution, but a violent coup unfolding in the streets with high-level support — were sent not by Yanukovych, as is still widely reported, but instead almost certainly by the Neofascist organization Right Sector and its co-conspirators.”

The United States government hasn’t sent just money and weapons to the Ukranian frontline. Washington has sent troops to carry out war games very near the Russian border and Russia’s Naval Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. This was timed specifically before Russia’s own war games.

Writing for the libertarian think tank The Cato Institute, journalist Ted Galen Carpenter is dismayed by these actions, which are certain, indeed seem calculated, to provoke Russia. In a news brief he states:

Recent measures are certain to provoke Moscow further, and entangle the United States to an unwise extent with an extremely murky, ideologically troubling Ukrainian regime.”

Carpenter covers different arms deals with Ukraine, which is the situs of a hot-proxy war with Russia and has nothing to do with democracy:

The first transaction in December 2017 was limited to small arms …Model M107A1 Sniper Systems, ammunition, and associated parts and accessories, a sale valued at $41.5 million. A transaction in April 2018 was more serious. Not only was it larger ($47 million), it included…210 Javelin anti-tank missiles… Congress soon passed legislation in May that authorized $250 million in military assistance, including lethal weaponry, to Ukraine in 2019.”

With the United States having both an increased budget for arms sales in Ukraine and troops active near the Russian border, it will be interesting to see what the Human Rights Watch 2019 Report on Ukraine looks like.

Top photo | Volunteers with the right-wing paramilitary Azov National Corps stand to attention less than a month before the country’s presidential vole during a march along the main street in Kiev, Ukraine, March 2, 2019. /Efrem Lukatsky | AP

Nick Rehwaldt is a MintPress News intern. He is an author, artist, and standup comedian focused on political issues, with much of his material ripped from the headlines on any given week. He’s also a proud non-voter and global citizen who happens to live in the U.S.

The post As Ukraine Descends to Failed-State Status, US-Backed Fascists Exploit the Chaos appeared first on MintPress News.

Post-Election Horse-Trading Kicks Off as Netanyahu Builds Israel’s “National No Opposition” Government

Thu, 2019-04-18 00:18

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — The president of the state of Israel is arguably the most insignificant and unimpressive position on earth. The post was created as a pasture into which to send aging politicians who have become irrelevant but are still in need of a position. The role is void of any consequence — so much so, in fact, that one is reminded of the Roman Emperor Caligula, who made his horse a senator. This is sadly true of all the men who have held this position, including my own great-uncle Zalman Shazar who, as the third president of Israel, was known to be a great orator who said nothing.

This dubious honor is today held by former Israeli politician Reuven, or Rubi, Rivlin. He comes from a revisionist, right-wing Zionist ideology and as a politician has made absolutely no significant contribution.

 

Post-Israeli elections

Just about every four years, or whenever Israel holds elections, people are reminded that Israel has a president. This is because one of his only duties is to call upon the person who heads the party that won the largest number of seats in the 120-seat Knesset, and hand him or her the task of assembling a government. In a parliamentary system, the head of the party that wins a majority or the largest number of seats in the parliament becomes prime minister, so why this formality is required is a mystery — but there it is.

This person then has 28 days and can request an additional 14 days if needed in which to do the job, utilizing whatever horse-trading skills he or she may have to put together a coalition. Should this person fail, the president will then hand this responsibility to the head of the second largest party, and so on until such time that a government has been assembled that can receive the votes of more than half of the members of Knesset, meaning a minimum of sixty plus one.

 

A National Unity government

In the history of Israeli politics, the first national unity government was formed by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol on June 1, 1967, on the eve of the 1967 war. The two following governments formed by Golda Meir were also national unity governments.

Under Benjamin Netanyahu, there have been many “national unity” governments in which everyone can find a home, with the exception of the Palestinian Knesset members.

The reasoning for creating a “national unity” government is always the same: the nation is facing challenging times that demand we cast our differences aside and work together for the good of the people. Then all the prime minister has to do is create cabinet positions for everyone involved, appointing a few ministers without portfolio — yes, that is an actual thing, like a Secretary of Nothing in Particular — and everyone is happy. Prime Minister Netanyahu holds the record for the largest number of cabinet members in the history of Israeli governments.

President Rivlin already announced that he plans to ask the heads of the two leading parties, Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to sit together and form such a government. This, of course, will work well for everyone involved: Netanyahu not only remains in his seat but his government will have a majority with 76 seats. Add to that a few of the smaller parties who were loyal to him and now will claim their prizes in the way of cabinet seats, and he could have a majority of over 80. This means that the government has only a very small, fragmented opposition. Of course, this was going to be the outcome anyway, even without the inspiring announcement of President Rivlin.

 

Horse-trading begins

Clearly positioning his party for the horse trading that is an inevitable part of the post-election period in Israel, senior Kahol Lavan Party member and former military chief Gabi Ashkenazi, after officially recommending Gantz for prime minister, told Rivlin that “under the current political circumstances, we won’t be able to serve” in a Netanyahu-led government.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, without its major rival, and with only representatives who have already declared loyalty to him, Netanyahu is ensured a safe 65-seat majority, provided that all of them get what they want. Avigdor Lieberman, for example, who resigned from the post of Defense Minister last year, now demands it again as a condition to join the coalition and support Netanyahu. Lieberman knows, however, that he brings only five members to the table, while Gantz — who will without a doubt demand the defense portfolio as a condition to join the coalition, and is a former IDF chief and therefore a more likely candidate for the job — brings 35.

 

How long will it take?

While the horse trading never really ends, Netanyahu can form a coalition in the time allotted to him by law — 28 days plus a 14-day extension, for a total of 42 days. The only question is how long will it take the leader of Kahol Lavan to capitulate and support Netanyahu. One cannot doubt that the minister’s chair at the Israeli Defense Department in Tel-Aviv is far more attractive for Benny Gantz than that of a member of the opposition in the Knesset chamber.

Top photo | Likud party ballot papers and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign fliers are seen on the ground after polls for Israel’s general elections closed in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 10, 2019. Ariel Schalit | 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 Post-Election Horse-Trading Kicks Off as Netanyahu Builds Israel’s “National No Opposition” Government appeared first on MintPress News.

A Cathedral and a Mosque Engulfed in Fire; One Ravages the Past, the Other Threatens the Future

Wed, 2019-04-17 23:15

The world reacted with shock to the fire that engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral. A symbol of Paris,  this 13th Century architectural marvel is home to precious historical religious relics and artwork;  made even more famous throughout the world by Victor Hugo’s famous novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

World leaders were quick to react to the tragedy of this fire.  News headlines around the world brought this disastrous incident to every living room around the globe and nations commiserated with the French.  The inaudible sigh of relief was palpable when the structure was saved and with it, the history that laid within the walls. The past was not lost.  

