Was UK Paying White Helmets to Produce Syria ‘Chemical Weapon’ PR as Cover for Jaish Al Islam?

Life returns to normal in Douma after SAA liberation. Photo © Vanessa Beeley.

As controversy rages over the alleged April 2018 Douma “chemical weapon attacks” that signaled the end of Jaish Al Islam’s occupation, life in the Syrian city gradually returns to peace and stability.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) interim report and final report have thrown the Western media community into disarray. Already scrambling to salvage their loss of face after the “no sarin” conclusions were drawn by the OPCW in July 2018, they are now trying to convert an inconclusive OPCW report into a definitive claim regarding chlorine use, in order to reassert their declining narrative supremacy.

A “chemical weapon” narrative that has effectively sustained the criminalization of the Syrian government and thus the continued unlawful aggression, direct and through Takfiri proxies, by the US coalition against Syria.

“Reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place” is transformed into “OPCW confirms chlorine gas used in attack on Douma by Syrian government” by the state media revisionists across the Western media echo chambers.

A retraction for the Western media’s earlier certainty that Sarin was used is above their pay grade, presumably. An apology to the Syrian people for enabling the unlawful bombing of Syrian territory by a rapacious FUKUS alliance is clearly not within their moral remit.

Putting aside the almost unassailable evidence that the NATO-member-state-financed White Helmets staged the now notorious hospital scenes that were universally distributed by NATO-aligned media outlets and incredulity that a yellow cylinder could be dropped from a helicopter through the roof of an apartment and then bounce from the floor and onto an undamaged bed, what is largely being ignored by the West and the OPCW is the context of the attack.

Who was in charge in Douma? How had they treated civilians leading up to the attack? To what degree should we rely upon the dubious testimony of organizations collaborating with the extremist regime ruling Douma with a rod of iron?

When we start to examine these and other questions, we can begin to comprehend the extent to which the OPCW report has failed to take into account the conditions on the ground and the relevance of these for understanding the alleged attack on April 7, 2018.

I returned to Douma on the March 9, 2019. I had previously visited a week after the alleged “chemical attack” in April 2018 and interviewed hospital staff who had already informed me that the White Helmet hospital scenes had been staged.

I revisited a Douma brimming with life, and markets overflowing with fruit, vegetables, meat, and even fish – something that had not been available for ordinary civilians when Douma was occupied by one of the most extremist, sectarian armed groups in Syria, Jaish Al Islam (JAI).

One stall-holder described life under JAI. “The most important thing was hunger, people were starving, there was no food, no drink, no medicine, no medical care, people were starving.”

Another vegetable seller told me: “Now things became better thanks to God, as you can see, everything is functioning and we are happy, everything is very good, thank God. The situation was very bad, we wouldn’t feel safe to sit here the way we are sitting now. Now, thank God, it’s safe and secure, we go to Damascus, purchase our goods from there and come back here”

A thorough examination of what happened in Douma during April 2018 requires history and context including the Adra massacre of December 2013. At this time, Adra Al Balad (Adra City) and Adra Al-Ummaliyyeh (Adra’s industrial zone) were attacked by Jaish Al Islam and Nusra Front.

According to witness testimony, a bloodbath ensued that was barely reported by Western media. An official at the Syrian Information Ministry told me recently that only one mainstream media report on this heinous massacre was published at the time.

Workers in a bakery were executed and their bodies incinerated in the bread furnaces. Many of the predominantly Alawite civilians were executed and their severed heads suspended from trees according to reports from survivors. Many were kidnapped and transported to Tawba Jail in Douma (Repentance prison) where they were incarcerated for the next five years.

These civilians were subjected to terrible torture and humiliation during this time. Children were forced to dig the labyrinthine tunnels that snaked underground, connecting buildings of the prison complex.

In January 2019 I had the opportunity to interview three survivors from Tawba Jail. Their testimony has a particular bearing upon the April 2018 alleged chemical attack. I have focused on two of the interviews in this article:

Hassan Al-Othman was kidnapped from Adra Al-Ummaliyyeh on December 11, 2013 and he was held in a prison cell in the area by JAI and Nusra Front. He was systematically tortured for one month before being transferred to work in a building where JAI would bring civilians for execution.

Al-Othman told me: “They (JAI) used to take me into the building at 11pm and say to me: ‘you have to take the bodies out.’ I used to keep taking bodies out until 5am and put them in the bulldozer bucket. We used to take them out, and start burying them at 9 or 10 in the morning, I kept doing this job for two and a half or three months, burying bodies.”

Al-Othman told me that JAI took control of the police station in the area. One day they brought civilians to the station and executed them with a sword. Al-Othman was ordered to dispose of the decapitated bodies.

After five months of enduring the inhumane treatment of the JAI and Nusra Front gangs, Al-Othman was taken to Tawba Jail in Douma. There, he was detained in solitary confinement for three years, beaten every day and hung by his wrists from the wall for long periods of time.

