All posts by Rick Sterling

Tribute to Robert Parry: Investigative Journalist and Patriot

Robert (Bob) Parry was born in 1949 and died suddenly from pancreatic cancer in January 2018. An enthusiastic tribute to him and his work was recently held in Berkeley California. A video of the event is online here.

Although Robert Parry never became personally famous, many readers will recall news stories he played a key role in bringing to public consciousness. He uncovered the “Iran-Contra scandal” where the US secretly sold weapons to Iran via Israel with profits supporting mercenary “Contras” attacking the Nicaraguan government. He uncovered Lt. Col. Oliver North secretly working at the Reagan White House to supervise support for the Contras. He exposed CIA collusion with criminals sending weapons to the Contras and receiving tons of cocaine on return flights from Colombia and Central America.

In 1988, Parry co-authored an article which documented CIA and State Department activities to misinform the public to promote the desired public policy.

Next, Parry worked with the television documentary “Frontline” to uncover the “October Surprise”. That story involved Ronald Reagan’s election team clandestinely negotiating to delay the release of American hostages held in Iran. These stories appeared in mainstream media but were ultimately swept under the carpet.

The CIA-Contra-Cocaine Connection

The story about CIA complicity with drug-dealers was especially explosive because of the impact of drugs in poor communities across the US. There was an epidemic of cheap crack cocaine flooding poor and especially African American communities.

Robert Parry originally reported the CIA-Contra-Cocaine story in the mid 1980’s. Ten years later, in 1996,  investigative journalist Gary Webb uncovered what happened after the cocaine arrived in the U.S.: crack cocaine had flooded poor and African American communities, especially in California. The negative consequences were huge. The San Jose Mercury News published Gary Webb’s investigation as an explosive front page 3-day series titled “Dark Alliance“.

The story was initially ignored by the foreign policy and media establishment. But after two months of rising attention and outrage, especially in the African American community, a counter-attack was launched in the New York Times, Washington Post and LA Times. The LA Times alone assigned 17 reporters to what one reporter dubbed the “Get Gary Webb team“. They picked apart the story, picked apart Gary Webb’s personal life and distorted what he wrote. The attack succeeded. The Mercury News editors published a partial “correction” which was taken to apply to the whole story. Gary Webb was demoted and then “let go”. His reputation was destroyed and he ultimately committed suicide. An 2014 movie titled “Kill the Messenger” made in consultation with Gary’s family and Bob Parry, depicts the events.

When the establishment media was going after Gary Webb, with the quiet encouragement of the CIA, many journalists were silent or joined the pack attack. Later, when an internal CIA investigation confirmed the veracity of Webb’s research and writing, they mostly ignored it. Robert Parry was one of the few national journalists to defend Gary Webb and his reporting from beginning to end.

At the Berkeley tribute, journalist Dennis Bernstein recalled being with Bob Parry and Gary Webb:

I remember the power that those guys had with audiences. It was easy to understand why people would be afraid of them. They were truth tellers.

The Birth of Consortiumnews

As other western journalists were being pressured into compliance or driven out of the profession, Robert Parry chose a different path. Together with his oldest son Sam Parry, he launched the first investigative magazine on the internet: Consortiumnews. In his last article Bob Parry explained:

The point of Consortiumnews, which I founded in 1995, was to use the new medium of the modern internet to allow the old principles of journalism to have a new home, i.e., a place to pursue important facts and giving everyone a fair shake.

For the past 23 years, Consortia has published consistently high quality research and analysis on international issues. To give just a few examples: In March 1999, Bob Parry surveyed the dangers of the Russian economic collapse cheered on by Western neoconservatives while Mark Ames exposed the reality of Russian economic gangsters. In February 2003, Consortia published the First Memorandum to the President by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) after Colin Powell addressed the UN Security Council. VIPS presciently warned of “catastrophic” consequences if the US attacked Iraq.

In 2005, Bob Parry exposed the bias and deception behind the rush to blame the Syrian government after Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri was assassinated. In April 2011, as the US was pushing to overthrow Gadaffi in Libya, Parry drew parallels to the disastrous consequences of overthrowing the socialist leaning Afghan government three decades earlier.

Beginning in 2014, Bob Parry exposed the dubious accusations regarding the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH-17 in Ukraine. Over the past two years, Bob Parry wrote and edited dozens of articles exposing the bias and lack of evidence behind “Russiagate”. A few examples can be seen here.

Commitment to Facts and Objectivity

Sam and several other speakers at the Berkeley Tribute noted that Robert Parry was not ideological. He believed in following the leads and facts wherever they led.  The new editor of Consortia, Joe Lauria, said:

Bob was not a lefty radical… He was just reporting the facts and where they led. That turned out to be kind of a left wing position in the end because that’s what happens when you follow the facts wherever they go. But he didn’t start out from an ideological position or have a preconceived notion of what the story should be.

Bob Parry’s investigations in the 1980’s revealed the U.S. administration plans and propaganda aiming to “glue black hats” on the Nicaraguan government and “white hats” on the Contra opposition. Thus he was well prepared to critically examine the disinformation campaigns accompanying “regime change” campaigns over the past decades: from Yugoslavia to Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and others.

Under Bob Parry’s leadership, Consortia has exposed “fake news” at the highest levels. As journalist Norman Solomon said at the tribute:

It’s important to remember that the most dangerous fake news in the last few decades has come from the likes of the front page of the New York Times and Washington Post. There are a million dead Iraqis and many dead Americans to prove it.

Bob Parry wrote several books including Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, The Press and Project Truth (1999), Fooling America: How Washington Insiders Twist the Truth and Manufacture the Conventional Wisdom (1992), and America’s Stolen Narrative: From Washington and Madison to Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes to Barack Obama (2012).

Challenging the New McCarthyism

In his last article, published just two weeks before his death, Parry informed Consortia readers about his health issue. He speculated on possible contributing factors including “the unrelenting ugliness that has become Official Washington and national journalism.”

Parry described the decline in journalistic standards and objectivity:

This perversion of principles – twisting information to fit a desired conclusion – became the modus vivendi of American politics and journalism. And those of us who insisted on defending journalistic principles of skepticism and even-handedness were increasingly shunned by our colleagues, a hostility that first emerged on the Right and among neoconservatives but eventually sucked in the progressive world as well…. The demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia is just the most dangerous feature of this propaganda process – and this is where the neocons and the liberal interventionists most significantly come together. The US media approach to Russia is now virtually 100 percent propaganda.