But another fire may well stop the future. Concurrent with the fire that ravaged Notre Dame, another historical place of worship, the al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem fell victim to a fire of an unknown origin.  The mosque which was completed in 705 CE, is the third holiest site in Islam.  But its fate is not shared by Muslims alone – it touches us all.

The world can be forgiven for their ignorance of this tragedy – and the importance of al Aqsa.  The media simply dismissed it, as it does with all things that must be kept from the general public. This is not the first fire that was left unmentioned by mainstream media (MSM).

A previous fire set to the mosque by a zealous Australian Christian in 1969 failed to capture headlines. Indeed, the threats to al Aqsa Mosque have accelerated over the years to a point of no return.  Given that the fate of this mosque holds the fate of us all, how can the media be forgiven for their deafening silence?

The scorched interior of al Aqsa Mosque after it was set on fire by a messianic Christian named Denis Michael Rohan, August 21, 1969.

In 2006, the Israeli government began work on an exact replica of the Hurva synagogue on its original site.  The rebuilding of the Hurva is designed to usher in the rebuilding of the Third Temple. Rabbis were tailored for the special kind of garments they would be wearing in a “rebuilt temple” – the ‘end of time’.  But the mosque still stands in the way of building the Third Temple – for now.

It took four years to complete the work on Hurva.  When presidential candidate, Barack Obama promised AIPAC an undivided Jerusalem in 2008, the building of the Hurva synagogue was well on the way — which signaled continued future attacks on the al Aqsa Mosque to make way for construction of the Third Temple.  

In 2009, Israeli news headlines reassured Israelis that “Netanyahu would build the Third Temple.”  Soon after, in 2010, JTA reported that “Our Land of Israel” party had put posters on 200 city buses in Jerusalem showing an artist’s rendition of the Third Temple on the al Aqsa Mosque site with the slogan, “May the Temple be built in our lifetime.”

Donald Trump deliverance on Obama’s promise has made these fanatics more hopeful.  How could they not be with Senator Broxon telling a cheering crowd “Now, I don’t know about you, but when I heard about Jerusalem — where the King of Kings where our soon coming King is coming back to Jerusalem, it is because President Trump declared Jerusalem to be capital of Israel”.

And how do we ignore Benjamin Netanyahu taking ownership of Jerusalem stating that the Bible, the holy book for Jews and Christians, had justified it. Should we then be surprised that rabbis sent a letter of gratitude to Trump, praising him for “fulfilling prophecies”?   

In March, as Israeli elections were approaching, it was reported that “The Israeli Third Temple” party had gained traction.  And while the mainstream media can ignore the latest fire that broke out at the al Aqsa Mosque on April 15, can we afford to ignore the blazing headlines of the same day:  “END OF THE WORLD: Jerusalem third temple ‘fulfills Biblical prophecy’ of the end times” and other Israeli news ushering in the building of the Third Temple and the ‘end of times’?

Some may take comfort in the fact that this is all sheer madness, but one cannot ignore the insanity of which we were warned of by Warner D. Farr, LTC, U.S. Army who in 1999 reported his findings in the “Counterproliferation papers, Future Warfare Series No. 2, USAF Counterproliferation Center”.  This fascinating report, among other things, sounded the alarm over the probability of Gush Emunim, a right-wing religious organization, or others, hijacking a nuclear device to “liberate” the Temple Mount for the building of the third temple.   This is powerful insanity with insane powers enabling it.

Is the world ready to embrace this madness and accept this fate at this juncture?  Are you?

Top photo | Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke filled the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is fell on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. Thibault Camus | AP

Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich is an independent researcher and writer with a focus on US foreign policy and the role of lobby groups in influencing US foreign policy. She is a peace activist, essayist and public speaker. Soraya has a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC), and has a master’s degree in Public Diplomacy – a joint program offered by USC Annenberg for Communication and USC School of International Relations. Her writings are published by various national and international websites.

The post A Cathedral and a Mosque Engulfed in Fire; One Ravages the Past, the Other Threatens the Future appeared first on MintPress News.

Yemen: Trump Vetos Bill to End US Support, Houthis Add New Missiles, Saudi Arabia and Sudan Dig in

Wed, 2019-04-17 19:29

SANA’A, YEMEN — U.S. president Donald Trump on Tuesday vetoed a bill passed by Congress to end U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia’s for its war in Yemen. The U.S. provides billions of dollars of  sophisticated weapons to the Saudi-led coalition. Members of Congress, lad mostly by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, have expressed outrage over the thousands of civilians killed in coalition airstrikes since the conflict began. The fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country has left millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

Trump wrote a statement justifying the veto, saying:

This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future.”

Responding to Trump’s veto, the Norwegian Refugee Council said that if Trump “was truly concerned about civilian life,” he would “ensure that the U.S.-supported Saudi-led coalition stop breaking the laws of war and depriving millions of Yemenis of life-saving assistance.” and that the United States is “deepening and prolonging” the crisis and “civilians are paying the price.”

But the Saudi-led Coalition’s U.S.-supported military campaign in Yemen now faces an increasingly sophisticated enemy as Yemen’s Resistance continues to build its burgeoning domestic military capability. On Tuesday, the Yemeni Army, loyal to Houthis, announced a new domestically-manufactured airburst ballistic missile system, dubbed the Badr-F, which emulates the Russian Tochka missile, for battlefield deployment.

Yemeni armed forces spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Saree, said at a press conference in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a that the Badr-F was made operational after many successful tests, showing Yemen’s Operations Command Center-distributed footage of the Badr-F filmed by a Yemeni Air Force unmanned aerial vehicle as it targeted a military camp belonging to Sudanese mercenaries on Yemen’s border.

geolocation of the "Badr-F" missile strike https://t.co/owHEoLSyj6 on a Sudanese military camp at the border to Yemen in Saudi Arabia https://t.co/lpHGDDdPeM pic.twitter.com/Or2bTxQf4N

— Samir (@obretix) April 16, 2019

The missile, which is designed to target Saudi Coalition military targets with tremendous destructive power, explodes at a height of 20 meters and sends up to 14,000 fragments in a 350-meter radius to the ground. The missile purportedly boasts a pinpoint accuracy of three meters.