After three years, Al Othman was allowed access to a “communal cell” where he was joined by one other prisoner. The campaign of torture continued if JAI decided that Al-Othman had violated their “rules”. When Al-Othman refused to persuade his own brother, former president of Adra City Council, to “repent” and join the armed groups, the torture intensified.

Al-Othman described the last moments before liberation by the Syrian Arab Army as terrifying. He had overheard JAI fighters discussing a plan to blow up the prison and blame it on the SAA. The Tawba Jail complex comprised roughly twelve buildings all housing hundreds if not thousands of kidnapped victims.

The massacre that began in Adra in December 2013 would have ended with the deaths of all survivors in Tawba Jail had the SAA not put enough pressure on JAI to flee the area and leave many prisoners alive or to take others with them to Idlib as part of the Russian brokered reconciliation deal.

Al-Othman told me: “If the Syrian Army hadn’t tightened the noose on them, they wouldn’t have released us […] They wanted to send us to Idlib. When we arrived to the Syrian Arab Army checkpoint in al-Mukhayyam, I turned myself in to the Army.”

Al-Othman explained that the SAA took him in and treated him well. He also told me that many of the JAI fighters were foreigners from Jordan, Somalia and Saudi Arabia among other countries.

He apologised frequently for “babbling”, for talking so much, but for many years he had endured terrible torture and abuse, he never expected to return home and now he needed to talk about his experiences.

Al-Othman also described the other prisons established by JAI. Al Batoun Prison (the concrete prison), also called Al-Khandaq (trench prison), was another site where prisoners were tortured and interrogated. Women were imprisoned separately to the men - their prisons were known as the 16th and 28th prison. 

When I asked Al-Othman about the role played by the White Helmets in Douma, he became even more animated. He told me that he often saw them receive large amounts of dollars – “new notes in sealed packages” – and, according to Al-Othman, cash was their sole motivation.

He said: “Regarding the White Helmets, they are part of the terrorists, and they are the ones who are responsible for the misleading about the crimes that the terrorists are committing […] the West is very deluded by them, they are terrorists and Takfiris […] when they used to see an injured civilian, the White helmets would finish him […] for example, he would be still alive, and then they would slaughter him, or he would be choking and they would finish him, those were the White Helmets.”

Another of the Tawba Jail survivors spoke to me in Adra Al Balad. Kidnapped on December 14, 2013, Yasser Ali Al-Hweish was held for one year inside Al Batoun where he was interrogated and tortured on a daily basis before being transferred to Tawba Jail.

Al-Hweish told me that the prisoners were regularly used to stage alleged attacks by the SAA. The White Helmets would bring them outside and make them act out an attack, they would be filmed and then taken back inside the prison.

Hweish also claimed they would be taken out and told to rescue dead bodies from under the rubble, the White Helmets would film them and then film themselves taking credit for the rescue.

He said: “For example if someone was dead under the rubble, we would dig and take him out, and after we finish, they (White Helmets) would film themselves as if it was them who have done the work, but in the end, we were doing it, not them.”

Al-Hweish believes that the White Helmets were “subordinate” to JAI and were responsible for the PR and media campaigns to secure further financial support for the terrorist group. This claim is made more plausible by the fact that the UK Foreign Office was reported to be funding the PR for JAI via an international communications consultancy called Incostrat.

The UK FCO and intelligence agencies were also involved in the creation of the White Helmets in 2013 and their continued funding via the same Conflict Stability and Security Fund that siphoned money to Incostrat. Therefore it is no great leap of logic to make the connection between the UK FCO, the White Helmets and the PR campaign for JAI to whitewash their murderous, extremist reputation in Syria.

It is worth noting that these testimonies were not isolated. I interviewed many civilians from Eastern Ghouta after liberation both in Ghouta and outside in the camps for the internally displaced in the Damascus suburbs. Most of them echoed much of what Hweish and Al-Othman told me regarding the White Helmets and their collaboration with the armed extremist groups.

JAI had a reputation as one of the most savage and barbaric armed groups in the region. They had a history of suspected chemical attacks carried out against the Kurdish community in Sheikh Maqsoud, Aleppo in April 2016.

JAI had imprisoned Alawite kidnap victims in metal cages and used them as human shields to deter SAA military campaigns or aerial bombardments. Of the thousands of kidnap victims taken from Adra or from other areas of Eastern Ghouta, only an estimated 200 emerged alive when JAI finally evacuated their fighters to Idlib on the green buses.

I explored the Tawba Jail complex, it was a harrowing experience. I was accompanied by SAA soldiers for my own security as there is still a high risk of terrorist sleeper cells in Douma. One young soldier was entering the prison for the first time. He was shocked when we stumbled upon the heartbreaking graffiti on the walls of the cells and the caged outdoor spaces where prisoners were allowed short periods of sky and fresh air, seen through the bars of an iron cage.

He was photographing the scrawled messages, muttering “haram, haram” under his breath “shame, shame.”