At the Berkeley event, writer Natylie Baldwin addressed this issue. In her presentation she said:

Robert Parry referred to the phenomena of careerism and group think. He argued that it was ruining journalism …When our most experienced academic expert on Russia, Stephen Cohen, can hardly get an interview on CNN and cannot get an op-ed published by the New York Times or the Washington Post, but a neo-con ideolog like Michael Weiss, who has no on the ground experience or educational credentials about Russia can be hired as a commentator by CNN on the subject, it’s dangerous. When someone like Rachel Maddow, who from her past investigative reporting knows better, has allowed herself to be used as a cartoonish purveyor of anti Russia propaganda, virtually ignoring coverage of more immediate issues facing average Americans and distracting them away from confronting the Democratic Party’s failures and dishonesty, it’s dangerous.

Natylie Baldwin elaborated on the current critical situation and need for honest and objective journalism, stating:

Our media, like our political system, is in crisis. Indeed, these two crises reinforce each other as both our media and our political system are corrupted by money and have been largely reduced to a cheap spectacle. According to polls, large majorities of millennials have contempt for these establishment institutions. They’re open to and looking for alternatives to these broken systems. This makes Robert Parry’s legacy and the space for genuine investigative journalism that he fostered at Consortia more important than ever.

Reflections on Bob Parry

Joe Lauria said:

Bob was a skeptic but not a cynic – there’s a big difference.

Sam Parry said:

Dad was a patriot. I think that he really loved America. He loved our ideals, he loved the people, he loved the idea of holding the institutions that govern us accountable. That was his passion. That was what he was all about and what really drove him and propelled him through his life.

Australian journalist John Pilger wrote about Robert Parry:

His founding of Consortia was a landmark. He was saying in effect, ‘We must not lie down in the face of media monoliths, the Murdochs, the liberal pretenders, censors and collaborators.’

Bob Parry exposed the double standards and bias of mainstream media but maintained connections there. At the east coast Celebration of the life of Robert Parry, former neighbor, family friend and executive editor of the NY Times, Jill Abramson, made the understated but accurate summary:

Bob Parry certainly did his part to challenge the established order.

Robert Parry’s website continues; his work and life continue to inspire.

Palestinian Courage Should Spur International Action

After 70 years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still unresolved. The conflict simmers for a few years, then erupts again with new massacres and violence. This article describes recent events, the failure of the “two state solution” and need for a different approach.

In the past couple months, Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers have killed 118 Palestinian protesters and seriously wounded many thousands more. The protesters were unarmed and no threat to the soldiers. Gaza hospitals overflow with victims.

In the wake of this violence, human rights groups filed a legal petition to make it unlawful for Israeli soldiers to fire on unarmed protesters. Last week the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the petition.

Israeli violence is usually portrayed as a “response” to Palestinian violence, but the reality is the opposite. The sequence of recent events is as follows:

– From the end of March til May 25, Palestinians in Gaza protested against their oppression as close as they could get to the border fences. About 118 were killed and many thousands seriously injured by Israeli snipers. They were all shot inside Gaza.

– On May 27 – 28, the Israeli military launched tank mortars at Palestinian military outposts inside Gaza, killing four.

– Next day, on May 29, Palestinian militants launched unguided mortars into nearby Israel. Most of them fell harmlessly and there were no Israeli casualties.

– Next day, on May 30, Israeli jets and helicopters launched guided missiles and bombs on 65 different locations within Gaza.

Clearly, the violence started with Israelis killing protesters and then militants inside Gaza, but it’s not portrayed that way. Time magazine began its article with, “Palestinian militants bombarded southern Israel….”

Pro Israel advocates wish to prevent people from seeing what is really happening. They know the potential damage if people see video such as Israeli snipers celebrating the shooting of unarmed protesters. To prevent this, a proposed law will make it illegal to photograph or video record Israeli soldiers. Palestinian journalists have condemned this attempt to criminalize journalism.

The Reality of the Israeli Occupation

Israel calls itself the “Startup Nation” because of the economic and technological achievements. But in Gaza and the West Bank, Israeli policies and actions strangle the economies and worsen living conditions.

Palestinians in Gaza are kept separate from Palestinians in the West Bank. There is no trade, travel or inter-family visitation. This is in violation of international agreements including the Oslo Accords.

The claim that Israel “departed” Gaza is false. Israel controls the borders, sky and waters around Gaza, a coastal strip just 5 miles wide by 25 miles in length. Unemployment in Gaza is approaching 50%, the highest unemployment in the world. Fisherman are prevented from going out into deeper waters and shot at when they go beyond Israel’s imposed zone. Gazan farmers cannot export independently. Israel frequently blocks the import and export of crops and products. It is almost impossible to leave Gaza. Even outstanding students winning international scholarships may have their exit denied. The electrical and water treatment facilities have been bombed and destroyed by Israel. Nearly all the drinking water is contaminated. Israel restricts the amount of food permitted to enter Gaza so there is continual shortage leading to nutritional deprivation, stunted growth and anemia.

This situation is not new. Eighteen years ago, Israeli journalist Amira Hass described the history, the facts and statistics as well as her personal experience living in Gaza in the profound book Drinking the Seat at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege. The situation was extremely grim then but keeps getting worse.

At the northern Gaza border, Israel is now building a sea barrier extending far out into the Mediterranean. It will be above and below the water line. A major reason for this expensive project is to block sewage and pollution from the waters in front of Gaza. Because of Israeli attacks on sewage treatment and electrical infrastructure, sewage flows into the sea. Last summer, Zikim Beach in southern Israel had to be closed due to the inflow of sewage from Gaza. The ‘sea barrier’ now in construction will block the sea currents. This will keep the Israeli beach clean and greatly compound the problem in Gaza.

The strangulation, impoverishment and oppression is not confined to Gaza. In the West Bank, Israeli settlements continue to expand. This increases the number of check points, restrictions and repression. Travel from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is impossible for most Palestinians. The majority of West Bank water from the aquifers is transferred to Israel or provided cheaply to settlers while Palestinians must buy water and store it in tanks on their rooftops. In the last few years, Israel has made it increasingly difficult or impossible for humanitarian groups to provide medical support including breast cancer screening. A compelling new book titled The Other Side of the Wall describes the daily struggle in the West Bank where Palestinians and international allies protest against the theft of land, abuses, random killings and imprisonments.

Defiant Courage

There seems to be a trend toward greater Palestinian unity and strategic agreement. The tens of thousands of Palestinians protesting in Gaza were unarmed and united behind the Palestinian flag rather than separate party or movement flags of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, DFLP, etc..    

The Palestinian protesters in Gaza show remarkable courage. Beginning on Friday March 30, they have returned week after week despite seeing thousands of their fellows shot and wounded or killed.

In an article titled “The Gaza Fence that Separates the Brave from the Cowardly“, Amira Hass wrote:

The desperate courage demonstrated by tens of thousands of citizens of Gaza over the past few weeks in general and on Monday in particular hints at the energies, the talents, the dreams, the creativity and the vitality of the inhabitants of this strip of land – who have been subjected to a 27 year policy of closure and siege aimed at suffocating and crushing them.