So, the Houthis in Yemen introduced a new airburst ballistic missile that spreads 14,000 pieces of shrapnel over a large area. The "Badr-F" allegedly has a range of 160km. The video shows one missile detonating above and blanketing an entire outpost with shrapnel pic.twitter.com/ZigRi6rV5g

— Hugo Kaaman (@HKaaman) April 16, 2019

Brigadier General Saree said that development of the Badr-F — which utilizes a solid propellant, an upgrade from the previous Badr-P-1 smart missile — was carried out at the Specialized Studies Center in Missile Force. It has now entered service and the Rocket Operations Center has already received its first batch of the Badr-F. Saree added:

The Yemeni army is moving forward with the development of its military defense capabilities in order to protect the country and address the aggression and defeat the invaders. Yemen has a large strategic missile arsenal.”

Saree pointed out that the continuation of the war on Yemen means the continuation of military industries and development and thus the continuation of military operations of missiles. He also confirmed that the missile force has the ability to launch attacks on multiple targets at the same time.

In a prior statement when Yemen’s Operations Command Center revealed a new domestically-manufactured short-range “smart” missile — the Badr-P-1 on October 30, 2018 — the Yemeni Rocketry Force said that the Saudi-led Coalition had pushed its units to acquire smart-missile technology and manufacture and develop other ballistic missiles, adding:

The continued support of the West to the Coalition — especially the Americans, and their disregard for the suffering of the Yemenis — will drive us to manufacture and possess more sophisticated weapons to protect our people.”

The unveiling of the new ballistic missile comes on the occasion of the first anniversary of the death of the former president of Yemen’s Supreme Political Council, Saleh al-Samad, and his bodyguards, who were killed on April 19, 2018 by airstrikes in Hodeida while preparing for a demonstration against Saudi attacks on the Red Sea port city.

Yemen’s military, citing the right to self-defense, possesses an array of ballistic missiles including the Borkan H-1-2 (Volcano H-1), and short-range tactical missiles including Badr-P-1 — which are designed to strike Saudi Coalition military targets with unprecedented precision while minimizing collateral damage — as well as the al-Najim al-Thaqib missile.

Moreover, Yemen’s army has modified Soviet-era missiles — including the Qaher 2, which is a domestically modified Soviet SA-2 type missile that boasts a range of over 300 km, as well as the Tochka ballistic missile.

Yemen’s army has also produced four domestically manufactured drones — the Qasef-1 (Striker-1), the Hudhud-1 (Hoopoe-1), the Raqib (Observer), and the Rased (Surveyor) — all of which perform a variety of tasks, including aerial surveillance, battlefield observation, and geophysical surveying. Yemen’s military has also domestically-manufactured marine mines.

 

Pressure on the US, Saudis to exit

The Belgium-based International Crisis Group, an international NGO committed to resolving violent conflicts, has urged the United States to help its ally Saudi Arabia to find a way out of its deadly war on Yemen. The Saudi-led Coalition “needs to stop thinking about how to eke out some notional victory,” the group said in a study released Sunday.

#US backing of the #Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in #Yemen helped deepen the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

Our new report on how Washington can avoid making similar mistakes in the future ⇨ https://t.co/jX2qgk5Ch5 pic.twitter.com/1fR9IluOSR

— Crisis Group (@CrisisGroup) April 15, 2019

The group added that the alliance should “instead commit itself wholly to finding a political exit, regardless of whether that means empowering the Houthis more than it is comfortable within the short term.”

Meanwhile, many hospitals in the Yemeni capital of Sana`a — including Kuwait University Hospital, the second largest hospital in the country — announced an urgent appeal due to lack of fuel. The hospitals’ statement warned that children in incubators, not to mention patients in intensive care, could die as a result of the frequent power cuts caused by the shortage of fuel. No fuel shipments have reached Yemen’s largest port for a month.

The Saudi-led Coalition has prevented nine Tankers laden with oil from entering Hodeida port, the largest entry point for cargo to the devastated coastal area, causing a shortage of fuel in the country and making it harder to move food and medical aid around the country amid an epidemic of malnutrition and cholera.

Scenes of drivers queuing for hours just to get a can of fuel from overcrowded petrol stations returned to war-torn areas of Yemen, while some hospitals in Sana`a announced that they would cancel all planned surgical operations for the next week because of the lack of diesel to operate the generators that power their medical equipment.

Moreover, the shortage of fuel comes as a new cholera epidemic spreads like wildfire in the Arab world’s poorest country. Yemen witnessed the largest modern outbreak of the disease two years ago, which saw more than a million cases before it waned in mid-2018.

 

Some progress on Hodeida plan

In Hodeida, the Saudi-led Coalition and Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement have accepted a detailed plan for a much-delayed pullback from the flashpoint city, UN Envoy Martin Griffiths said on Monday, but no timetable was announced for the withdrawals.

Griffiths told the UN Security Council on Monday that agreement for the first phase of withdrawals was reached following negotiations between the warring parties and Danish General Michael Lollesgaard, who heads the UN operation monitoring the ceasefire and a redeployment agreement reached in Sweden in December 2018.

The redeployment of forces was agreed upon in December 2018 under a ceasefire deal reached in Sweden that offered the best hope in years of moving toward an end to the war that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, but the redeployment failed to materialize on the ground and the peace effort has since stalled.

 

Sudan to continue Bashir’s military commitment to Coalition

A senior Sudanese military official said on Monday that Sudanese troops participating in the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen would remain in the war-wracked country until the Arab alliance achieves its goals.

“We will stick to our commitment with the Arab alliance and our troops will remain until the alliance achieves its goals,” Mohammad Hamdan Daglo, the number two man in Sudan’s new ruling military council told the official SUNA news agency.

This was the first major foreign policy announcement made by the new military rulers after the ousting of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir last week and essentially is a continuation of his policy. The ousted Sudanese president deployed troops to Yemen in 2015.

Top photo | Mourners carry the coffins of victims of an explosion during a funeral procession in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. Hani Mohammed | AP

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post Yemen: Trump Vetos Bill to End US Support, Houthis Add New Missiles, Saudi Arabia and Sudan Dig in appeared first on MintPress News.

Bernie Sanders’ Foreign Policy Vision is Incoherent and Dangerous

Tue, 2019-04-16 23:10

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is now leading the pack of Democratic contenders for the 2020 presidential nomination. In the previous election cycle, Sanders served as an anti-establishment underdog, bucking Democratic orthodoxy with a strong progressive economic message. But this time the field is more crowded with like-minded candidates –“progressives” like Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris. It follows then that in order to distinguish himself, Sanders needs visionary solutions to problems outside of the economic realm. In the foreign policy arena, however, he is looking for inspiration on Israel-Palestine from tried-and-failed Democratic presidents of the past — namely, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — all while echoing Trump and Bush Jr. administration talking points.

