Is the US Going the Way of Afghanistan?

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Acrimony and recriminations continue to swirl around the 2020 presidential election. Three out of four Republicans believe that there was “widespread fraud” in the election, while Democrats have sought to turn criticisms of the election into a “Big Lie” heresy against democracy. Senior congressional Democrats are pressuring the nation’s largest cable providers to cease carrying conservative networks such as Fox News that raised too many questions about Biden’s victory.

What could possibly go wrong with sweeping the 2020 election controversies under the rug? Clues can be found in a recent report, “Elections: Lessons from the US Experience in Afghanistan,” produced by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). That report contains more wisdom than will be found in President Trump’s idiotic tweet in December: “A young military man working in Afghanistan told me that elections in Afghanistan are far more secure and much better run than the USA’s 2020 Election.”

Actually, “Afghan democracy” is one of the most brazen shams of US foreign policy in this century. Since the US invasion in 2001, the federal government has spent more than $600 million to support elections and democratic procedures in Afghanistan (part of the $143 billion the US spent there for relief and reconstruction there). Hamid Karzai, the smooth operator who the Bush administration installed to rule Afghanistan after 9/11, won a rigged 2004 presidential election. President George W. Bush boasted during his reelection campaign, “Afghanistan has now got a constitution which talks about freedom of religion and talks about women’s rights…. Democracy is flourishing.” A few years later, Karzai won support from fundamentalist voters by approving a law entitling a husband to starve his wife to death if she refused his sexual demands.

President Barack Obama justified his troop surge in Afghanistan to bolster its democracy. When Obama spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in August 2009, he boasted that “our troops are helping to secure polling places for this week’s election so that Afghans can choose the future that they want.” At first glance, Karzai won a narrow victory. But two weeks after the election, the New York Times reported that Karzai’s operatives set up as many as 800 fictitious polling sites “where no one voted but where hundreds of thousands of ballots were still recorded toward the president’s re-election.” In some Afghan provinces, pro-Karzai ballots outnumbered actual voters by tenfold. Peter Galbraith, a senior United Nations official in Afghanistan, was fired after he estimated that a third of Karzai’s votes were bogus. Galbraith wrote, “No amount of spin can obscure the fact that we spent upwards of $200 million on an election that has been a total fiasco” which “handed the Taliban its greatest strategic victory.”

Despite the shenanigans, the Obama administration praised Karzai as if he had won fair and square. The Obama administration told Congress that the decision to send far more US troops to Afghanistan depended on the Afghan government’s “ability to hold credible elections,” among other tests. After the 2009 Afghan election turned into a sham, Obama decided it was “close enough for government work” to democracy. Thanks to Obama’s surge, 1,400 American soldiers died in part to propagate the mirage of Afghan democracy. 

Afghan officials have conspired for more than 15 years to both multiply and ignore election fraud. As early as 2009, US Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that the result was that the Afghan government’s legitimacy “is, at best, in question right now and, at worst, doesn’t exist.” An analysis by the US Agency for International Development of the 2014 Afghan election noted that “several prominent election officials associated with fraud during past elections were promoted or given ministerial appointments.” Afghanistan’s 2019 presidential election was “the most corrupt the country had ever held,” according to some experts SIGAR consulted. 

U.S tax dollars poured into the coffers of Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) to safeguard voting. Alas – that agency was a prime source of the most brazen vote stealing. ECC bosses were careful not to hire almost anyone with electoral experience since such folks might raise troubling questions. A former top ECC official told SIGAR that “one criterion for chief electoral officer applicants in 2018 was how well the candidates were dressed. He said this category was used as a pretext to reduce the scores of less pliable candidates.” It is unknown whether this villainy character test was inspired by Washington’s K Street lobbyists. 

Push-button fraud

Afghan voting records are a mess, making it much easier to fabricate the “will of the people.” SIGAR concluded, “Afghanistan’s national voter registry and the voter registration process are exceptionally vulnerable to manipulation and mismanagement… The number of registered voters in Afghanistan is improbably high, given the population size and low turnout shortly after registering, which likely indicates registration fraud. Malpractice and lack of transparency also undermine the credibility of the voter registry.” In this country, controversies erupted in several states prior to the 2020 election over allegations that state voting roles had vast numbers of ineligible or deceased voters listed. Michigan delayed removing 177,000 inactive voters from the state’s voting roles until earlier this month and acted only after a lawsuit forced the state’s hand.

Afghan elections have been institutionalized racketeering in part because the rules for elections have always been in flux. SIGAR noted, “Only one of the country’s election laws has ever been passed by parliament; the rest were presidential decrees that were never referred to the parliament for consideration.” The SIGAR report quoted election experts: “The likelihood of a credible election is inversely proportional to the degree to which the ruling regime directly controls the election management body.”