Often we saw that prisoners were recording the number of days they had spent in prison but most of the messages were personal cries for respite and relief, sorrow at being parted from loved ones. Despair and hope expressed in poetry and verse.

One message was translated for me: “Please God help Maya and heal her. God we have nobody but you to help us. My daughter is very sick and I can’t bear to see her suffering. Please help us.”

BBC producer, Riam Dalati, who recently tweeted that the Douma “chemical attack” hospital scenes had been faked also alluded to the “brute and shifty” JAI-affiliated doctor, Dr Abu Bakr Hanan, who had been filming the media scenes.

Dalati further confirmed that JAI ruled the district with an “iron fist.” Dalati had also previously accused JAI-partisan “activists” of rearranging the bodies of children into a more appealing hug scenario when the alleged attack actually occurred. All of these elements must surely lead to questions over the role JAI played in the possible staging of the Douma “chemical attack” and indeed to what extent previous such attacks were staged or manipulated.

This article is by no means intended to be an in depth analysis of the OPCW report or of the events on the April 7, 2018. I hope it raises questions about the FFM (Fact Finding Mission) methodology which evaluates evidence only for one conclusion – a chemical attack. The possibility of staging or the possible use of civilian prisoners as props in the production is not taken into consideration even though, as I have shown here, there is ample reason to believe JAI to have been capable of such actions.

Professor Piers Robinson of the Working Group on Syria, Media and Propaganda told me: “The FFM final report for the OPCW fails to clearly establish the cause of death for the deceased civilians filmed and photographed by ‘media activists’ on the ground; it fails to account for the release of chlorine from yellow cylinders found at the two sites, and it presents a highly unlikely if not impossible scenario regarding the cylinder found at location 4. The report is anonymous, cites anonymous ‘experts’ and provides little clarity with respect to the information sources it relies upon. It also appears to downgrade and ignore Hassan Diab who was filmed having water poured over him in a hospital scene and famously testified that these scenes were staged. This FFM report, even more than previous ones, discredits OPCW as a source of impartial investigation and undermines it as an international institution.”

In fact the FFM final report arguably raises more questions than it has answered. The missing kidnap victims who were not released during the final stages of negotiation before the liberation of Douma are still unaccounted for. The bodies of alleged victims of the “chemical attacks” have not been exhumed or identified as far as we know.

JAI were a tyrannical organisation that routinely executed, abused, tortured and murdered civilians in the areas they occupied in Syria. It is well within the realms of possibility that JAI used prisoners to stage a “chemical attack” to delay the inevitable SAA victory in Douma.

It is also feasible that the White Helmets were fulfilling their media and PR role for JAI when staging the hospital scenes as part of an attempt to buy JAI time and international sympathy. Until all these alternative theories are fully explored, the Douma “chemical attack” case must remain open and the Western media rush to judgement and desire to circle their wagons around an increasingly shaky narrative must be condemned.

Reprinted with permission from RT.

Trump Wants Brazil In NATO…To Help Oust Maduro?

Less than a month after Brazil made it clear that it wants no part in a military invasion of neighboring Venezuela, its president, Jair Bolsonaro, is in Washington this week to be feted by Trump and his neocon advisors. First stop was an unprecedented visit to the CIA for a "briefing" on Venezuela. Then it was off to a visit with Trump, where the US president promised at the least a path to NATO membership for the South American country. Are the neocons turning Bolsonaro in favor of an attack on Venezuela? Tune in to today's Liberty Report:

Saving the Planet One Child at a Time: Children, School Strikes and Global Climate Action

Children’s crusades do not necessarily end well.  During the years of armed missions to the Holy Land, when Jerusalem meant something to the sacredly inclined in Europe, children were encouraged to take to the rough and dangerous road as it wound its way towards Palestine.  In 1212, a boy of 12 is said to have begun preaching at Saint-Denis in France.  God had supposedly taken some time to communicate a pressing wish: Christian children were to head to the Holy Land and liberate it from the Infidel.  How they would do so was not clear.

They subsequently starved, suffered deprivation, were killed and enslaved on route to their destination.  The modern student movement against climate change stresses another Jerusalem, that there will be nothing to salvage if nothing is done now.  We are all, in short, for the chop if climate change is not arrested.  As an Oakland high-schooler by the name of Bruke told Wired, “My GPA isn’t going to matter if I’m dead.”  And much else besides.

To such movements can also be added other acts of striking in peaceful protest. Tens of thousands of US students did so in 2018 swathed in the grief and despair of gun shootings, the most immediate being the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.  The National School Walkout of March 14 and the March for Our Lives ten days later had a biting clarity of purpose: students and staff were entitled to feel secure in the teaching and learning environment.  The movement was characterised by much eloquence wreathed in anger and tears, not least of all Emma Gonzalez, who chided those political representatives “who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been ever done to prevent this”.