Sanders has also brought one Robert Malley onto his foreign policy team. Malley served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council as “Special Assistant to President Obama & Senior Adviser to the President for the Counter-ISIL Campaign” from February 2014 to January 2017. Under his watch, the U.S led operations which saw the near-total destruction of the historic cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

Despite this, the New York Times opinion section has said Sanders “stands as one of the few candidates with a fully formed vision for American foreign policy,” while The Atlantic claims “It’s Foreign Policy That Distinguishes Bernie This Time.”

As journalist Mathew Yglesias — who is not necessarily known for his moral clarity but is indisputably one of the more knowledgeable wonks on Washington’s most boring inner workings — noted, “There are two main things the president actually does — executive branch appointments, which nobody is really talking about, and then foreign policy.”

Sanders has worked hard to lay out his 2020 foreign policy vision in April. It was the subject of an in-depth article in The New Yorker, and he also touched briefly on it in a Fox News town hall on Monday.

In the New Yorker piece, journalist Benjamin Wallace-Wells recounts his interview with Sanders and his foreign policy advisor, Matt Duss, a former “Policy Analyst” at the notoriously anti-Sanders Center for American Progress, which receives funding from the United Arab Emirates.

Right away, Wallace-Wells notes that “Sanders had scarcely talked about foreign affairs in his 2016 campaign.” This time seems different, however.

Still, Sanders hasn’t done all of his homework, and openly admits it. After getting into some of the nitty-gritty of international affairs and the historic role of U.S. foreign policy, Sanders concedes to Wallace-Wells:

Let me — I should have prefaced everything that I said by saying I most certainly do not believe that I have all the answers, or that this is easy stuff. I mean, you’re dealing with so much — my God.”

A bit later in the story, Sanders seems to blame the ignorance he just owned up to for much of the world’s woes: “You know, a lot of attitudes about foreign policy are based on lack of knowledge.”

 

A decent staff, except . . .

Earnestly, Wallace-Wells notes that Sanders’ full foreign policy team left him “surprised” by “how mainstream they seemed.”

Among them:

Joe Cirincione, the antinuclear advocate; …Robert Malley, who coördinated Middle East policy in Obama’s National Security Council and is now the president of the International Crisis Group; Suzanne DiMaggio, a specialist in negotiations with adversaries at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Vali Nasr, the dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced Studies at Johns Hopkins and a specialist in the Shia-Sunni divide.”

Joe Cirincione is a well-known and well-respected progressive figure devoted to denuclearization. Suzanne DiMaggio, for her part, has received praise from Timothy Shorrock — a leading progressive journalist focused on the defense industry and the Korean Peninsula. Her words have also been featured by 38 North, which is arguably the fairest outlet focusing on North Korea and is distinguished by its facts-first approach. She is, however, indisputably part of the establishment, as is respected enough by members of the U.S. Senate that her advice was sought after Trump agreed to an initial meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Like DiMaggio, Vali Nasr appears to be cut from the cloth of dovish foreign policy “experts.” He once wrote: “Without Iran’s military reach and the strength of its network of allies and clients in Iraq and Syria, ISIS would have quickly swept through Damascus, Baghdad, and Erbil.”

Malley is, in truth, the most objectionable of Sanders’ foreign policy team. As Wallace-Wells noted, Malley served as Obama’s Middle East coordinator.

He also worked as an advisor to Obama on the U.S. counter-ISIS campaign up until January 2017. That campaign, notably, included the destruction of Raqqa (80 percent destroyed) and Mosul (eight million tons of debris and 90 percent of the Western portion of the city destroyed.) Malley also spent six months as a Senior Fellow at the ultra-hawkish Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

And Malley also worked for about two and a half years under Clinton as his “Special Assistant for Arab-Israeli Affairs.” He has previously caught the attention of the venerable Palestinian journalist Ali Abunimah, who has tweeted:

Malley isn’t ‘pro-Palestinian.’ He’s a liberal Zionist who believes in and wants to bring about ‘two state’ segregation by soft means.

Peace process industrialists like Robert Malley can never recognize role of BDS or speak openly about [a] one-state solution.”

Israel lobbyist Robert Malley on NPR advising how to put "pressure" on Syria. Is there anything Israel lobby experts can't do?

— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) August 5, 2011

On Israel-Palestine, Sanders invoked former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as a source of inspiration for him.

As MintPress News has previously covered the policies of those presidents (in contrast with the positioning of President Donald Trump):

Unlike previous U.S. presidents, who have meddled in Israeli elections in order to support peace processes, Trump is doing the opposite by appeasing the settler movement… While Washington orthodoxy dictates strict adherence to a two-state solution, the idea has long stalled a real resolution to Israeli apartheid, as Israeli settlers continue to make bold land grabs. The far-right president, in bucking the trend of supporting peace processes so doomed, coupled with the far-right prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu], now emboldened by his fifth premiership, are on a path to see the total disappearance of historical Palestine from the map.”

There is no doubt that Sanders’ presidency would make a real solution to Israeli apartheid less improbable than a second Trump term would. Nor is their any doubt that his foreign policy is markedly less hawkish than that of many in the Democratic field. But he is also flanked from the left by candidates like Tulsi Gabbard and Mike Gravel, and so it is worth examining his milquetoast antidotes with this context in mind.

 

Sanders’ “solutions”

Sanders — despite being almost 80 years old — is getting hip to the desires of young progressives in the foreign policy realm. As DiMaggio correctly points out:

The case for restraint seems to be gaining ground, particularly in its rejection of preventive wars and efforts to change the regimes of countries that do not directly threaten the United States.”

In other words, the “humanitarian intervention” canard is losing its selling power. Moreover, Sanders rightfully puts more blame on the U.S. for various foreign policy failures over the years. He says:

“How many people in the United States understand that we overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran to put in the Shah? Which then led to the Revolution. How many people in this country do you think know that? So we’re going to have to do a little bit of educating on that.”

But Iran’s revolution was 40 years ago — about half of Sanders’ lifetime. When it comes to Iran today, Sanders differs drastically from the aforementioned views of Nasr, which painted Iran as a force for anti-terrorism in the Middle East. Sanders explicitly rejected this conception of Iran, saying Tehran is “involved in terrorism, doing a lot of bad things.”

In the case of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as the Israel-Palestine conflict, Sanders makes “both sides” arguments. On Saudi Arabia, he says “I don’t see why we’d be following the lead or seen as a very, very close ally of a despotic, un-democratic regime.”