Steadfast and Persistent

Palestinian resistance continues despite Israeli violence and bloodshed. Seven years ago Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon held “March of Return” protests at the northern borders. Israeli soldiers killed 13 and wounded many more.

In recent days, Gazans have again challenged the Israeli port blockade which prevents ships from departing or arriving. International solidarity with the Palestinian cause is also persistent. Three ships (two Swedish and one Norwegian) recently departed Scandinavia heading for the Mediterranean Sea and Gaza. Named the 2018 Freedom Flotilla, the ships are carrying dozens of international citizens to again demand that Israel stop its blockade of Gaza.

Despite the huge imbalance today, time may be on the side of the Palestinian cause. Systemic apartheid in South Africa existed for a long time and seemed strong. But ultimately it collapsed quickly. The same may unfold in Israel/Palestine.

Today, South Africa is an important supporter of the Palestinian cause. South Africa was the first nation to recall its ambassador to protest the “indiscriminate and grave Israeli attack” in Gaza.

Israel has the military might but Palestinian resistance and courage persists. The Palestinian population is steadfast, persistent and growing. They have increasing number of allies who support their cause. Young American Jews are unlike their parents and increasingly critical of Israeli policies. Some courageous Israelis, such as Miko Peled, speak out unequivocally that Israeli apartheid must end and be replaced by one state with democracy and equality for all. A million registered Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon and Syria, patiently waiting. They have not forgotten their legal claim and right to return.

The recent bloodshed and massacres underscore the fact that there is no solution on the current path. It only leads to increasingly unlivable conditions in Gaza plus more illegal settlements and oppression in the West Bank. The so-called “two state solution” has been dead for many years and should be forgotten. As happened in South Africa, the international community can and should help. It is time to increase international pressure and expand BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel to help bring a peaceful end to this conflict with its constant oppression and recurring massacres.

The alternative is very grim. As described by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy:

The truth is that Israel is well prepared to massacre hundreds and thousands, and to expel tens of thousands. Nothing will stop it. This is the end of conscience, the show of morality is over. The last few days’ events have proved it decisively. The tracks have been laid, the infrastructure for the horror has been cast. Dozens of years of brainwashing, demonization and dehumanization have borne fruit. The alliance between the politicians and the media to suppress reality and deny it has succeeded. Israel is set to commit horrors. Nobody will stand in its way any longer. Not from within or from without.

Palestinian courage should spur international action.

Iranian Movie about ISIS in Syria

The “West” is competing against the “East” on the Syrian battle-field, in conflicting news and analysis, and now also in the cultural and film arena. A new full-length action movie, titled Damascus Time, gives an Iranian perspective on the battle against ISIS in Syria.

The movie comes from Iranian screenwriter and film director Ebrahim Hatamikia. Two award winning Iranian actors, Hadi Hejazifar and Babak Hamidian, play father and son pilots trying to rescue civilians besieged and attacked by ISIS forces in eastern Syria. The pilots have come to help the townspeople escape in an aging Ilyushin cargo plane.

Syrian and Iraqi actors play Syrian civilians and ISIS terrorists hell bent on blowing up the plane or using it on a suicide mission against Damascus.

The movie portrays sensational scenes from real ISIS atrocities with a backdrop showing the Syrian desert and famous ruins of Palmyra. The city where civilians are surrounded and besieged is similar to the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor which was in real life surrounded and attacked by ISIS for years. During that time, the townspeople and soldiers depended on air dropped food and ammunition to hold off the attackers, as shown in the movie.

Damascus Time starkly portrays the violence and nihilism of ISIS. The ISIS individuals are shown to have human feelings, but they are wrapped in sectarianism and hate-filled violence.

Life’s complexities are portrayed in the Iranian pilots where the younger pilot has left his pregnant wife to be alongside his father. The mother-in-law of the young pilot bitterly criticizes him for leaving his wife. He says this will be his last trip away.

While the story is fictional, the portrayed setting, human drama and conflict between forces of moderation versus extremism and violence is real. Hundreds of thousands of real Syrians and Iraqis have died due to the creation and promotion of the Frankenstein monster represented by ISIS.

One of the ironies of modern history is that Western politicians criticize Iran for being the “leading state sponsor of terrorism.” In reality Iran has a record opposing sectarianism and extremism. Different faiths are respected within Iran, and Iranian Jews are represented within parliament, in contrast with Israeli propaganda.

In reality, it is the US and UK who have sponsored terrorism for decades. As documented in Devil’s Game: How the US Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, the US and UK promoted a violent and sectarian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood to undermine the nationalist and socialist policies of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. Starting in 1979, the US and Saudi Arabia promoted the founders of Al Qaeda to attack the socialist leaning government of Afghanistan.

This policy has continued to the present. In the summer of 2012, the US Defense Intelligence Agency outlined their strategy in a secret document: “THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR).”  The US looked favorably on the creation of the Islamic State: “THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME…”.

The true “state sponsor of terrorism” is not Iran; it is the West and their allies. Thus it is appropriate that the first feature length movie depicting the battle against terrorism and ISIS in Syria comes from Iran.

Iran has come to the assistance of Syria by supplying militias plus technical and military advisers. Hundreds of Iranians have given their lives alongside their Syrian and Iraqi comrades. Damascus Time is not the product of Hollywood fantasy; it’s the product of actual human drama and conflict occurring in the Middle East today.

The Iranian Foreign Minister and head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard were reportedly moved by the movie. Damascus Time is fictional but based on a real conflict with actual blood, atrocities, tragedies and martyrs.

The movie is currently being shown at movie theaters throughout Iran. In recent weeks it was the second highest ranking movie. It should be available for viewing in the West in the near future, unless western sanctions and censorship are extended to culture and film.

Taking the World to the Brink of Annihilation

Introduction

Western neoconservatives and hawks are driving the international situation to increasing tension and danger. Not content with the destruction of Iraq and Libya based on false claims, they are now pressing for a direct US attack on Syria.

As a dangerous prelude, Israeli jets flying over Lebanese airspace fired missiles against the T4/Tiyas Airbase west of Palmyra.

This was Predicted

As reported at Tass, the Chief of Russia’s General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, predicted the current events almost a month ago. The report from March 13 says, “Russia has hard facts about preparations for staging the use of chemical weapons against civilians by the government forces. After the provocation, the US plans to accuse Syria’s government forces of using chemical weapons … furnish the so-called ‘evidence’ … and Washington plans to deliver a missile and bomb strike against Damascus’ government districts.”

Gerasimov noted that Russian military advisors are staying in the Syrian Defense Ministry’s facilities in Damascus and “in the event of a threat to our military servicemen’s lives, Russia’s Armed Forces will take retaliatory measures to target both the missiles and their delivery vehicles.”