Criticism of such movements emphasises helplessness and delusion; they are children and so are vulnerable, idiotic and irrelevant.  They are to be taught and have nothing to teach the adult world.  Leave it to the big boys and girls to stuff up matters.  The critics, often estranged from the very political processes they have been complicit in corrupting, see embryos in need of a constructive voice, expressed constructively without inconvenience, not coherent agents keen to affect change.  There is, as Kari Marie Norgaard observed in 2012, a lag between the accumulating evidence of doom on the one hand, and the absence of public urgency, even interest, in response.  “Although not inherently unproblematic,” surmised Norgaard, “local efforts may provide a key for breaking through climate avoidance from the ground up.”

The global climate change strike movement by children, blown and swept along by the efforts of Swedish student Greta Thunberg, has suggested the possible short-circuiting of this dilemma: to combat the global by being stridently engaged in the local.  (Such statements can become feeble mantras but do operate to galvanise interest.)

For Thunberg, the issue of change is unavoidable.  In her COP24 Climate Change Conference speech in December, the plucky youth did not believe that begging world leaders “to care for our future” would make much of a difference.  “They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again.”  What mattered was letting “them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.”

Protests were registered on March 15 across 2,052 venues in 123 countries.  There were 50 in Australia; and protests in every state in the United States.  Often forgotten in these movements is the role played by children themselves in the organisational side of things, often clear, fathomable and inherently coherent.  In the United States were such figures as 12-year-old Haven Coleman of Denver, Colorado, Alexandria Villasenor of New York City, and 16-year-old Israr Hirsi of Minnesota.

Squirrel scholars suggest that these actions represented a “transformation” at play.  Associate lecturer Blanche Verlie claimed that her research revealed how “young people’s sense of self, identity, and existence is being fundamentally altered by climate change.”  It can be tempting to read too much into matters, to see flowers grow in fields initially thought barren.  But there is little doubting climate change as a catalyst of active and noisy encouragement amongst youth, one akin to the anti-war movements of the Vietnam War period.

There has been much finger wagging against the children from, for instance, politicians who just cannot understand how a striking student could ever get employment.  How dare they take time off learning in a classroom while taking to the classroom of the streets?  The spokesman for UK Prime Minister Theresa May, for instance, argued that such protests increased “teachers’ workloads” and wasted lesson time.  Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, in contrast, signalled his preference for the marchers and strikers: “Climate change is the greatest threat that we all face but it is the school kids of today whose futures are most on the line.”

In Australia, New South Wales Education Minister Rob Stokes preferred to brandish the rod of punitive action: both students and teachers would be punished for participating in the March 15 rally.  By all means, find your “voice”, suggested the threatening minister, but avoid doing so during school hours.  For such scolding types, climate change and injustice have strict timetables and schedules, to be dealt with in good, extra-curricular time.

Australian Resources Minister Matt Canavan’s views on the youth climate action movement are childishly simple and representative, suggesting that Thunberg is correct in her harsh assessment.  Recorded in November last year, the minister sees education as an instrumental affair.  “The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue.  Because that’s what your future life will look like […] not actually taking charge of your life and getting a real job.”  Forget the environment’s durability; drill it, excavate it, mine it, drain it and burn it to a cinder.  Australia, and the world, do not need environmentally conscious citizens, merely automata consuming and feeding the commodity markets.  For the likes of Canavan, it is too late.  For the children, the battle to change the beastly status quo is urgent, pressing and inevitable.

Uniting Fatah, Not Palestinians: The Dubious Role of Mohammed Shtayyeh

Political commentators sympathetic to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Fatah Movement, in particular, fanned out as soon as the news was announced of Mohammad Shtayyeh’s appointment as the new Palestinian Prime Minister.

It is no surprise to witness this gush of support and enthusiasm for Shtayyeh is a Fatah man, par excellence. Gone are the days of the factional uncertainty of Rami Hamdallah, an independent Prime Minister who served from 2014 until he was brushed aside earlier this year.

Hamdallah, like his predecessor, Salam Fayyad, was meant to perform a most intricate balancing act: ‘independent’ enough to win the approval of some Palestinian political factions, including Hamas, worldly enough to appeal to western governments and their endless demands and expectations, and morally-flexible enough to co-exist with the massive corruption racket under way in Ramallah.

However, Hamdallah, in particular, represented something more. He was brought to his position to lead reconciliation efforts between Fatah in Ramallah and its Gaza rivals, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Although the latter had their own reservations, they still felt that Hamdallah was, indeed, a genuine and moderate leader capable of bridging the gap, and, perhaps delivering the coveted unity.

And Hamdallah had, indeed, gone that extra mile. He went as far as visiting Gaza in October 2017. However, some hidden entity did not want unity to actualize among Palestinians. On March 13, 2018 a massive explosion took place soon after Hamdallah’s entourage entered Gaza to finalize the unity government. The bomb disrupted the unity talks and denied Hamdallah the primary role with which he was assigned.