Of course, Saudi Arabia is a theocratic petro-monarchy. Denouncing it as “un-democratic” is about the least imaginative criticism conceivable. To Sanders’ credit, however, he has been a leader in efforts to put an end to U.S. support for the Saudi war on Yemen.

.@realDonaldTrump, tonight you have the opportunity to do something extraordinary: Sign the resolution ending U.S. support for the catastrophic Saudi-led war in Yemen. #BernieTownHall pic.twitter.com/OYWS5K3bzk

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 16, 2019

Sanders went even further on Fox News, arguing that “Saudi Arabia should not be determining the military or foreign policy of this country.”

For a moment, imagine that Sanders had used that same phrasing regarding Israel, whose lobbyists hold far more sway over elected officials in the U.S.: he would be relentlessly condemned as anti-Semitic or a “self-loathing Jew” — at least, presumably, as he has never made criticism so harsh of the apartheid state and its America lobby. He did, however, say that Representative Ilhan Omar can do a “better job in speaking to the Jewish community,” but rejected the idea that she is an anti-Semite.

Regarding the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which Sanders seems to mischaracterize as religious instead of geopolitical, he said the U.S., under his watch, would not be “going to be spending trillions of dollars and losing American lives because of [their] long-standing hostilities.”

On Israel-Palestine, Sanders said the following:

While I am very critical of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s right-wing government, I am not impressed by what I am seeing from Palestinian leadership, as well.

It’s corrupt in many cases, and certainly not effective.”

It is true that Hamas has had problems with corruption, and the Palestinian Authority is far from effective. But Hamas was democratically elected to lead Gaza. In contrast, Netanyahu won his fifth premiership with help from his Likud Party, which hired a PR firm to place 1,200 hidden cameras in Arab polling places. The firm even boasted that, in those areas, the cameras and the uproar they caused “managed to lower the voter turnout to under 50 percent, the lowest in years!”

Sanders’ prescription for the Israel-Palestine conflict is to cut U.S. aid to Israel. But asked whether the aid would be “contingent” on “fuller political rights for Palestinians,” Sanders said he’s “not going to get into the specifics.”

Sanders has previously rejected the prospect of equal rights for Palestinians, saying in 2017 that “if that happens,” in the context of a one-state solution, “that would be the end of Israel.” In the same interview, Sanders said “I don’t support [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement],” which seeks to economically pressure Israel and Israeli companies into ending apartheid and respecting Palestinian human rights.

In other words, the proper way to reproach Israeli apartheid is to stop giving Israel free handouts. Sanders himself noted that “$3.8 billion is a lot of money!” But sanctioning Israel for its human rights abuses is out of the question.

Let us use a quick metaphor to describe this approach: your child is throwing a fit in the supermarket, knocking over racks of goods and shoveling cereal boxes onto the ground. Instead of grounding them, you say “that’s it! We’re not going to the toy store.”

This approach is in line with his hardline economic angles on almost every issue. In the New Yorker article, Sanders said that the $6 trillion spent on the War on Terror since 2001 is “an unbelievable amount of money.” But the human cost of the War on Terror goes unmentioned.



“I’m not proposing anything particularly radical,” Sanders admitted. “And that is that the United States should have an even-handed approach both to Israel and the Palestinians.”

The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan has also previously hailed Sanders’ “radical foreign policy.”

Perhaps even more troubling than Sanders’ views on Israel are his positions on Venezuela. He expressed worry at what he calls the “rise of a new authoritarian axis” — echoing the “Axis of evil” talking point elevated by George W. Bush.

Asked whether Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, was part of that axis, Sanders said:

Yeah. …

It is a failed regime. From all of the recent evidence, it appears that the election was fraudulent. And, despite his ideology, what we need to see is democracy established in Venezuela. That does not mean deciding that some politician is the new President, who never won any election.

The world community has got to be mindful of the humanitarian suffering and the hunger that’s going on in Venezuela right now. But, at the end of the day, I think what you want in one of the largest countries in Latin America is free and fair elections, and we want to do everything we can to establish democracy there.”

There is no evidence of electoral fraud in Venezuela. It is also worth noting that, while Sanders rejected the U.S.-backed coup leader Juan Guaidó, his inclusion of Venezuela in the “authoritarian axis” follows in the footsteps of the Trump administration’s own rebrand of the “axis of evil” — the “troika of tyranny.” While Sanders undoubtedly has ruled out the possibility of a military intervention in Venezuela should he become president, he says nothing of rolling back sanctions against Venezuela — or Iran, for that matter.

“I have reviewed sanctions across the world. Very few of them have really been a positive, helpful factor,” the UN special rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures recently told The Grayzone. “It’s like going into microsurgery using a kitchen knife. It’s a very blunt tool to achieve [regime change].”

While Sanders positions himself as an anti-war candidate, so too did Trump. And he echoes the Trump talking points: China and Russia are our enemies; Maduro won his presidency through election fraud; and Iran is a sponsor of terror.



In a rare mainstream media broadcasting of an anti-interventionist Syrian-American, a real estate agent named Tony asked Sanders in his town hall on Fox News on Monday whether he would “partake in any foreign affairs that don’t directly affect our national security,” adding, “I believe we need to stay out of Syria, Venezuela, and other countries.”

Sanders’ immediately touted his anti-Iraq war credentials before doing the same regarding his record on Yemen. But before long, he said, “clearly we are concerned about China and concerned about Russia.”

“Clearly we need a strong defense,” Sanders added.

Sanders has previously, and repeatedly, called for countries that have funded and armed the jihadist proxy war in Syria — Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, et al. — to “get their hands dirty, their boots on the ground” in Syria.

 

Imagine all the farmers

One anecdote from the New Yorker article lays bare the candidate’s half baked solutions to foreign policy as a chief executive:

He remembered, in a gauzy way, a program he had overseen as the mayor of Burlington, in which kids from his city traveled to the Soviet city of Yaroslavl, and Russian children traveled to Vermont.”

Sanders has sought to implement similar solutions even more recently, having proposed a failed amendment to dedicate 0.1 percent of the military budget “to support exchange programs to bring foreign teenagers to the U.S. and send American kids abroad.”

“To bring farmers from Turkey to farmers in Iowa. You know, just to get people to see each other as human beings. I think it could go a distance,” Sanders said.

Turkey? More like bologna. While a Soviet-U.S. exchange program, during the Cold War, is a solid program that could have, if nationally implemented, perhaps even altered the course of world history, the prospect of Turkish farmers going to Iowa or vice-versa seems purposefully meaningless. Turkey is, after all, a nuke-holding NATO ally.