America has mostly avoided similar debacles because the Founding Fathers included an Elections Clause in the Constitution specifying that the rules for federal elections (president and Congress) “shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” Unfortunately, that constitutional provision was trampled last year in many states. Time magazine recently revealed “the secret history of the 2020 election” – “a well-funded cabal of powerful people… working together behind the scenes to… change rules and laws” to “fortify” democracy. Democratic Party officials and election commission officials appointed by Democrats scorned state law to rewrite the rules for the 2020 election in several swing states. 

A brief filed with the Supreme Court in December by the state of Texas noted, “Michigan’s Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, without legislative approval, unilaterally abrogated Michigan election statutes related to absentee ballot applications” by sending “unsolicited absentee-voter ballot applications by mail to all 7.7 million registered Michigan voters… without verifying voter signatures as required” by state law. The impact was compounded when Democratic officials in the state’s most populous county (including Detroit) “made the policy decision to ignore Michigan’s statutory signature verification requirements for absentee ballots.” Elsewhere, the Wisconsin Elections Commission approved setting up to 500 unmanned ballot drop boxes in major Democratic cities in violation of Wisconsin law. 

Politically-appointed judges effectively overturned state law by mandating new election procedures in several states. In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court invoked a vaporous phrase in the state constitution – “Elections shall be free and equal” – to justify invalidating a state law that prohibited counting mail-in ballots that arrived after Election Day; the judges even mandated including late ballots arriving with no postmark. A similar provision was struck down on January 27 by a Virginia circuit court overturning the Virginia Board of Elections’ decree permitting counting mail-in ballots that arrived three days after the election without a postmark.

Elsewhere in the report, SIGAR notes the difficulty of building a viable democracy when elected officials formally receive a license to steal. After noting the hefty bribes that politicians pay to election officials, SIGAR explains: “One reason candidates may be willing to pay such high prices for seats in parliament is to protect ill-gotten fortunes…. By becoming members of parliament, they can gain access to new sources of illicit revenue and immunity from prosecution.” That parliament is the last place on earth to seek a constituency for honest elections. 

Afghanistan also illustrates the perils of computer voting. As one election expert told SIGAR, “There is no difference between stuffing 100 ballots and pressing a button on an electronic voting machine 100 times.” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani decreed that the 2019 election must rely on electronic voting. But SIGAR noted that electronic voting “did not reduce fraud overall; it just displaced it to other parts of the electoral cycle.” Confidence in Afghan electronic voting was not assisted by the secrecy surrounding the software and equipment. After the 2019 presidential election, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission declared that it could not “share information” about how votes were being reconciled because “the contractor, Dermalog, controlled that process.” SIGAR quoted experts who warned that “because governments often control electoral commissions and the procurement of election technology, they are well placed to use it to commit fraud. The introduction of technology can also weaken the ability of political parties and observation groups to detect fraud.”

Luckily, no such problems occurred in the US presidential election last year, as confirmed by the recent billion dollar defamation lawsuits filed by Dominion Voting Systems against its critics. But the SIGAR report did cynically note, “The true purpose of adopting election technologies may not be to actually reduce fraud, but to create the illusion of doing so.”

Perhaps the real Afghan lesson is that there is no “guardian angel of democracy.” Politicians permitting citizens to vote does not assure that election results will receive even a whiff of legitimacy. Once fraud or suspicions of fraud reach a certain level, any election winners will be suspected scoundrels. More than 15 years of corrupt elections in Afghanistan have resulted in a central government with little or no popular support or credibility. A US Army colonel who deployed several times to Afghanistan told SIGAR that as early as 2006, the Afghan government had “self-organized into a kleptocracy.” Officials who were stealing everything else never hesitated to steal votes. The only reason the Afghan government has not yet been toppled by the Taliban is because of the presence of the US military. 

And is there a lesson from the endless lies that US government officials have told about Afghan democracy? At a confidential 2015 National Security Council meeting, President Obama admitted that the US would never “transform Afghanistan into a semblance of a democracy able to defend itself,” the New York Times reported. But that didn’t deter Obama from publicly bragging the following year that US troops and diplomats had helped Afghanistan “establish a democratic government.” Are US government officials more honest when they talk about American democracy than when they praise sham democracies abroad? 

Regardless of any Trump tweets to the contrary, US election processes remain far more credible than Afghanistan’s. But last year’s election was the fourth US presidential election since 2000 that was widely perceived as heavily tainted. When the Supreme Court voted last week not to hear cases challenging arbitrary changes in state election procedures, Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, “The decision to leave election law hidden beneath a shroud of doubt is baffling. By doing nothing, we invite further confusion and erosion of voter confidence.” Unfortunately, almost no one is talking of the peril of the “Afghanization” of American democracy.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Economic Research.