On January 29, Hamdallah resigned, paving the way for yet more consolidation of power within the particular branch of Fatah that is loyal to Abbas.

Fatah has consolidated its control over the PA since the latter was formed in 1994. But, even then, the PA allowed for a margin in which other smaller parties and independent politicians were permitted to participate in the political processes.

Following the deadly Fatah-Hamas clashes in Gaza in the summer of 2007, however, Fatah managed some areas in the West Bank, under Israeli military occupation, unhindered, while Hamas reigned supreme in Gaza.

Hamdallah was meant to change all of this, but his efforts were thwarted, partly because his power was largely curbed by those who truly managed the PA – the Fatah strongmen, an influential and corrupt clique that has learned to co-exist with and, in fact, profit from any situation, including the Israeli occupation itself.

Concerned by the old age of Abbas, now 83, and wary of the continued influence and power of the shunned Fatah leader, Mohammad Dahlan, the pro-Abbas Fatah branch in the West Bank has been eager to arrange the future of the PA to perfectly suit its interests.

Starting in 2015, Abbas has taken several steps to consolidate his power within Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), thus the PA, which derives its manpower and political validation from these two entities.

Political commentator, Hani al-Masri described the move, then, as an attempt to “recalibrate the Executive Committee (of the PLO) to Abbas’ favor.”

That ‘recalibration’ has never ceased since then. On May 4, 2018, the Fatah-dominated PLO’s National Council elected Abbas as the Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee. The committee was also assigned eight new members, all loyalists to Abbas.

Abbas and his supporters had only one hurdle to overcome, Rami Hamdallah.

It is not that Hamdallah was much of a political fighter or a maverick to begin with; it is just that Abbas’ loyalists detested the idea that Hamdallah was still keen on achieving reconciliation with Hamas.

For them, Mohammad Shtayyeh’s recent appointment is the most logical answer.

Shtayyeh possesses all the features that qualify him for the new role. His ‘seven-point letter of assignment’, which he received from Abbas, calls on him to prioritize national unity. But that would make no sense since Shtayyeh, who has been close to Abbas since the early 1990s, has a poor track record on that front.

Aside from accommodating the whims of Abbas and his grouping within Fatah, Shtayyeh will try to appeal to a younger generation within Palestine that has lost faith in Abbas, his authority and all the hogwash about the two-state solution. That is, in fact, Shtayyeh’s main mission.

Shtayyeh is a two-state solution enthusiast as his legacy in the Palestine negotiations team clearly demonstrates. His article in the New York Times on October 26, 2016 was a desperate attempt to breathe life into a dead option. His language is very similar to the language used by a younger and more energetic Abbas during the heyday of the Oslo Accords.

But Shtayyeh is different from Abbas, at least in the appeal of his own persona. He hails from the First Intifada generation of 1987. He was dean of students at Birzeit University in the early 1990s. Birzeit has served as a symbol of the revolutionary class of Palestinian intellectuals in the West Bank, and even Gaza. Shtayyeh’s ability to connect with young people, as he places constant, but guarded emphasis on the resistance against Israeli Occupation, will certainly bring new blood to the aging, irrelevant PA leadership or, at least, that is what Abbas hopes.

“We do not want to preserve the same status quo,” Shtayyeh told Al Quds newspaper in a statement on August 30, 2017. “The Palestinian government … has to … turn into a resistance authority against Israeli settlements. We should be able to take measures without the permission of Israel, such as digging water wells and reforesting Area C in the West Bank,” he said.

That type of ‘resistance’, proposed by Shtayyeh hardly pushes Abbas out of his comfort zone. However, the aim of this language is barely concerned with digging a few wells, but to reintroduce ‘revolutionary’ rhetoric to the Prime Minister’s office, hoping to reinvent the PA and renew confidence in its ailing and corrupt institutions.

Shtayyeh’s mission will ultimately fail, for his actual mandate is to reunite Fatah behind Abbas, not the Palestinian people behind a truly democratic and representative leadership aimed at ridding Palestine from its Israeli occupiers.

The sad truth is that the latter goal was hardly a priority for Mahmoud Abbas or his loyalists in Ramallah in the first place.

Tulsi Gabbard Comes to San Francisco

I’m running for president to be able to bring about this sea change in our foreign policy that is so necessary for us and for the world.

— Tulsi Gabbard

Introduction by Rick Sterling

Tulsi Gabbard visited the San Francisco Bay Area last weekend. The 3 term Congresswoman from Hawaii is 37 years old and ethnically diverse. Remarkably, she has 15 years military experience in the US Army and National Guard as well as substantial political experience. She was elected to the Hawaii State Assembly at age 21.

Tulsi Gabbard supports progressive domestic policy issues including criminal justice reform, healthcare-for-all, national and international steps to protect the environment. She has a high approval rating on gay issues.