Wallce-Wells, the New Yorker reporter, smartly noted that Sanders’ list of enemies — the “authoritarian axis” — was a lot better defined than his list of allies. And so, he “asked about where he thought his allies might come from.” The candidate deflected from offering a real strategy, however, arguing that climate change will help usher in a new era of global solidarity and peacebuilding.

Maybe I’m wrong on this, or maybe I’m seeing something that other people don’t see, but I look at climate change as a very, very serious threat — to the entire planet, to every country on earth.”

Sanders made the exact same deflection in his Fox News town hall. After bloviating about “concerns” with Russia and China, he placed climate change front and center of the “national security” debate.

This vision for a new era of international cooperation is lofty and utopian enough to make even John Lennon’s eyes roll in his grave.

Top photo | Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., steps off a Black Hawk helicopter at the Afghan National Police Academy Feb. 20, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Sanders was part of a congressional delegation visiting the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan supported training site, Feb. 20, 2011. Ernesto Hernandez Fonte | DVIDS

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post Bernie Sanders’ Foreign Policy Vision is Incoherent and Dangerous appeared first on MintPress News.

Africa as Colonial as Ever: US “New Africa Strategy” Old Oil in New Bottles

Tue, 2019-04-16 22:42

In February 2011, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated at West Point that “any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia, or into the Middle East or Africa, should have his head examined.” While blood was spilled in Libya by NATO coalition forces, killing hundreds from the sky and giving cover for religious extremists to kill thousands, Gates’ advice was arguably taken and military engagement has been stretched thin, quietly and discreetly, especially in Africa.

One of the new War-on-Terror projects the Obama Administration inherited from the Bush Administration was the United States Africa Command, or AFRICOM. By the time Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, AFRICOM had grown into a $250 million behemoth. Much of AFRICOM policy consists of training local forces with a focus on “counter-terrorism.” Jessica Piombo, editor of The US Military in Africa: Enhancing Security and Development? writes, “[T]he U.S. military has attempted to create new programs that involve a range of government and nongovernment actors in security programs that focus on more than training and equipping African militaries.”

In 2018, the administration declared interest in downsizing U.S. military presence in Africa — officially at about 6,000 troops, including 300 who trained forces in Cameroon ahead of the 2018 re-election of France’s neoliberal favorite Paul Biya, greenlighting deepened conflict there. However, in 2018 Trump gave free rein to the CIA to expand drone warfare throughout Africa.

There are at least 34 U.S. military sites in Africa now, including three in Libya, where tensions between rival militias have displaced 3,400 and may soon plunge Tripoli into chaos. The focus of AFRICOM’s presence is largely in oil-rich nations in West Africa and in the Horn of Africa, adjacent to the oil-rich Arab Peninsula.

U.S. Africa Command’s “Strategic Posture” includes 34 military outposts. Image | U.S. Africa Command

Like other military expansions undertaken from Washington, there are very clear economic, profit-driven motives for AFRICOM, and those motives serve as the backbone for National Security Advisor John Bolton’s New Africa strategy. While petrodollars are on the mind, the continued ability to exploit African economies is a cornerstone of U.S. financial dominance on the continent.

 

Africa as the frontline for an arms race between the U.S. and China

Last year at the Heritage Foundation, Bolton said that the West needs to “wake up” to the threat posed by China and Russia in Africa, warning that “China’s foreign direct investment (FDI) toward Africa totaled $6.4 billion dollars” between 2016 and 2017, well above U.S. direct investment, which has continued to slump. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the FDI decline stems from corporate income tax cuts. From 2017, U.S. multinational enterprises have embarked on a large repatriation of accumulated foreign earnings, indicating a growing reluctance to engage in social investment abroad. The speech came months after China’s pledge of $60 billion to Africa in aid and loans.

U.S. Navy tactical boats patrol the Gulf of Tadjoura, Djibouti, March, 30 2019. U.S. Navy | Shannon D. Barnwell

Djibouti, a focal part of the strategy, is home to the largest known U.S. drone complex in the world, as well as the flagship U.S. base under AFRICOM, Camp Lemonnier, a former French Foreign Legion outpost. The base hosts 4,000 U.S. and allied personnel, and is close to a Chinese Liberation Army Navy base staffed by 400 personnel. The disparities were just enough to gain the ire of the U.S. last year when the Department of Defense accused China of unverified laser attacks on U.S. pilots, used to justify additional U.S. military spending in Africa.

Bolton’s concerns stem from the fact that Djibouti may allow Chinese state-owned enterprises to partially control the Doraleh Container Terminal, a Red Sea shipping port. “Should this occur,” said Bolton:

the balance of power in the Horn of Africa — astride major arteries of maritime trade… — would shift in favor of China, and our U.S. military personnel at Camp Lemonnier could face even further challenges in their efforts to protect the American people.”

 

How Wall Street is underdeveloping Africa

For an Africa strategy, Bolton’s speech seemed to express more interest in China-in-Africa’s implications for “American national security,” while mentions of the national security of African nation-states were quite sparse — perhaps appropriate, as any mention of the security of African peoples would call into question the arrival of forces from the same country that took enslaved people from the continent mere generations ago.

Bolton did talk of trade though, calling on African countries to practice fiscal responsibility, promote fair and reciprocal trade, deregulate their economies, and support their private sector. He touted negotiations of bilateral trade agreements and the basing of the new Africa strategy in the Marshall Plan, saying how “The Marshall Plan furthered American interests, bypassed the United Nations, and targeted key sectors of foreign economies rather than dissipating aid across hundreds of programs.”

Bolton’s seemingly new strategy mirrors the Clinton Administration’s “trade not aid” doctrine, promoted in the late 1990s. China may have not been a threat to the empire back then, when annual trade of China with Africa totaled only $10 billion in Clinton’s last year in office, while now it stands at $170 billion. Bolton did not give any evidence to prove China’s supposed neocolonial role in Africa, but U.S. objectives are countering China’s “predatory” preference to deal with African governments and work toward local priorities, as contrasted with the U.S. approach of transnational corporate and charity-led programs.

“Prosper Africa” is the Marshall Plan-style approach the administration is taking to reduce aid on top of promoting unregulated capitalism. The potential risks attached to financing infrastructure development will most likely fall on the government rather than the private sector, compromising the transparency of such projects, as seen in the case of Southern Europe. Moreover, there is strong evidence that shows large companies, including multinational corporations and international banks, engage in illicit financial flows from Africa.