The situation is clearly dangerous with risk of sliding into international conflict and even WW3. If that happens, it would mean the demise of civilization. All of this so that the West can continue supporting the sectarian armed groups seeking to overthrow the Assad government … in violation of international law and the UN Charter.

The most powerful country in the world is now led by a real estate, hotel and entertainment mogul without political experience. Behind the scenes, there is a powerful foreign policy establishment determined to maintain and reclaim US unilateral “leadership” of the world. They don’t like the fact that the US is losing influence, prestige and power around the world. Israel and Saudi Arabia are especially upset that their plans for regional domination are failing.

East Ghouta, Damascus

East Ghouta is a district of farms and towns on the north-east outskirts of Damascus. For the past six years, various armed factions controlled the area. On a nearly daily basis, they launched mortar and hell cannon missile attacks into Damascus, killing many thousands. This author personally witnessed two such mortar attacks in April 2014.

By the end of March most of East Ghouta had been retaken by the government. With the peaceful evacuation of armed militants, civilians flooded into the humanitarian corridors and then government camps for the displaced. The campaign was proceeding quickly with minimal loss of life as the Russian Reconciliation officers negotiated agreements which allowed the militants to keep small weapons and be transported to Idlib in the north. Vanessa Beeley documented the situation including the happiness and relief of many civilians as they finally made it to safety. One described the feeling as “like being reborn”. Robert Fisk was on site and reported what he saw first hand in stories titled Watching on as Islamist fighters are evacuated from war-torn Eastern Ghouta and Western howls of outrage over the Ghouta siege ring hollow.

As reported at the Russian Reconciliation Centre, by the end of March, 105,857 civilians had moved into government controlled areas while 13,793 militants plus 23,433 family members had been transported north. Those who wanted to stay, including former fighters, were welcomed. They could rejoin Syrian society with the same rights and obligations as other Syrians.

The last remaining opposition stronghold was the town of Douma, controlled by the Saudi funded Jaish al Islam. Negotiations were prolonged because Jaish al Islam did not want to go to Idlib which is dominated by another militant opposition group, Jabhat al Nusra also known as Hayat Tahrir al Sham.

The Chemical Incident

On Saturday April 7 video and stories claiming a chemical weapons attack in Douma were broadcast. The video showed dozens of dead children. On Sunday the story grabbed western mainstream media headlines.  US President Trump quickly come to a conclusion: “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay”.

There has been no objective investigation. The media claims are based on statements and videos from members of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and White Helmets. Both organizations receive significant funding from the US government and call for Western intervention in Syria.

Chemical weapons have emerged as the quick and easy justification for aggression.  One year ago, in April 2017, it was the incident at Khan Shaykoun. That resulted in a US attack on a Syrian air base just days later. The subsequent investigation discovered that dozens of victims had shown up in hospitals in diverse locations and up to 100 kms away from the scene of crime BEFORE the event happened. Strangely, and indicating the investigation team bias, this red flag pointing to fraud was not investigated further. If it was just a few victims or just one location, it might be a mistake in time record-keeping. However, in this case there were dozens of discrepancies in multiple locations, clearly raising the possibility of fraud.

Now we have the incident in Douma, at town on the outskirts of Damascus. The armed opposition is in retreat. They have tried to pressure the US and NATO to intervene directly since 2012. They have access to chemical weapons in East Ghouta and motive. They also have thousands of prisoners. This is the group which put hundreds of prisoners, primarily women and children, in cages on the streets of Douma.

Who Benefits?

The timing of the chemical weapons incidents is also noteworthy. As documented here, one year ago on 30 March 2017 Ambassador Haley said the US policy was no longer focused on getting Assad out. Five days later the chemical incident at Khan Sheikhoun happened, quickly followed by blaming the Syrian government, a US attack and a restoration of the demand that “Assad must go”. On March 29 Trump said that US forces will withdraw from Syria “very soon”. This was followed by outcries from the media and political establishment. Now, following the Saturday chemical weapons incident, the US is again threatening to intervene directly. The chemical weapons incidents have consistently resulted in the reversal of a proposed change in hostility toward Syria.

Neoconservatives and the supporters of ‘regime change’ foreign policy have various theories why the Assad government would perpetrate a chemical weapons attack. Senator John McCain says the Syrian President was “emboldened” by the previous Trump statement.

Juan Cole, an academic who promoted the assaults on Libya in 2011, has a different theory. He says “Chemical weapons are used by desperate regimes that are either outnumbered by the enemy or are reluctant to take casualties in their militaries. Barrel-bombing Douma with chem seems to have appealed to the regime as a tactic for this reason. It had potential of frightening the Douma population into deserting the Army of Islam.” In contrast with his theory, chemical weapons were used extensively by the US in Vietnam and Iraq when they were far from desperate. As evidenced in the flow of civilians into government held areas, most of the civilian population are happy to get away from the sectarian and violent Army of Islam (“Jaish al Islam”). Cole seems to be basing his theories on inaccurate western media coverage just as he did regarding Libya where sensational claims about a looming massacre in Benghazi were later shown to be fraudulent.

It’s clear who benefits from sensational media coverage about a chemical weapons incident: those who seek to demonize the Syrian government and President and want the US government to intervene militarily. Every time there is an incident, it is quickly accepted and used by the governments and organizations who have been seeking ‘regime change’ in Syria for many years.

Manipulating Public Opinion

The manipulation of western opinion about the Syrian conflict using fake events is not theory; it has been proven.  A good example is the fake kidnapping of NBC reporter Richard Engel in December 2012.  Engel and his media team were reportedly kidnapped and threatened with death by “shabiha” supporters of the Syrian president. After days in captivity the American team was supposedly rescued by Free Syrian Army “rebels” after a shootout. In 2015 it was confirmed this was a hoax perpetrated by the FSA and their American supporters. The entire charade was carried out by the “rebels”. The goal was to demonize the Assad government and its supporters, and to romanticize and increase support for the armed opposition. Neither Engel nor NBC confessed to the reality until it was about to be exposed years later, pointing to duplicity and collusion in the deception.

Four and half years ago, on 21 August 2013, the most famous chemical weapons incident occurred. The Syrian government was immediately accused of launching a sarin attack which killed hundreds of children and civilians. Over the next six months investigations were carried out. The conclusions of Seymour Hersh, Robert Parry and the research site whoghouta.com concluded that the attack was almost certainly NOT from the government but actually from one of the ‘rebel’ factions with support from Turkish intelligence services. Two Turkish parliamentary deputies held a press conference and publicly revealed some of the evidence. The intent then, as now, was to provide justification and provocation for the US and NATO to intervene directly.

Conclusion

Today there is the imminent possibility of a major attack based on the allegations of a clearly biased source. What ever happened to international law and legal due process? Why is violence being threatened before there is a serious objective investigation of the chemical incident? If the accusations against Syria are true, why not have a serious investigation, especially now that the area has been liberated today (9 April) and safe access can be provided?