The Working Class Backbone of Hi Tech

In his comprehensive and educational book, Coders (2019 Penguin Press), tech writer Clive Thompson tells the story of computer programmers, a workforce that is undoubtedly one of the “most quietly influential on the planet.” Thompson writes:

You use software nearly every instant you’re awake. There’s the obvious stuff, like your phone, your laptop, email and social networking and video games and Netflix, the way you order taxis and food. But there’s also less-obvious software lurking all around you. Nearly any paper book or pamphlet you touch was designed using software; code inside your car manages the braking system; ‘machine-learning’ algorithms at your bank scrutinize your purchasing activity.

While the field isn’t something I plan to pursue (I’m too much of a wannabe Luddite for that to happen), it was fascinating to learn more about what programming actually is; its language; how the work combines engineering and art, logic and puzzle-solving, passion and patience. I also learned more about the people that do the work; how they think and why; the heady impact of being able to literally change the world overnight, particularly when an app or program generates millions of global users. Of special interest was the history, beginning with the first coders: “Brilliant and pioneering women, who, despite crafting some of the earliest personal computers and programming language, were later written out of history.”

Coders affirmed two things for me. One is that in the struggle for social justice and human liberation, coders are a decisive force for success—arguably the decisive force, particularly in any pursuit of a People’s Internet, or at the very least a People’s Media. Indeed, the digital battlefield is paramount.

My second affirmation was being reminded, yet again, about the power of the working class. The Internet, embedded in the lives of billions around the globe, is routinely compared to a cloud, a place without place, without distance. But that’s an illusion. All it takes is for service to go down for us to realize that someone has to fix it, be it a broken fiber optic cable, a damaged router, or a down electrical line.

When we rely on the Internet, we rely on workers, from mainframe engineers to computer programmers to office workers to maintenance personnel. In his 2012 book, Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, Wired correspondent Andrew Blum describes how the Internet is “as fixed in real physical places any railroad or telephone ever was. It fills enormous buildings, converges in some places and avoids others, and it flows through tubes underground, up in the air and over the oceans all over the world. You can map it, can smell it, and you can even visit it.”

There is a human, geographic side to the worldwide web, intricate and utterly interdependent on the other: Those who keep the power going and the work stations clean; the workers who mine and extract the silicon, the silver, copper, mercury, aluminum, tin, lead, and all the rare earth elements; the vast and global workforce that assembles the computers, smart phones and tablets. Then there are those who do the shipping and delivery, who dispose the toxic and radioactive electronic waste.

I think of tech’s working class whenever I feel I’m too becoming user-centric, and forgetting about the human beings whose labor makes it all run, with the awesome power to make it not run as well.

The post The Working Class Backbone of Hi Tech first appeared on Dissident Voice.

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Biden’s Reckless Syria Bombing Is Not the Diplomacy He Promised

Photo: CODEPINK

The February 25 U.S. bombing of Syria immediately puts the policies of the newly-formed Biden administration into sharp relief. Why is this administration bombing the sovereign nation of Syria? Why is it bombing “Iranian-backed militias” who pose absolutely no threat to the United States and are actually involved in fighting ISIS? If this is about getting more leverage vis-a-vis Iran, why hasn’t the Biden administration just done what it said it would do: rejoin the Iran nuclear deal and de-escalate the Middle East conflicts?

According to the Pentagon, the U.S. strike was in response to the February 15 rocket attack in northern Iraq that killed a contractor working with the U.S. military and injured a U.S. service member. Accounts of the number killed in the U.S. attack vary from one to 22.

The Pentagon made the incredible claim that this action “aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both Eastern Syria and Iraq.” This was countered by the Syrian government, which condemned the illegal attack on its territory and said the strikes “will lead to consequences that will escalate the situation in the region.” The strike was also condemned by the governments of China and Russia. A member of Russia’s Federation Council warned that such escalations in the area could lead to “a massive conflict.”

Ironically, Jen Psaki, now Biden’s White House spokesperson, questioned the lawfulness of attacking Syria in 2017, when it was the Trump administration doing the bombing. Back then she asked: “What is the legal authority for strikes? Assad is a brutal dictator. But Syria is a sovereign country.”

The airstrikes were supposedly authorized by the 20-year-old, post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), legislation that Rep. Barbara Lee has been trying for years to repeal since it has been misused, according to the congresswoman, “to justify waging war in at least seven different countries, against a continuously expanding list of targetable adversaries.”

The United States claims that its targeting of the militia in Syria was based on intelligence provided by the Iraqi government. Defense Secretary Austin told reporters: “We’re confident that target was being used by the same Shia militia that conducted the strike [against U.S. and coalition forces].”

But a report by Middle East Eye (MEE) suggests that Iran has strongly urged the militias it supports in Iraq to refrain from such attacks, or any warlike actions that could derail its sensitive diplomacy to bring the U.S. and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 international nuclear agreement or JCPOA.