What makes Gabbard really distinctive is her emphasis and approach to US foreign policy. While other candidates largely avoid the subject, Tulsi Gabbard says the issue is “central” to all other issues. She says we need to change the policy of “regime change wars” and “new cold war” with Russia and China. She advocates cooperation instead of conflict.

Gabbard said “We are at a greater risk of nuclear catastrophe than ever before in history.” She described the scare of an incoming nuclear missile attack which occurred in Hawaii last year. Even though the alert turned out to be false, the threat is real. “It should alarm every one of us here that leaders in Washington are either not paying attention, they don’t know, or they don’t care. This should alarm every one of us because that means not only are we not addressing this threat, but the actions that leaders in Washington are taking are actually making it worse.”

Tulsi Gabbard says that as a soldier in a medical unit she has seen the “costs of war” first hand. Thousands of US soldiers never made it home alive. Many others suffer visible and invisible wounds of war. Where the US has intervened or invaded, the people are worse off not better. The “costs of war” are trillions of dollars which should be spent at home.

Gabbard says the bad policies are the result of ‘self-serving politicians, greedy corporations and special interests.” She calls out the military industrial complex and decries the “powerful forces that have ruled over both parties in Washington for far too long.”

No wonder there is so much misinformation and attacks on Gabbard. She is challenging the core policy of US exceptionalism and identifying who benefits and “who pays the price” for those policies.

Her 35 minute presentation at the University of San Francisco can be viewed here. Following is the text of her speech followed by her response to questions regarding Bernie Sanders, her religion and age.

Tulsi Gabbard Speaks, University of San Francisco / 16 March 2019

It’s tough sometimes when we see what is happening in our country. There are a lot of challenges that we’re facing and it’s heartbreaking to see in so many different ways how we are being torn apart as people, how our country is being divided, how that vision that our founders had for us as a country, as a united country with a government of, by and for the people has been lost. It’s heartbreaking to see how people are suffering.

Our family, our friends, our neighbors are dealing with things that we shouldn’t have to be dealing with in this country. We’re in a place where we have a government that is not of the people, by the people and for the people, but rather a government that is controlled and influenced by self serving politicians, greedy corporations and those special interests who can afford to buy their seat at the table as laws are being made.

Who pays the price? We do. Who suffers as a result? We do. Who is left behind? We are.

The place that we are in as a country right now is exactly counter to the vision that our founders had for this great country: where we have leaders elected by the people, who are of the people and for the people and whose sole interest and focus is on serving the interests of the people of this country, putting the well-being of our people, our planet, and our future at the forefront of those decisions that are being made. Instead, what we see is what’s happening in Washington where we have people who live in a bubble that is so disconnected from the reality that we are living in our lives across this country. And this corruption of spirit that’s casting a dark shadow over us is what we must defeat. There’s only one way to do that. And to me, this is why we’re gathered here today because we care. We care for each other. We care for our country, we care for our planet and our future. We want to do something about it, right?

YOU are why I am hopeful because gathering together in this spirit of  – what we in Hawaii call Aloha – is truly the answer of how we overcome the challenges that we face. Now, a lot of people know Aloha is a word that means hello or goodbye, right? Because this is how we greet each other in Hawaii. But there’s a reason why we start our conversations and our gatherings with this word Aloha because there is so much power in what it actually means. When we greet each other with Aloha and we gather in the spirit of Aloha, what we’re really saying is I love you, I care for you, I respect you, and I recognize that we are all brothers and sisters, we’re all children of God regardless of where we come from or the color of our skin, who we love, how much money we make or don’t make, what kind of education we have.

All of those things that are so often used to divide us, whether it’s by politicians or corporations or people in positions of power who pit one group of us against the other for their own gain, who tear us apart, raising fear and suspicions and fomenting bigotry between us for their own gain, without any care for the — the pain and the harm and the impact that it has on all of us. This Aloha spirit is what has the power to defeat that darkness with love and care for each other and that love for our country. It is this spirit of Aloha that unites us, that reminds us and inspires us about how we can build that path forward, that path that leads to a future that is bright, that is peaceful, that is prosperous, that provides that opportunity and justice and equality for every single one of us.

So we look throughout history, especially during those darkest moments and we see how we have found our way through. It has always been when we, the people, stand up and stand together, when we speak as one for what is right and what is just and for each other. And it is this time that we are in now that calls upon us to once again rise up and stand together knowing that when we do that, when we stand together, motivated by this care for each other, this love for our country, there is no obstacle that we cannot overcome.

The obstacles seem great and this is why sometimes it’s easy to feel disheartened and frustrated and to say how do we move forward? How can we ever overcome? Just a couple of weekends ago in the days leading up to the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, I had a chance to go and walk on a civil rights pilgrimage led by congressman John Lewis, who was one of the youngest leaders of the civil rights movement at that time. And it was an incredible experience to hear directly from him as we walked through those steps where he and Dr. King and so many others were beaten and bloodied. They were called every name in the book. They were threatened, their very lives on the line as they worked for justice. They worked for equality. They worked for the right to vote to make sure that their voices were heard and it was heart wrenching to hear from him about what they went through. It was inspiring because of how they responded to that hatred and that darkness, how they responded to that physical violence that they endured, they did not respond to that hate with hate. As Dr. King said, they knew that darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.