The drums of war are pounding. After over one year of incessant Russia bashing and disinformation, is the public ready to go to war with Russia over Syria? Neoconservative hawks and their Israeli and Saudi allies seem to want this. Their plans and predictions for Iraq, Libya and Yemen were delusional fantasies with the price paid in blood by the people of those countries and in treasure by Americans as well. Sadly, there has not been any accountability for the media and political establishment that promoted and launched these wars. Now they want to escalate the aggression by attacking Syria, causing vastly more blood to flow and risking confrontation with a country which can fight back.

Did the CIA Sabotage Russia at the Olympics?

There is something very fishy about the Anti Doping Rule Violations (ADRVs) pinned on the Russian curler and Russian bobsledder during the final week of the Peyongchang Winter Olympics.

It makes no logical sense that an athlete would do a one-time consumption of a chemical that is of no value in circumstances where it is almost certain to be detected with huge negative consequences.

That is precisely the situation. The Russian Mixed Curling bronze medal winner, Alexander Krushelnitsky, had to give up his medal, plus that of his partner wife, because traces of meldonium were found in his urine sample. He had previously tested clean. Meldonium is a medication which helps keep the heart healthy by increasing blood flow. That would be of no benefit in a sport like curling which requires accuracy, strategy and focus but is not taxing physically. The “sweeping” to help guide the rock down the ice lasts only 20 seconds or less. International curlers were astounded at the news and bemused at the idea of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) for curling. The skip of the Danish curling team said: ”I think most people will laugh and ask, ‘what could you possibly need doping for?”

Krushelnitsky strongly denies taking banned drugs. “I am categorically opposed to doping …. never, at any time that I have been involved in sport, have I ever used prohibited substances”.

Similar curious circumstances apply in the second ADRV.  Russian bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeeva had numerous negative (clean) tests before she was tested positive for banned trimetazidine.  Bobsledding is another sport which requires physical and mental skill but not physical endurance.

In the February 25 IOC meeting to close the Peyongchang Winter Games, the head of the IOC Implementation Group, Nicole Hoevertz, said the Russian athletes had been tested “more than any other athletes”. She and her group were convinced that the 168 member Russian athletic team was clean. At about 82:00 in the video, she says the two Russian doping violations were “so peculiar.” She introduced the Director of the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission, Dr. Bludgett, to provide more detail. He suggested that meldonium would not be of benefit in curling. He then went further and suggested the ADRV regarding trimetazidine may be in error.  He said trimetazidine “is a substance where there is a parent compound which is a common headache migraine treatment available particularly in China and Japan and if that is found then it is not considered an ADRV. And if there is a very low level, as there was in this case, that is a possibility.”

Sergeeva denies ever taking banned drugs and even went on social media with a T-shirt declaring her commitment to clean sport.

In summary, it seems highly unlikely that two different Russian athletes would intentionally take medications that have no benefit but which are almost guaranteed to be detected resulting in huge harm to them and their team.

Who Benefits?

Another possibility is that meldonium or trimetazidine powder was surreptitiously put in the food of the athletes. This one time consumption would cause a positive test.

In fact, there are forces on the international scene who are pleased that Russia has been battling defamation and charges of “state sponsored doping” for the past two years. They want the current denigration and punishments of Russia to continue, perhaps influencing Russia’s upcoming national election and undermining Russia’s hosting of the Football World Cup this summer.

One such group is the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA has a long history of big and small criminal deeds. Presumably it would not be difficult for them to infiltrate Olympic facilities or bribe a corrupt individual to put traces of meldonium or another powder in someone’s food or drink.

Those who quickly dismiss this possibility probably also thought that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in 2002. That was a false claim supported by evidence fabricated by the CIA.

It is well documented the CIA carries out murders, coups and major sabotage. The CIA has documented some of their methods in “The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception“. They don’t just carry out assassinations and coups. In the book “In Search of Enemies”, former CIA officer John Stockwell documented how the CIA created a false story about Cuban soldiers raping Angolan women to defame Cuba.

Corrupt police forces sometimes plant evidence on a suspect they wish to convict. It would be essentially the same thing to get a Russian athlete to ingest spiked food or beverage. The CIA has motive and expressed intent:

(a) In contrast with Russian leaders who call the US a “partner”, US officials increasingly call Russia an “adversary”. The latest US National Security Strategy explicitly says they intend to respond to Russia as an adversary: “The United States will respond to the growing political, economic and military competitions we face around the world. China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.”

(b) Despite the lack of clear evidence, there is widespread belief that Russia “meddled” in the US election. The anti-Russia sentiment has been fanned into the exaggerated claim that the unproven Russian action was “an act of war, an act of hybrid warfare“.

(c) Neoconservative forces openly talk about “punishing” Russia. The former Deputy Director of the CIA, Michael Morrell, said: “We need to make the Russians pay a price”. He confirmed on public television that means killing Russians (and Iranians) in Syria. This is the 33 year veteran CIA leader who publicly campaigned for Hillary Clinton.

Did the CIA plant the doping evidence? We don’t know for certain but it should not be dismissed out of hand. The CIA has the means, opportunity and above all the motive to falsely implicate Russians in new doping cases with the goal of preventing Russia from getting beyond the international sporting sanctions and punishments.  They have done vastly more deceitful, manipulative, and outrageous things than this.

Media Bias

Unfortunately, western media will not investigate this possibility. Western media cannot even accurately report on events like the IOC meeting yesterday. The fact that the head of the IOC Implementation Group warmly praised the Russian participation at the Peyongchang Olympics is not mentioned in western media. The fact that Dr. Bludgett raised questions about the accuracy of the ADRVs against Russia is not mentioned in reports from NY Times, the UK Guardian or Inside the Games. Instead, the writer at Inside the Games once again exaggerated the voice of critics of Russia as he downplayed the voices of international athletes who want to put the doping scandal behind and move forward.

Western media have reported deceptively that the Russian athletes have “admitted” to the violations. In fact, both Russian athletes strongly deny taking banned drugs.

Western media bias is also shown in the focus on alleged Russian doping and minimization or ignoring of other possible violations. For example, the story about the Norwegian cross-country ski team and their use of banned asthmatic medications. They get around the restrictions by having their doctor claim that most of their athletes are asthmatic. This situation is a result of the inconsistent rules and regulations. A Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE)  can be given to any athlete designated by a doctor and in secrecy. They are not required to publicly disclose this, giving incentive to corruption and misuse.