“None of our known factions carried out this attack,” a senior Iraqi militia commander told MEE. “The Iranian orders have not changed regarding attacking the American forces, and the Iranians are still keen to maintain calm with the Americans until they see how the new administration will act.”

The inflammatory nature of this U.S. attack on Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, who are an integral part of Iraq’s armed forces and have played a critical role in the war with ISIS, was implicitly acknowledged in the U.S. decision to attack them in Syria instead of in Iraq. Did Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, a pro-Western British-Iraqi, who is trying to rein in the Iranian-backed Shiite militias, deny permission for a U.S. attack on Iraqi soil?

At Kadhimi’s request, NATO is increasing its presence from 500 troops to 4,000 (from Denmark, the U.K. and Turkey, not the U.S.) to train the Iraqi military and reduce its dependence on the Iranian-backed militias. But Kadhimi risks losing his job in an election this October if he alienates Iraq’s Shiite majority. Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein is heading to Tehran to meet with Iranian officials over the weekend, and the world will be watching to see how Iraq and Iran will respond to the U.S. attack.

Some analysts say the bombing may have been intended to strengthen the U.S. hand in its negotiations with Iran over the nuclear deal (JCPOA). “The strike, the way I see it, was meant to set the tone with Tehran and dent its inflated confidence ahead of negotiations,” said Bilal Saab, a former Pentagon official who is currently a senior fellow with the Middle East Institute.

But this attack will make it more difficult to resume negotiations with Iran. It comes at a delicate moment when the Europeans are trying to orchestrate a “compliance for compliance” maneuver to revive the JCPOA. This strike will make the diplomatic process more difficult, as it gives more power to the Iranian factions who oppose the deal and any negotiations with the United States.

Showing bipartisan support for attacking sovereign nations, key Republicans on the foreign affairs committees such as Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. Michael McCaul immediately welcomed the attacks. So did some Biden supporters, who crassly displayed their partiality to bombing by a Democratic president.

Party organizer Amy Siskind tweeted: “So different having military action under Biden. No middle school level threats on Twitter. Trust Biden and his team’s competence.” Biden supporter Suzanne Lamminen tweeted: “Such a quiet attack. No drama, no TV coverage of bombs hitting targets, no comments on how presidential Biden is. What a difference.”

Thankfully, though, some Members of Congress are speaking out against the strikes. “We cannot stand up for Congressional authorization before military strikes only when there is a Republican President,” Congressman Ro Khanna tweeted, “The Administration should have sought Congressional authorization here. We need to work to extricate from the Middle East, not escalate.” Peace groups around the country are echoing that call. Rep. Barbara Lee and Senators Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine and Chris Murphy also released statements either questioning or condemning the strikes.

Americans should remind President Biden that he promised to prioritize diplomacy over military action as the primary instrument of his foreign policy. Biden should recognize that the best way to protect U.S. personnel is to take them out of the Middle East. He should recall that the Iraqi Parliament voted a year ago for U.S. troops to leave their country. He should also recognize that U.S. troops have no right to be in Syria, still “protecting the oil,” on the orders of Donald Trump.

After failing to prioritize diplomacy and rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement, Biden has now, barely a month into his presidency, reverted to the use of military force in a region already shattered by two decades of U.S. war-making. This is not what he promised in his campaign and it is not what the American people voted for.

The post Biden’s Reckless Syria Bombing Is Not the Diplomacy He Promised first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The US airstrike on Syria: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, and the boss before that

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In his first publicly acknowledged military act as commander-in-chief, President Joe Biden orders an assault on Syria, and proves that when it comes to solving the many problems of the region, he’s no better than Trump, or Obama.

President Biden ordered US military aircraft to strike targets on Syrian soil that the US claims were affiliated with two pro-Iranian militias, Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada. The US, working closely with Iraqi security services, has implicated Iranian-backed Shia militias in a recent rocket attack on a US airbase in Erbil, Iraq, that killed a foreign contractor employed by the US and wounded four American contractors and a US service member. 

A Pentagon spokesperson, John Kirby, called the attack, which was carried out by US F-15E aircraft and killed up to 17 people, a “proportionate military response” designed to send “an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted that the strike was part of a calculated response “using a mix of tools seen and unseen.” Psaki sought to differentiate the actions of the Biden administration from previous airstrikes undertaken during the Trump administration against the exact same target, for precisely the same reasons, a little more than a year ago. “What we will not do,” Psaki noted, “and what we’ve seen in the past, is lash out and risk an escalation that plays into the hands of Iran by further destabilizing Iraq.”

So that’s all clear and ok, then…or is it?