Their example and those wise words are what inspires us today. They show how we can bring about the real change that we need to see. How we can pass legislation like Medicare For All to make sure every single person has health-care.

How we can bring about real criminal justice reform.

How we can pass legislation that I’ve introduced to end the federal prohibition on marijuana. That will have an incredible impact on this country. In the press conference that we held as we were introducing this legislation, which is the only bipartisan piece of legislation to end the federal prohibition on marijuana in Congress, we had a few people there who shared their stories. We had small business owners and people who were working on providing medical marijuana to those who need it. We had researchers who are gathering evidence and data to say this is important to help impact people’s lives. We had people who are helping those who are fighting opioid addiction. We’re seeing every day how in places where medical marijuana is legal, opioid addiction is dropping, opioid related deaths are decreasing, and people who are going through very difficult problems are finally finding help.

We also had a guy named Harry from Virginia who was there who shared his own story about how when he was in college about 10 years ago, studying computer science, furthering himself and seeking better opportunities. He was convicted of marijuana possession and thrown into prison for 10 years: two mandatory minimum sentences of five years each. This was for marijuana possession. He talked about how his cellmate was convicted of murder and he got out of prison before Harry did.

The injustice that exists within our country because of the failed war on drugs and our broken criminal justice system has to end. We cannot have another generation of people whose lives are ruined in this failed war on drugs.

You know, there are a lot of different issues that we need to address. I’ve mentioned a few of them. Dealing with the climate crisis that we’re facing in this country and in the world is an urgent one that we all must stand up to demand real change to address. We’ve been talking about this issue for a while. We’ve been talking about how our policies and the way that we live has a negative impact on our environment. But we have not yet seen that kind of bold action and recognition from our leaders. That has to change. We also have to recognize how important it is that even as we take aggressive action to address this climate crisis in this country, that alone will not be enough. This is a problem that is facing our planet. It is facing every country in this world and in order to tackle it, it will require us to build relationships based on cooperation, not conflict with other countries in the world and work together to address this crisis.

Things like re-entering the Paris accords is a necessary and important step, but that alone will not be enough. Retracting from the world and treating other countries in this zero sum mentality where you’re either with us or against us, with this approach of conflict rather than cooperation must end.

I want to close by talking about an issue that is central to all of these others that are pressing and urgent and impact our everyday lives and that is the issue of the cost of war.  I am a major in the army national guard, serving now for almost 15 years, deployed twice to the Middle East where I served in a medical unit on that first deployment to Iraq in 2005. I saw firsthand every day the high human cost of war and who pays the price. I saw it in friends of mine who were killed in combat, who never made that trip home with us. I see it in my brothers and sisters, our veterans who continue to pay the price after coming home, dealing with wounds both visible and invisible, the lack of quality care and benefits provided to them to help them when they come home. The price for these wars that people don’t often recognize is the one that every single one of us pays. The fact that we are spending trillions of dollars on wasteful regime change wars and this new cold war between the United States and nuclear armed countries like Russia and China. Tensions continue to increase and a nuclear arms race has been been kicked off by actions like the one President Trump took recently by withdrawing from this historic INF treaty negotiated between Reagan and Gorbachev.

These actions have put us as a country and the world in a position where we are at a greater risk of nuclear catastrophe than ever before in history. Now, what’s interesting is that, as I share this information and talk about these issues with leaders in Washington, they say “Really? Really? More than the Cuban missile crisis? More than the Cold War with the Soviet Union?” . Yes, the answer is yes. This is the reality of the existential threat we’re facing today. And it should alarm every one of us here that leaders in Washington are either not paying attention, they don’t know, or they don’t care. This should alarm every one of us because that means not only are we not addressing this threat, but the actions that leaders in Washington are taking are actually making it worse.

I want to get to why this issue is important to every one of us. We in Hawaii had a huge wake-up call about a year ago when there was a text alert that went out to over a million phones all across our state that said, “Missile incoming. Seek shelter immediately. This is not a drill.” I want to let that sink in for a second. We all have phones in our pockets. Imagine that on a Saturday morning like today, people in Hawaii, were just waking up, maybe thinking about going to the beach or going to hang out with friends, when this message came across their phones. Think about what you would do and how you would feel, who you would think about, where you would go if you got that message. As we’re sitting here today, think about knowing there are just minutes to live.

It was terrifying.

People thought “Where can I take my family? Where can I find shelter? Where can we be safe?” A father was trying to figure out which of his children he would spend the last minutes of his life with. Another father lowered his little girl down a manhole thinking that may be the only place where she could be safe.