Richard McLaren’s Bias

The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) has also been biased. Over one year ago, their investigator Richard McLaren claimed “over one thousand Russian athletes benefited” from the alleged Russian conspiracy to cheat the anti-doping system. McLaren said the proof would be provided to the various sport federations. In September 2017 it was revealed that charges had been filed against 96 athletes. Of these, WADA cleared 95 athletes of wrongdoing; only one athlete was proven to be in violation. More recently, the Court of Arbitration in Sport completely overturned the bans on 28 Russian athletes. In summary, it appears that McLaren’s accusation about “over one thousand athletes benefiting” was a huge exaggeration or fabrication.

Where Do Things Go From Here?

The IOC Executive Board has indicated they intend to lift the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee if no more “anti doping rule violations” are found in the last batch of athlete samples from the Peyongchang Olympics. The results are expected in a few days.

Another ADRV may appear. If so, that will greatly complicate the effort to reintegrate Russian athletics. Even if the final tests are all clean, those who oppose Russia will continue trying to delay or prevent the full integration of Russia within the world sporting Community.

The former Moscow Laboratory Director Grigory Rodchenkov is the primary weapon in the campaign accusing Russia of “state sponsored doping”. “Icarus” is a movie about him which has received huge funding and promotion. It is nominated for an an Oscar Academy award. This will serve the campaign well.

The Russians have been accused of trying to murder Rodchenkov  But if he suddenly dies one day, it is more likely to be by the CIA.  At this point, Rodchenkov has done all the damage he can to Russian sports. The only thing he could possibly do is to recant or fall apart. His handlers have prevented him from appearing before the various committees looking into the accusations. At this point, Rodchenkov could be more valuable dead than alive. His death would be a powerful weapon to disrupt the normalization of relations with Russia.

In conclusion, going back to the Peyonchang Olympics, there should be caution before assuming the guilt of the Russian athletes who received ADRVs. It makes no sense that two Russian athletes would take useless medications knowing they will be tested and found out.

The doping incident serves the interests of those in the West who seek more not less conflict and seek to weaken Russia through “hybrid” warfare. It is possible the CIA has a hand in the latest incidents, just as they have a hand in Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov. They have the means, opportunity and motive. They have the experience and history.

If this is true, it’s another example of the dangerous descent in international relations. The Olympics movement has the goal of fostering peaceful relations. The sad truth is there are forces who want to prevent that. They prefer to demonize and divide in a quest for economic and geopolitical supremacy over “adversaries”. International sports is just another arena for them.

When is there Going to be Accountability for US Wars and Aggression?

It’s WMD all over again.

Anonymous “US officials” are once again accusing a targeted “regime” of using “chemical weapons” and threatening that the U.S. military may have to “hold it accountable”. Once again, western media is broadcasting these accusations and threats without skepticism or investigation.

The Washington Post story is titled “Trump administration: Syria probably continuing to make, use chemical weapons”.  Jane’s Defence Weekly quotes a U.S. offical saying “They clearly think they can get away with this ….”

Jerusalel Online says “A US official says Syrian President Assad’s forces may be developing new types of chemical weapons, which which could reach as far as the US…”

The Reuters story in the New York Times says “US officials have said the Syrian government may be developing new types of chemical weapons, and President Donald Trump is prepared to consider further military action…. President Bashar al Assad is believed to have secretly kept part of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile….”

The Washingon Post article concludes with the threat, “If the international community does not take action now . . . we will see more chemical weapons use, not just by Syria but by non-state actors such as ISIS and beyond,” the first official said. “And that use will spread to U.S. shores.”

Based on a review of facts from recent history, it is very likely the story is false and is being broadcast to deceive the public in preparation for new military aggression. Anyone who thinks that politicians don’t consider timing and marketing needs to only recall the statement of a GW Bush official that “from a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” The “product” was the PR campaign to get the American public to accept the invasion of Iraq.

When is there going to be some accountability for the US military industrial complex and their political and media enablers and promoters?

The invasion of Vietnam with over 500 thousand US soldiers was preceded by the phoney Gulf of Tonknin incident where a US ship was supposedly attacked by a North Vietnamese vessel. It was untrue and President Johnson knew it. The resolution was passed unanimously (416-0) in the House and only Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening had the integrity and insight to oppose it in the Senate. Was anyone ever held accountable for the lie that led to over 58 thousand dead US soldiers and millions of dead Vietnamese? No.

The 1991 attack on Iraq and subsequent massacre of Iraqi soldiers and civilians was preceded by the fabricated testimony of the Kuwaiti Ambassador’s daughter pretending to be a nurse who had witnessed Iraqi soldiers stealing incubators and leaving Kuwaiti babies on the floor. Were the marketing officials Hill & Knowlton and politicians such as Tom Lantos who managed this deceit ever held accountable? No.

In 2003 the US launched the invasion of Iraq leading to the death of over a million Iraqis based on the false and fabricated evidence provided by the CIA and uncritically promoted by the mainstream media. For example,  Michael Gordon and Thomas Friedman promoted and lauded the invasion at the NYTimes. Were they held to account?  No, they carry right on to today.

In 2011 the US led NATO attacks on Libya with the stated purpose to “protect civilians” from massacre. This was explained and encouraged by journalists and pundits such as Nicholas Kristof and Juan Cole. NATO officials bragged about their operation. After the brief western euphoria, it became clear that the campaign was based on lies and the real result was an explosion of extremism, massacres and chaos which continues to today. Accountability? None. One rarely hears about Libya today. Out of sight, out of mind.

In August of 2013 we heard about a massive sarin gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus. Human Rights Watch and others promoting a western attack quickly accused the Syrian government. They asserted that Assad had crossed Obama’s “red line” and the US needed to intervene directly. Subsequent investigations revealed the gas attack was not carried out by the Syrian government. It was perpetrated by a Turkish supported terrorist faction with the goal of pressuring the Obama administration to directly attack Syria. Two Turkish parliamentarians presented evidence of Turkey’s involvement in the transfer of sarin. Some of the best and most time-proven US investigative journalists, including the late Robert Parry and Seymour Hersh, researched and discovered the evidence points to Turkish supported “rebels” not Syria. Despite the factual evidence exposing the “junk heap” of false claims, mainstream media and their followers continue to assert that Assad committed the crime.

In April 2017 it was the same thing: US and allies made accusations which were never proven and ultimately discredited. The UN/OPCW investigation team never visited the scene of the crime. They discovered the curious fact that dozens of victims in multiple locations showed up at hospitals with symptoms of chemical injuries before the attack happened. This is strong evidence of fraud but that investigation was not pursued. With or without awareness of the deceit, Trump ordered missile strikes on a Syrian air base which killed 13 people including four children. Accountability? None.

Recently it has become clear that dark forces in the US government ad military do not intend to stop their efforts to destroy Syria. Despite confusion and contradictory claims in the US administration, a core fact is that the US is training and supplying a sectarian military militia inside northern Syria against the wishes of the Syrian government. The US said they were in Syria to get rid of ISIS but now that ISIS is largely gone, the US military says it is not leaving. On the contrary, the US military helped escort ISIS fighters from Raqqa to al Bukamal and the US is now training ISIS fighters to be reincarnated as yet another anti-Assad “rebel” force.