Airstrikes in the time of Trump

Back in December 2019, then-President Trump ordered US forces to strike targets located in and around the town of Abu Kamal, on the Syrian side of the Syria-Iraq border, opposite the Iraqi town of Al Qaim. The Syrian garrison at Abu Kamal had been reinforced by pro-Iranian Iraqi militias, in particular Kataib Hezbollah, in an effort to cut off forces affiliated with the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) trapped in Syria from their base of support in Iraq. Abu Kamal was also an important logistics support hub for supplies trucked in from Iran to pro-Iranian forces operating inside Syria.

The US airstrike on Christmas Day 2019 was ordered by President Trump in retaliation for a rocket attack on a US airbase at K-1, in Kurdish-controlled Iraq, that killed a US civilian contractor. 

While the US blamed Iran and Kataib Hezbollah for the attack, Iraqi security forces believed that the real perpetrators were Iraqi insurgents sympathetic to IS. The airstrikes on Abu Kamal reportedly killed at least 25 militiamen and wounded 55 more, setting off a wave of protests inside Iraq which culminated in a mob overrunning parts of the US Embassy compound in Baghdad.

The US responded to the assault on the embassy by dispatching thousands of troops into the region, and ordering the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force which oversees cooperation between Iran and pro-Iranian militias, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the head of the Popular Mobilization Committee, an umbrella organization under which Kataib Hezbollah fell. 

These two murders prompted a retaliatory strike by Iran against a US airbase inside Iraq that injured more than 100 American servicemembers, and brought Iran and the US to the brink of war. It was this cycle of escalation that Jen Psaki was referring to in her statement following the Biden-ordered airstrike of February 25.

It's Joe time

While Kirby and Psaki have both espoused an official Biden administration position that tries to differentiate itself from the actions and policies of its predecessor, the reality is that the actions of the Biden administration, in bombing Syria, are just as ill-informed and wrong-headed as those which brought the US and Iran to the brink of war in early 2020. 

Like the Trump administration before him, Biden and his advisers have shown that they are just as capable of misreading the facts on the ground in the Middle East, drawing the wrong conclusions, and developing solutions that only exacerbate an already dangerous situation. “We know what we hit,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin commented after the attack. “We’re confident that the target was being used by the same Shia militia that conducted the strikes.”

Austin’s confidence, however, does not jive with the facts. The Iraqi militias stationed at Abu Kamal denied any involvement in the Erbil rocket attacks (indeed, both are affiliated with the Iraqi government, having been officially absorbed into the Iraqi security services). 

The militia that did claim responsibility, Awliya al-Dam, was formed in the aftermath of the assassination of Soleimani and al-Muhandis, from militia members belonging to Kaitab Hezbollah splitting from that organization in order to exact revenge against the US once it became clear that Kaitab Hezbollah would follow the instructions of the Iraqi government to not escalate the situation further. 

While US intelligence believes that Awliya al-Dam was created to give Kaitab Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militias plausible deniability regarding continued rocket attacks against US targets inside Iraq, regional experts believe that the split is genuine, and that the actions of Awliya al-Dam cannot be conflated with Kaitab Hezbollah or any other pro-Iranian militia operating as part of the Iraqi security services.

Compounding concerns that the US, by bombing Iraqi militias based in Syria whose mission is to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State, is once again seeking a solution to a problem it has incompetently defined, is the fact that the Biden administration has sought to color the February 25 airstrike as a “message” to Iran regarding other regional events which have nothing whatsoever to do with either the attack on Erbil, or the forces based in Abu Kamal that were bombed by the US in retaliation. 

The Syrian government condemned the US airstrike, noting that the attack came at the same time that the Syrian Army and the Iraqi militias based in Abu Kamal were engaged in ongoing operations against Islamic State.

An optics nightmare

The complete lack of recognition by the Biden administration regarding the optics of being seen to be giving air support to IS escapes those who have articulated in favor of the assault. 

The same applies to the seeming disconnect between those who view the Biden-ordered air attack as a measure designed to rein in Iranian regional malfeasance while keeping open the door for diplomatic engagement regarding Iran’s nuclear program. 

Iran has been critical in the past of the US’ willingness to violate both international and US domestic law when it comes to pursuing policies aimed at keeping Iran in its place. If nuclear talks with Iran are to have any chance of succeeding, the Biden administration will need to convince the Iranian authorities that, unlike the Trump administration, the current iteration of the US government can be expected to obey the law and keep its word.

The US airstrike on Abu Kamal, however, makes a mockery of any such notion. Not only has the Biden administration mirrored the incompetence of the Trump administration when it comes to articulating a compelling reason for striking the targets it did, but its actions fly in the face of the stated moral and legal standards that senior members of the Biden administration had previously espoused when criticizing the actions of the Trump administration.