That alert turned out to be false, but the reason why we reacted the way that we did is because this threat is real. And it’s important for us to recognize this. Not because we should sit here and be afraid and think we’re doomed, but because we have to recognize the power lies in our hands to make sure this is not our future.

Because it doesn’t have to be this way. We have the power and we must take action to change direction, to bend this arc away from war and towards peace, to make sure that our foreign policy is one that actually serves the interests of our people, that secures our country and moves us closer to peace rather than nuclear catastrophe and war.

This is why I’m running for president. Because none of you should have to go through what we went through in Hawaii. No family in this country should have to go through what our families went through in Hawaii. Not a single person in this country should have to live at any point in the day thinking about what would I do if I got that message?

We must change our foreign policy, the way we are relating to different countries and build those relationships based on cooperation, not conflict and work towards this future where we are getting rid of nuclear weapons rather than building more of them.

To build this future we need to take those trillions of dollars being spent on wasteful regime change wars and a nuclear arms race.  We need to take those dollars and bring them to serve the needs of people here at home, to make sure that we have health-care for everyone, to make sure our kids have a great education and a great future, to invest in a green, renewable energy based economy that serves us today and for generations to come, to make sure that we are investing in the right kind of infrastructure and sustainable agriculture.

There are so many things that we need to do right now to invest in a bright future for every single American. In order to do that, we have to change the course we are on. We need to take those dollars wasted on regime change wars and a nuclear arms race in a new cold war. We need to place our priorities put those dollars where they need to be, which is right here on our people, on our families and on our future.

To do that requires strong leadership, leadership and all of us standing together, standing up against those in the military industrial complex and those who benefit and continue to push for these regime change wars and this nuclear arms race. The only thing that will overcome those powerful forces that have ruled over both parties in Washington for far too long are us.  We, the people are the only ones who have the power to make this change.  No one else is going to do it for us,

We cannot forget or underestimate the power that we have in our own hands and we cannot take lightly the threats that we face in the urgent need for us to stand up, speak out, and make sure that our voices are heard now. Not tomorrow, not next year, not in five years or 10 years. Now our future is in our hands. I ask for your support.

I ask you to stand with me so that together we can take on those challenge and shape a bright future for every single one of us.

In the Q & A following the speech, one person asked about Bernie Sanders and her religion. Her response was as follows:

Bernie remains a good friend and I think he brings such an important voice to this country and the conversations that we’re having.

My decision to run for president was really based on the recognition that the most important job that a president has is as commander in chief. So the experiences that I have in serving as a soldier for almost 15 years, of being deployed to the Middle East and seeing and experiencing firsthand the cost of war and the consequences of the failed policies of this country directly firsthand [are crucial]. I am not someone who is going to go into the White House and sit back and rely on the foreign policy establishment in Washington to tell me what to do. I don’t have to.

That is what differentiates me from every other candidate who’s running for president right now. Because I’m walking in on day one with that experience both as a soldier directly, but also as a member of Congress who served on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees for years, who has engaged with leaders of other countries who has held the feet to the fire of people like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I’m not intimidated by the stars that someone wears on their shoulders.

I am not intimidated by the military industrial complex and what they are fishing for. I’m not running for president to be president. I’m running for president to be able to bring about this sea change in our foreign policy that is so necessary for us and for the world.

Quickly regarding the last question, I’m a practicing Hindu. I practice Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga. I dedicate my life to do my best every day, to be of service to God and to be of service to others. That pretty much sums up my spiritual foundation and my motivation throughout my life.

Another person asked how her young age as potentially the youngest president in US history and how she would cater to the needs of young people.  She responded as follows:

What matters most to what I bring to the White House and the presidency is the experience and perspective. In 2020 millennials will be the largest demographic. Millennials will actually be that majority to determine what kind of future we want for ourselves.

To me this is not about catering, that I’m going to cater to quote unquote ‘oung people or this group or that group. The message that I shared with you today about why I’m running and the kind of change that I seek to bring about is the kind of change that serves every person in this country, not just one group or another, not one age or another, one race or another, one religion or another. This is about every single one of us.

The key to that, rather than pandering to one group or another, the kind of change we’re talking about is centered around putting people first, putting people ahead of profits, putting people ahead of politics, putting people ahead of the powerful, really working and centering our policies around how does this best serve the people of this country and our planet? That’s my goal. That’s my objective.

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The European Parliament has just adopted a resolution which requires that the Union stop considering Russia as a strategic partner, but rather as an enemy of humanity. At the same time, the Commission sent a warning about the Chinese threat. Everything is unfolding as if the United States were manœuvering the Union into playing a part in their own supremacist strategy.

The « American Party » within the institutions of the European Union, by Manlio Dinucci

The European Parliament has just adopted a resolution which requires that the Union stop considering Russia as a strategic partner, but rather as an enemy of humanity. At the same time, the Commission sent a warning about the Chinese threat. Everything is unfolding as if the United States were manœuvering the Union into playing a part in their own supremacist strategy.