In line with Bolton’s priorities, the lack of oversight from the United Nations represents the trend of neoconservative attempts to subvert aspects of the UN system that allow for checks on U.S. power. Zimbabwe, historically known as the “breadbasket of Africa” is set to join the six fastest growing economies in Africa, despite being held back in recent years by U.S. sanctions. The geopolitically rising, albeit economically isolated country voted against U.S. interests 69 times in 2017 and voted in support only six times. On average, African countries vote in line with the U.S. at the UN 31 percent of the time, providing the Trump Administration a clear motive to operate on the continent with as little multilateral accountability as possible.

Bolton’s plans for a new U.S. strategy toward Africa remains vague and largely non-specific. For example, USAID’s GEEL project in Somalia calls for coordination between the national government and the local private sector, but the details of this partnership fostered by USAID are not provided and therefore do not take into account the severe corruption that continues to plague the country. According to Devex, USAID released its first Acquisition and Assistance Strategy, “outlining changes to design and procurement systems promoting innovative methods of collaboration.” However, the page cannot be found. The absence of a transparent and functional financial sector serves as a major obstacle to economic growth in Somalia, especially if there is a de-emphasis on state-led social investment, which Bolton would favor.

While Kenya and Ghana are leading initiatives to promote intra-continental trade, Bolton has been calling for bilateral trade deals between the U.S. and Africa, highlighting the administration’s commitment to its “America First” policy. The U.S. is pushing for the development of an expensive project in Kenya that would cost $3 billion, which the government will likely need large credit facilities to finance. With countering China a main priority, the U.S. will be incentivized to take over debt management, putting in place additional measures, such as demanding the extension of IMF bailouts to African countries on the condition that such financial assistance would not be used to repay China.

Kenyan laborers work to finish the construction of an existing bridge that goes across a corner of Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 23, 2016. Ben Curtis | AP

Much of U.S. diplomatic effort regarding Libya in recent days follows the spike in oil prices that the civil war there is provoking. While Khalifa Hafter is threatening the current government in Libya, which has been working with Western governments, he is genuinely Europe’s man in Libya — one who intends to guarantee the flow of profits of newly discovered low-sulfur petroleum northward and westward, as opposed to staying in Africa or going to China or Russia, Libya’s long-time allies. As such, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a break from his usual modus operandi, is more interested in de-escalating civil tensions in Libya, hoping to get in on the spoils.

 

Peace by pacification

Under the pretext of fighting Al-Shabab, the resurgence of airstrike diplomacy doesn’t skip a beat as U.S. policy, even when the leadership of the people we victimize comes to Washington. Said Bolton:

Under our new strategy, we will also take additional steps to help our Africans fight terrorism and strengthen the rule of law. We will assist key African governments in building the capacity of partner forces and security institutions to provide effective and sustainable security and law enforcement to their citizens.”

The U.S. drone war in Africa has hit southern Somalia particularly hard. With General Thomas Waldhauser admitting the U.S. killed 14 Somali civilians last month in five airstrikes, anti-American sentiment is mounting on top of an already existing Somali public debate critical of U.S. policy. It follows last year’s deadly U.S. assaults, accompanied by AFRICOM-backed Somali forces, on Somali rural workers in Afgooye, killing people the Pentagon alleged were Al-Shabaab militants. After U.S. attacks on Somali people, many local leaders now anticipate how stories will spun to paint victims as terrorists.

U.S. policy in Africa intends to put more effort into Vietnamization-style operations in Niger, Mali, Libya, and Somalia and, since the French invasion of Mali in 2012, the U.S. has tried to exert its influence within the G5 Sahel Force (with the intent of adding 5,000 troops — Bolton’s favorite number) of which Mali is a key member. Mali’s northern oil reserves — bordering fellow G5 countries, such as Mauritania — are being pursued by oil interests among businesses in Australia, France, and Qatar.

The Trump Administration is justifying an expansion in U.S. military presence in these African countries as a means of securing an environment that would be stable enough to clear the way for economic pursuits — mainly for U.S. businesses to take advantage of Africa’s light industry, while profiting from mineral wealth across the continent. As such, it is perhaps no surprise there is very little public support within these countries for U.S. military intervention.

Top photo | A member of the U.S. Army Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa communications directorate speaks with Djibouti Army soldiers at FAD Headquarters, Djibouti, Dec. 26, 2018. U.S. Air Force | Shawn Nickel

The post Africa as Colonial as Ever: US “New Africa Strategy” Old Oil in New Bottles appeared first on MintPress News.

Few Good Men in Post-NATO Libyan Quagmire as Jihadists Battle Former CIA Asset’s Forces

Tue, 2019-04-16 21:38

TRIPOLI, LIBYA — Libyan strongman and former CIA asset Khalifa Haftar’s blitzkrieg on the capital, Tripoli, has stalled for now as forces loyal to the internationally-recognized government have hamstrung his offensive in the suburbs. But the consequences of the operation are already unfolding, as Haftar’s international backers are being revealed and hardcore jihadists gain a foothold.

Haftar launched the offensive on April 4, promising to rid the capital of terrorists allied with the UN-recognized government. Peace talks scheduled by the UN for this week have been delayed as fighting continues. So far, more than 150 people — mostly fighters, but also civilians — have been killed around Tripoli, while nearly 600 have been wounded.

While the internationally recognized government led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj lacks a formal fighting force, “armed groups” have rushed to its aid, lending credence to Haftar’s claim that he is fighting off jihadists. One “diplomatic source” from France told Reuters:

There is an oversimplification. It is not just Haftar the baddy against the goodies in Tripoli and Misrata. There are groups that are at the end of the day allied to al Qaeda on the other side.”

According to the outlet:

One of them is Salah Badi, a commander from nearby Misrata port who has Islamist ties and possible ambitions himself to take Tripoli. In videos from the front line, Badi has been seen directing men as well as a U.N.-sanctioned people trafficker.

Some hardcore Islamists, previously affiliated to Ansar Sharia, have also popped up in the fighting, according to the videos. That group was blamed by Washington for the 2012 storming of a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.”

Another report from Reuters notes that Haftar’s renewal of hostilities “threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration to Europe, let Islamist militants exploit the chaos, and worsen Libyans’ suffering.”

Already, some 13,600 people have fled their homes.

“Diplomats” tell Reuters that “Haftar for now will face no pressure from backers including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France, who still see him as the best bet to end the chaos and divisions since the [NATO-backed] ousting of [Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi in 2011.”

 

Getting by with a little help from his friends

Haftar met with Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Sunday as fighting slowed, though forces loyal to al-Serraj downed a plane operated by Haftar’s forces.