In 2017, Jen Psaki questioned the “legal authority” for airstrikes on Syria ordered by Trump in retaliation for thinly sourced allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government. “Assad is a brutal dictator,” Psaki tweeted, “But Syria is a sovereign country.” And in 2018, then-Senator Kamala Harris, commenting on a second round of airstrikes against Syria ordered by the Trump administration, tweeted that she was “deeply concerned about the legal rationale” behind the US use of military force.

Each tweet could be resent today.

And let’s not even go back to the president twice-removed, Biden’s old boss Barack Obama, the man who came to office pledging to end George W. Bush’s wars, but whose last year in office saw America drop 26,171 bombs, many of them on Syria.

Deafening silence

The silence that exists inside Washington, DC regarding the legality of the new US airstrikes against targets inside Syria (a “sovereign nation”, as Jen Psaki once astutely observed) is deafening. 

It is too early to tell what impact, if any, the illegal US attack on Syria will have on US-Iranian nuclear negotiations, or whether this attack will trigger yet another cycle of escalating retaliatory violence that could push those two nations to war. 

One thing is certain, however – the Biden administration is no different than its predecessor when it comes to incompetently executing policies that fly in the face of both international and US law. To quote The Who’s Roger Daltry, “Meet the new boss – same as the old boss.”

Reprinted with permission from RT.

Can Anthony Fauci Legally Accept His Million Dollar Prize?

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Last week, it was reported that Anthony Fauci, the director of the United States government’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the chief medical advisor for President Joe Biden, was chosen to receive a Dan David Prize. Included in the award is a one million dollars payment, ten percent of which is set aside for scholarships to be given out at Fauci’s direction while the rest is available for Fauci to use as he pleases. As made clear in the announcement of Fauci’s selection for the prize associated with Tel Aviv University in Israel, Fauci was chosen for the prize because of his decades of “public health” work, including related to coronavirus, as a US government employee.

Upon hearing about the prize awarded to Fauci, an obvious question arises: Is it legal for Fauci to accept it? There must be some strict rules governing third parties giving money to US government employees, especially when that money is given because of how a US government employee does his job. Such payments can be used to reward an employee for taking actions the third party desires or to encourage the employee to take certain actions in the future. A big concern is that third party payments to government employees can buy influence.

Fauci, over the last year, has been the most prominent US government employee stirring up fear of coronavirus and support for clamping down on freedom in the name of countering coronavirus. All the while he has been paid by the US government. In fact, Fauci, who has been receiving US government paychecks as an NIAID employee since 1968, has a yearly salary of over 400 thousand dollars. That salary ranks Fauci as the highest paid employee of the entire US government.

Even considering Fauci’s high level of pay, the Dan David Prize money is a big deal, coming in at over twice Fauci’s yearly pay. If a third party really wanted to buy influence from Fauci, payment of the amount of money that comes with the Dan David Prize would be a logical way to attempt it.

Buying influence is not the reason that has been offered for why the prize was awarded. Still, an assurance that everything is on the up and up is not sufficient to satisfy government rules regarding third party payments to US government employees.

While there are additional statutes and regulations that pertain to third parties giving gifts to US government employees, a good place to start in examining how the legality of Fauci receiving the Dan David Prize would be to look at the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch provisions in the Code of Federal Regulations.

It should be kept in mind, though, that there are plenty of additional laws and regulations that may be relevant in scrutinizing the legality of Fauci receiving the large monetary award. This is made clear when the following is stated in the employee ethical conduct provisions:
Related statutes. In addition to the standards of ethical conduct set forth in this part, there are conflict of interest statutes that prohibit certain conduct. Criminal conflict of interest statutes of general applicability to all employees, 18 U.S.C. 201, 203, 205, 208, and 209, are summarized in the appropriate subparts of this part and must be taken into consideration in determining whether conduct is proper. Citations to other generally applicable statutes relating to employee conduct are set forth in subpart I and employees are further cautioned that there may be additional statutory and regulatory restrictions applicable to them generally or as employees of their specific agencies. Because an employee is considered to be on notice of the requirements of any statute, an employee should not rely upon any description or synopsis of a statutory restriction, but should refer to the statute itself and obtain the advice of an agency ethics official as needed.
The provisions further note that a US government employee must also “comply with any supplemental agency regulations issued by his employing agency under this section.”

The first thing stated in the employee ethical conduct provisions is the following:
Public service is a public trust. Each employee has a responsibility to the United States Government and its citizens to place loyalty to the Constitution, laws and ethical principles above private gain. To ensure that every citizen can have complete confidence in the integrity of the Federal Government, each employee shall respect and adhere to the principles of ethical conduct set forth in this section, as well as the implementing standards contained in this part and in supplemental agency regulations.
This statement puts forward a basic standard that carries through the provisions: US executive branch employees are restricted in their pursuit of private gain when it conflicts with doing their jobs ethically and in compliance with US law. They are also directed to follow the guidelines detailed in the remainder of the employee ethical conduct provisions. Notably, the purpose given of promoting “complete confidence in the integrity of the Federal Government” suggests a concern also about the appearance of impropriety that can arise even when nobody is intending to take a wrongful action.