As always, US aggression needs some measure of political support. To gain that, they need a justification. Thus it’s WMD all over again. Once again. the “bad guys” are using chemical weapons on their own people. Supposedly the Syrian government is incredibly stupid …. they just keep on using chemical weapons and giving the US a justification to act as judge, jury and executioner.

Most of the American public is too busy, distracted or overwhelmed with problems to investigate U.S. government claims. Mainstream media, including some alternative media, are failing badly. They are supposed to be holding government to account, critically questioning the assertions, investigating the facts, exposing contradictions and falsehoods. Along with the politicians and government, they have some responsibility for the ongoing wars and aggression. They all should be accountable. When is that going to happen?

Why the Honduras Crisis Matters to Me

For seven months in 1969 I hitch-hiked around the US, Mexico and Central America with my best friend from high school. Some class-mates from our school in Vancouver Canada saved their money then travelled to Europe or Australia but Ollie and I headed south. It was an eye-opening experience for two middle class Canadians. We had a lot of learning experiences in the US but today I want to talk about Honduras because it is in crisis as I write this: the Honduran election took place on 26 November yet the results are still in contention. Will the current right wing government manage to retain power?

When we visited the capital Tegucigalpa in 1969 we went to the university campus to meet and hang out with young Hondurans. They told us about the recent visit of President Richard Nixon who had taken office a few months before and then travelled to Latin America. The Vietnam war was still raging in 1969 and people protested against the war and Nixon wherever he went. The young Hondurans told us that when Nixon visited Tegucigalpa there had been a big protest. Several students who had been protesting from the top of a university building had been shot dead. It made an impression as did the warm and friendly people we met, some living in shacks along the banks of the Choluteca River running through the capital.

In Nicaragua we heard more eye-opening stories from the youth there. They told us about the Somoza family dictatorship, how corrupt it was, and how they came to power through US Marines. They also told us about the death of Cesar Sandino who fought for Nicaraguan independence but was killed by Somoza’s National Guard in 1934. The Nicaraguan youth told us that when the US asked for proof of Sandino’s death, Somoza shipped Sandino’s head in a box to Washington.

Those and many other experiences changed my life. Over the coming decades I kept an interest in Central America.

In 1979, when Nicaraguans overthrew the Somoza dictatorship, it seemed like a good thing. But President Ronald Reagan did not like an independent Nicaragua. Violating international law, the US organized a mercenary army called the “Contras” to destabilize and upend the Sandinista government. The mercenaries were trained in Honduras with US funding, supplies and weapons. The US Ambassador to Honduras, John Negroponte, oversaw the mercenary army attacking Nicaragua and the emergence of death squads in El Salvador. Tens of thousands of peasants and opposition activists were killed with impunity. In Honduras, itself, there was widespread repression and murder of those challenging the status quo.

In 1998 Honduras was hit by Hurricane Mitch. The second worst Atlantic hurricane ever recorded caused huge destruction and death, especially in poor communities with weak infrastructure. The shacks and modest dwellings along the river bank in Tegucigalpa were all ripped and washed away. Over 7,000 Hondurans died, including people we had met three decades before.

Six years later, in 2004, I was again reminded of the US role in Honduras when the same John Negroponte who had overseen the Contra operations went to Baghdad to take over management of the Iraq occupation. Newsweek magazine said he was coming with a new strategy, which they dubbed the “Salvador option”. Over the next year, sectarian death squads emerged to provoke sectarian bloodshed. Negroponte’s right hand man in Iraq, Robert S. Ford, was later appointed as US Ambassador to Syria in 2010 where he helped fuel the uprisings in that country. Thus there is direct connection between U.S.interference and aggression in Central America and the Middle East.

For decades Honduras was alternately ruled by two political parties representing different branches of their oligarchy. They traded power back and forth, effectively preventing alternative perspectives.

But things began to change in Honduras in 2006. President Manuel Zelaya came from the oligarchy but started to initiate changes benefiting the poor. He called for real land reform, raising the minimum wage and he questioned the need for US military bases. That was too much. In June 2009 President Zelaya was kidnapped in the middle of the night and flown from the capital to the US military air base called Soto Cano, only 48 miles away. Hillary Clinton had been in Honduras just weeks before. She disapproved of Zelaya and his policies. The coup went ahead.

After the 2009 coup, conditions in Honduras deteriorated rapidly. Tegucigalpa became the homicide capital of the world. Tens of thousands of youth have fled the country as it has been wracked by drug wars, corruption, and police or paramilitary repression. Alongside this, there has been widespread popular resistance.

In 2011,  I returned to Honduras to see the conditions first hand. With a delegation organized by Alliance for Global Justice and Task Force on the Americas, I visited peasants in the fertile Aguan Valley, indigenous communities in the mountains and workers and church activists in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. We talked with a hard-working activist named Berta Caceres and others in her indigenous organization COPINH. We learned that these communities were still actively resisting the coup and forming a new political party to challenge the right wing coup government not with guns but with votes.

In 2013 I returned again to Honduras, this time as an election observer. In the contest, the new LIBRE party surpassed the traditional Liberal Party and made a strong challenge to the right wing National Party. There were many examples of election malfeasance but Juan Orlando Hernandez of the right wing National Party was anointed as the new President.

Since then social and economic conditions have not changed. The Hernandez regime governs to the benefit of rich Hondurans and international corporations. He has a strong military alliance with the US military and is very friendly with President Trump’s Chief of Staff General Kelly.

That has set the stage for the most recent events. Days before the election The Economist ran an article describing a National Party training session in cheating techniques. The election was held on Sunday 26 November . On election night, with 57% of the votes counted, the opposition challenger was ahead by over 5%. Then strange things began to happen. The election commission stopped updating the vote tally for 36 hours. On Monday the head of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said they were still missing 6,000 tally sheets from different polling places. A few hours later, he said they were missing 7500 tally sheets. When they resumed on Tuesday, suddenly the existing President Hernandez was gaining votes, cutting the opposition lead and then winning. It all looks very fishy, even to the OAS monitors.

The situation is rapidly coming to a head. At this moment it is not known what will happen. Initially the opposition demanded a full and complete review of all the 18,000 tally sheets. Now they are calling for the annulment of the election and a new election under international supervision.

The Honduran government is either stonewalling or is paralyzed. Hundreds of thousands of Hondurans have protested in the streets, with over twelve protesters killed. However, in a dramatic change, the elite para-military COBRA security forces have started to refuse orders, saying their job is not to repress their own communities.

Just as the 2009 coup in Honduras was a setback for all Latin America, the outcome of the current crisis will have consequences far beyond Honduras. As clearly articulated in this article, “The US has a lot riding on the Honduran election“, the US foreign policy establishment wants the continuation of the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH).