AIPAC and the Federal Election Commission

Tue, 2019-04-16 20:15

Reviewing AIPAC’s history since its 1963 creation reveals a consistently well-organized campaign of manipulation and evasion of the US election law as one necessary ingredient to its invincible image on Capitol Hill. The American Israel Political Affairs Committee has long claimed it is not a political action committee, that they do not endorse candidates nor provide financial donations to political campaigns. As with all things involving AIPAC, there is another side to the story.

As the result of a 1988 Sixty Minutes interview by Mike Wallace, it became clear that AIPAC had a long history of involvement in US electoral politics as it targeted non-AIPAC members of Congress for defeat with the use of “80 shell-front pro-Israel PACs.” Unfortunately, Wallace never inquired whether AIPAC was in compliance with the Federal Election Commission laws. It comes as no surprise to know they were not and continue to resist efforts at accountability or adhering to the standard rule of registering as a foreign entity.

Soon after Sixty Minutes aired, a memo written by AIPAC’s Deputy Political Director Elizabeth Schrayer in 1986 became public. In that memo, Schrayer instructed her assistant to direct AIPAC affiliated PAC’s; that is those PACs with non- identifiable AIPAC names, to channel political donations into the campaigns of AIPAC’s favored candidates.

The Wall Street Journal would later estimate that AIPAC donated more than $7 Million to candidates during the 1986 election cycle in violation of US election law.

The Sixty Minutes interview and Schrayer’s memo provided the necessary incentive for legal efforts to require AIPAC to conform to US election law. An Administrative Complaint was filed in 1989 with the Federal Election Commission on behalf of seven retired US Government officials citing a “consistent, long standing pervasive pattern of violating numerous provisions” of Federal Election Campaigns Act of 1971 and that these “violations are part of a concerted effort to influence Congress to take actions that favor the state of Israel.”

Watch | Mike Wallace reports on AIPAC and the Israel Lobby in US Politics – 1988.



The Complaint Petitioners included former US Ambassadors James Akins and Andrew Killgore, former Deputy Secretary of State George Ball, former USIA Richard Curtis, former US Rep. Paul Findlay, Robert Hanks, ret.US Navy Admiral, and former Amideast President Orin Parker.

In addition, the Complaint identified 24 pro-Israel PACs that acted as shell-front affiliates and participated in a “campaign of collusion” in order to evade FEC’s legal reporting requirements. With the participation of innocuous sounding PAC’s such as San Franciscans for Good Government PAC or the Desert Caucus, all of which were organized by AIPAC from the ground up, AIPAC was able to funnel generous contributions beyond the $10,000 legal limit per PAC. AIPAC’s cover was sufficient to influence the outcome of numerous elections without the donation being publicly attributed as pro-Israel. AIPAC alleged that the affiliated PACs were part of its membership and not a political organization as it refused the FEC request to open their financial records for inspection.

From its 1989 filing, the Complaint took a complicated and circuitous route between the FEC and the Courts over the next twenty years. The initial FEC ruling found ‘probable cause’ that although AIPAC had violated elements of federal election law by spending money to influence elections, it found that electoral politics was not a ‘major purpose’ of the organization. Therefore, the FEC determined there was no need for AIPAC to register as a political action committee.

Litigation took the Complaint to a federal District Court, followed by a three-member Court of Appeals panel, both of which sided with the FEC until a full Circuit Court of Appeals 8-2 decision ruled in favor of the Complainants in 1996. That decision found that the ‘major purpose’ clause was inapplicable, it ordered the FEC to enforce US election law and require AIPAC to comply with federal disclosure requirements. The case was then remanded back to the FEC – even though the FEC had “misapplied the law” in its 1992 decision.

At some point, after the original Complaint was filed, AIPAC shrewdly made ‘structural changes’ to its definition of membership which strengthened the argument that they were predominately a membership organization. At about the same time, the FEC also revised its membership regulations to a looser standard. It was all a brilliantly manipulative legal move as AIPAC claimed its outreach to affiliated PACs was only communicating with its ‘members.’

The US Solicitor General Seth Waxman appealed the Court of Appeals decision on behalf of the FEC to the Supreme Court which “declined to decide the case on the merits” with Justice Antonin Scalia writing the dissent. In 1998, the Supreme Court vacated the earlier Circuit Court decision and remanded the case back to the FEC pending a review of the new membership definition for a final determination – and you can guess how that went.

The litigation continued until 2001 when the Complainants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment filing a Statement of Material Facts Not in Genuine Dispute which reads, in part, like a political thriller with details of AIPAC targeting identified Members of Congress.

Meanwhile, the Commission decided that “further investigation would not be an appropriate use of the Commission’s limited resources” and in “an exercise of prosecutorial discretion,” the Commission on a 6-0 vote closed the file.

The final bitter end of litigation did not come until September 2010 when a federal District Court Memorandum Opinion regurgitated the entire convoluted twenty-year history in excruciating detail.

This is not a complete list but it is, from an earlier era, AIPAC’s most successful efforts to defeat elected Members of Congress who did not support the Israeli agenda. It is an impressive list:

Sen. William Fulbright (D-Ark) in 1974, Rep. Paul Findley (R-Ill) and Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey (R-Calif) in 1982, Senators Charles Percy (Ill), Sen. Harrison Schmitt (NM) and Walter Huddleston (Ky) in 1984, James Abdnor (R-SoD) in 1986 and Sen. Chic Hecht (Nevada) in 1988.

In 1990, Representative Gus Savage (D-Ill) took to the House floor and exposed how AIPAC had attempted to sabotage his re-election including the use of non-AIPAC shell-front PACs to fund his opposition. And more recently Rep. Cynthia McKinney’s primary defeats in 2002 and 2006 were attributed to AIPAC opposition.

During the 1988 Sixty Minutes interview, AIPAC Executive Director Tom Dine boasted that “‘All the Jews in America from coast to coast gathered to oust Percy, and the American politicians – those who hold public positions now and those who aspired – got the message.’”

Today, there is little doubt that Tom Dine’s message has been heard loud and clear as today’s Members of Congress cower and acquiesce to AIPAC’s insatiable demands as the organization has refined its efforts with substantial donations and whatever it takes to assure the election of candidates who are, first and foremost, loyal to Israel.

In other words, thanks to the FEC, Israel owns the US Congress.

Top photo | Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice walks off of the stage after addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting, June 3, 2008, in Washington. Susan Walsh | AP

Renee Parsons has been a member of the ACLU’s Florida State Board of Directors and president of the ACLU Treasure Coast Chapter. She has been an elected public official in Colorado, an environmental lobbyist for Friends of the Earth and staff member of the US House of Representatives in Washington DC. She can be found on Twitter @reneedove31.

Source | Off Guardian

The post AIPAC and the Federal Election Commission appeared first on MintPress News.

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