The provisions next list several “general principles.” Listed general principles that may be relevant in the consideration of the propriety of Fauci receiving the Dan David Prize include principle seven (“Employees shall not use public office for private gain.”), principle eight (“Employees shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual.”), and principle ten (“Employees shall not engage in outside employment or activities, including seeking or negotiating for employment, that conflict with official Government duties and responsibilities.”).

Principle 14 deals with the appearance of improper conduct. It states:
Employees shall endeavor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating the law or the ethical standards set forth in this part. Whether particular circumstances create an appearance that the law or these standards have been violated shall be determined from the perspective of a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts.
The fourth general principal seems on point for an examination of Fauci’s receipt of the Dan Davis Prize. That principle is stated as follows:
An employee shall not, except as permitted by subpart B of this part, solicit or accept any gift or other item of monetary value from any person or entity seeking official action from, doing business with, or conducting activities regulated by the employee's agency, or whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee's duties.
This principle indicates that an important determination to make in considering the acceptability of Fauci receiving the Dan David Prize is the nature of the interests and activities of the people and entities behind both the prize and the decision to award the prize to Fauci.

Looking a “Subpart B—Gifts from Outside Sources” that is referenced in the fourth general principle, plenty of details about restrictions on third party payments are found.

Subpart B provides this general prohibition relevant to Fauci receiving the Dan David Prize:
(b) Prohibition on accepting gifts. Except as provided in this subpart, an employee may not, directly or indirectly:

(1) Accept a gift from a prohibited source; or

(2) Accept a gift given because of the employee's official position.
This definition is provided for the key term “prohibited source”:
(d) Prohibited source means any person who:

(1) Is seeking official action by the employee's agency;

(2) Does business or seeks to do business with the employee's agency;

(3) Conducts activities regulated by the employee's agency;

(4) Has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee's official duties; or

(5) Is an organization a majority of whose members are described in paragraphs (d)(1) through (4) of this section.
And “given because of the employee's official position” is defined as follows:
(e) Given because of the employee's official position. A gift is given because of the employee's official position if the gift is from a person other than an employee and would not have been given had the employee not held the status, authority, or duties associated with the employee's Federal position.
Investigation into the Dan David Prize and the people behind it would need to be conducted to determine if Fauci receiving the award would involve a prohibited source problem. But, it seems that the gift independently falls under the general prohibition because it is being given because of Fauci’s official position as a US government employee.

If the award is, at it seems it is, generally prohibited for Fauci to accept, the next step is to consider if acceptance may be allowable due to receipt of the award fitting in one of several exceptions.

The first listed exception applies only to certain gifts with a market value of less than 20 dollars. Fauci’s award exceeds that limit by a factor of 50,000. So there is no safe harbor there.

The second listed exception involves gifts “motivated by a family relationship or personal friendship rather than the position of the employee.” That also does not seem to apply. The award offered to Fauci appears to not be from friends or family and does appear to be made because of actions Fauci has taken in his employment with the US government.

The third listed exception relates to certain types of discounts a government employee may be offered. Fauci is being offered money, not discounts. So this exception seems to not apply.

The fourth listed exception, though, appears to be relevant to the examination of the propriety of Fauci’s receiving the Dan David Prize. This exception states:
(d) Awards and honorary degrees—(1) Awards. An employee may accept a bona fide award for meritorious public service or achievement and any item incident to the award, provided that:

(i) The award and any item incident to the award are not from a person who has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee's official duties, or from an association or other organization if a majority of its members have such interests; and

(ii) If the award or any item incident to the award is in the form of cash or an investment interest, or if the aggregate value of the award and any item incident to the award, other than free attendance to the event provided to the employee and to members of the employee's family by the sponsor of the event, exceeds $200, the agency ethics official has made a written determination that the award is made as part of an established program of recognition.
An “established program of recognition” is defined as follows:
(2) Established program of recognition. An award and an item incident to the award are made pursuant to an established program of recognition if:

(i) Awards have been made on a regular basis or, if the program is new, there is a reasonable basis for concluding that awards will be made on a regular basis based on funding or funding commitments; and

(ii) Selection of award recipients is made pursuant to written standards.
It would require investigation into the people behind the Dan David Prize to determine if the first part of this exception is met. Supposing the first part of the exception were satisfied under such an examination, attention would then turn to the second part of the exception, Given that Fauci’s award value is higher, indeed much higher, than 200 dollars, the written approval mentioned in the second part of the exception would then seem to be required under the employee ethical conduct provisions before Fauci could receive the Dan David Prize in accord with the employee ethical conduct provisions.

Even if such written permission is provided and the award meets all other applicable legal requirements in the employee ethical conduct provisions and elsewhere, there seems to still be a strong argument that Fauci should not accept the award that amounts to over twice his annual salary as a government employee and that is offered because of actions he took as a government employee. That argument is well stated in the employee ethical conduct provisions: “Even though acceptance of a gift may be permitted by one of the exceptions contained in this section, it is never inappropriate and frequently prudent for an employee to decline a gift if acceptance would cause a reasonable person to question the employee's integrity or impartiality.”

Culpability and Recalibration: MBS and the Killing of Jamal Khashoggi

It was a brutal way to go, and it had the paw prints of the highest authorities.  On October 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian insider turned outsider, was murdered by a squad of 15 men from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  He was dismembered and quite literally cancelled in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

This state sanctioned killing was a vile, clumsy effort against a journalist and critic of a person who has come to be affectionately known in brown nosing circles as MBS, the ambitious, bratty Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  Since then, every effort has been made on his part, and his followers, to repel suggestions of guilt or involvement.

It is worth remembering how the narratives were initially developed.  First, the killing was denied as a libel against the kingdom.  “Mr Khashoggi,” claimed an official statement from the Saudi authorities, “visited the consulate to request paperwork related to his marital status and exited shortly thereafter.”  Then, his death was accepted, but deemed the result of a dreadful accident in which the men in question had overstepped.  The death subsequently became the work of a blood thirsty gang of sadists who had acted on their own volition or, as US President Donald Trump called them, “rogue killers”.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir was a model of dissembling grace, telling news networks that it had all been a “tremendous mistake” which the Crown Prince was “not aware” of.  “We don’t know, in terms of details, how.  We don’t know where the body is.”

Statements of this nature run the risk of being totally implausible while also being revealing.  It certainly showed a level of audacity.  But in the exposure of the operation, the Saudi intelligence services also risked looking amateurish and startlingly incompetent.  As a reward for their activities, 11 of the crew were tried by the Saudi government, eight of whom were convicted of murder.  Their names have never been released.

Investigations into the murder are generally of the same view: the operation was authorised by the Crown Prince or certainly someone in the highest reaches of the Saudi government.  The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnès Callamard, thought as much.  In June 2019, the rapporteur published a report finding that the execution “was the result of elaborate planning involving extensive coordination and significant human and financial resources.  It was overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level officials. It was premeditated.”

The latest publication to stack the shelves of the Kingdom’s culpability comes in the form of a declassified US intelligence report submitted to Congress by the Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.  The authors of the short document are clear about the lines of responsibility.  “We assess,” goes the Executive Summary, “that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”  This conclusion was arrived at given the role of the Crown Prince in “the decision making in the Kingdom”, the participation “of a key adviser” along with members of bin Salman’s protective detail, and his “support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi.”

Sombrely, the compilers of the report can only state the obvious.  “Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization.”

The details of the report corroborate other findings.  The team sent to Istanbul had seven members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective guard, the Rapid Intervention Force.  It would have been hard to envisage the participation of these men in an operation without approval of the Crown Prince.  Members of the squad also included those from the Saudi Centre for Studies and Media Affairs (CSMARC) based at the Royal Court.

The only note of slight uncertainty to come in the report is the state of mind Saudi officials were in terms of harming Khashoggi.  It was clear that the Crown Prince saw the journalist “as a threat to the Kingdom and more broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him.”  What was less clear that “how far in advance Saudi officials decided to harm him.”

The neglected, and no less obscene aspect of the Khashoggi affair apart from his extrajudicial killing, is the business as usual approach taken by various powers towards Saudi Arabia.  President Trump was merely the frankest of them all, not wishing to cloud lucrative weapons deals and the ongoing security relationship.  “The United States,” he promised in a statement, “intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.”

The Biden administration prefers dissimulation and forced sincerity.  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saw the need to “recalibrate” rather than “rupture” the relations between the two countries.  “The [US] relationship with Saudi Arabia is bigger than any one individual.”  It was sufficient for the US to illuminate the issue of Khashoggi’s killing.  “I think this report speaks for itself.”

Just to show he has been busy recalibrating away, Blinken announced a visa restriction policy named after the slain Saudi – the Khashoggi Ban.  Some 76 Saudi nationals have received bans for having “been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.”

Ahead of the report’s release, President Joe Biden called his Saudi counterpart, King Salman, making much of human rights and the rule of law.  But doing so did not mean holding the Crown Prince to account for his misdeeds.  What mattered was “the longstanding partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia”.  The Royals, to that end, can rest easy.  There will be no substantial change in the arrangements between Washington and Riyadh, merely a heavy layering of cosmetics. That’s recalibration for you.

The post Culpability and Recalibration: MBS and the Killing of Jamal Khashoggi first appeared on Dissident Voice.