Despite all the indications of electoral malfeasance and human rights abuses, the Trump Administration has praised the JOH government. Meanwhile, North American reporters, analysts and activists are doing what they can to support Honduran popular forces and stop the theft of the Honduran election. The coming days may be momentous.  I have explained why it matters to me. But this is more important than a personal connection. It should matter to anyone concerned with progress, justice, respect and international law.

Election Theft in Honduras

Introduction

Honduras is in crisis. The national election took place on Sunday 26 November. Results posted that night showed the challenger Salvador Nasralla with a 5% lead with 57% of the votes tallied.

Then strange things began to happen. After midnight on election night, TSE stopped posting updates and effectively shut down for the next 36 hours. The president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), David Matamoros Batson, said they had received 13,000 tally sheets but were missing 6,000 from the total. With just over 18,000 total, this does not quite add up.  Then two hours later, Matamoros increased the number of missing tally sheets to 7,500. When updates resumed, mid-day on Tuesday, the results consistently favored the incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez. The opposition lead steadily diminished then disappeared.

The leader of the Opposition Coalition against the Dictatorship, Salvador Nasralla, denounced the apparent malfeasance and protests commenced across the country. Police and military have sometimes responded violently. Numerous unarmed Hondurans have been killed over the past five days.

On Monday 4 December, more than a week after the election, the TSE announced results giving a narrow victory to the incumbent National Party President Juan Orlando Hernandez. As mass protests continue, the opposition has demanded a recount of all the tally sheets received after the TSE shutdown.

Background

The current National Party government derives from the 2009 military coup which overthrew President Manual Zelaya. When Zelaya was kidnapped in the coup, he was flown directly from Tegucigalpa to the US Palmerola Air Base just 48 miles from the capital. After time on the ground there, with the coup leaders presumably consulting with Washington, the kidnapped President was taken to Costa Rica. Five months later an election was held which, according to Secy of State Hillary Clinton, made the coup a “moot point”. The election was widely boycotted within Honduras but given the seal of approval by Washington.

Four years later, in 2013, there was a Presidential election which included a new party: the Liberation and Refoundation Party known as LIBRE. This party represented popular forces which supported the ousted President Manual Zelaya and his progressive policies. They emerged out of the popular resistance and quickly surpassed the traditional Liberal Party. They presented a serious challenge to the National Party in the 2013 election with international observers documenting voter intimidation and other irregularities.

Ahead of the 2017 election LIBRE forged a coalition with two smaller parties. They decided to name themselves the Coalition Against the Dictatorship and to support  as their candidate. Former President Zelaya is head coordinator of the coalition.

Secret Audio Tape Documents national Party Cheating

Days before the Honduras election The Economist published a blockbuster article titled “Is Honduras Ruling Party Planning to Rig an Election?” They report “The Economist has obtained a recording that, if authentic, suggests the ruling party has plans to distort results in the upcoming election.” The two hour recording is from a National Party training session. It details five tactics used to influence election results: buy the credentials of small party delegates who supervise the local polling place, surreptitiously allow National Party voters to vote more than once, spoil the votes for other candidates, damage the tally sheet which favors their opponent so it cannot be transmitted electronically to election headquarters. and expedite the tally sheets favoring their party.

Election Misconduct by the TSE

The election process is managed by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) led by president David Matamoros Batson who was previously Secretary General and member of Congress for the National Party.

Following is evidence of TSE misconduct and bias:

(a) TSE delayed posting results that favored the opposition candidate

In the 2013 election, TSE started posting the election results at 6:13 pm when just 24% of the total votes had been received. Those returns gave the National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez a 5% lead.

This election, TSE acted differently. At 7:55 pm , TSE President Matamoros tweeted “We have received 40% of the results.” But they did not post this.  They delayed posting the data until near midnight. Then they reported that with 57.2 % of total votes counted the results were:

– Salvador Nasralla (Opposition Coalition Against the Dictatorship) with 855,847 votes = 45.17% of total.

– Juan Orlando Hernandez (National Party) with 761,892 votes  = 40.22%

– Luis Zelaya (Liberal Party, no relation to ousted Manuel Zelaya ) with 260,994 votes = 13.77% of total.

– Several other candidates had less than 1%.

Prior to the election, TSE expected to post the results from 70% of the electorate on election night.  Did TSE have more than 57% than they were reporting?

b) TSE changed the election procedure

Honduras election procedure is to count and tally the paper ballots at each of the voting stations around the country. The tally sheet (‘acta’) is signed off by representatives from each party, then scanned and transmitted electronically to TSE headquarters where they are added to national totals and posted.

Following the posting of results showing the opposition candidate with a significant lead, at about midnight on election day, the TSE changed the procedure and stopped posting results for the next 36 hours. TSE President Matamoros arbitrarily changed the procedures.

The explanation was given by TSE President Matamoros at 1:39 pm on Monday 27 November: “Today we are going to start opening the ballot boxes coming in from across the country to understand the ballots and results.”  Five minutes later, at 1:44 pm, he added “We cannot give results until all the missing tally sheets come in.”

The situation was questioned by Spanish election observer Ramon Jauregui who noted: “There is no technical reason that explains the delay, because the tallies from all 18000 polling places were transmitted electronically to the @tsehonduras on the day of the election.”

c) TSE falsely reported the number of missing tally sheets

At 1:56 pm on Monday TSE President Matamoros announced that they had received 13,000 of the total but are still missing 6,000 tally sheets (“actas”).  “We have received 13,000 tallies from across the country ….. we are missing 6,000”.  With a total of 18,100 tallies, the actual number missing should have been about 5,100.

At 4:17 pm, the number of missing tally sheets mysteriously increased by 25% to 7500. TSE Matamoros announced  “We are missing 7500 actas”.

d) TSE officials gave contradictory results

While TSE President Matamoros was issuing conflicting information about the number of missing ‘actas’, another election official was saying something very different. As reported in this Reuters story:

“Election official Marcos Ramiro Lobo told Reuters on Monday afternoon that Nasralla was leading by a margin of five points, with about 70 percent of ballots counted.  Lobo said Nasralla appeared certain to win, signaling that experts at the electoral body regarded his lead as irreversible.”

The third place Liberal Party candidate also recognized Nasralla as the winner and urged the National Party leader to concede defeat.

About noon on Tuesday the TSE resumed posting election results after the 36 hour interruption. The new data showed Nasralla’s lead steadily declining and by Wednesday the National Party candidate and current President Juan Orlando Hernandez was edging ahead. The Center for Economic and Policy Research has analyzed the data and determined the abrupt swing in elections results was “next to impossible”.

Where are things at now?

TSE has announced results showing Juan Orlando Hernandez winning the election. The Opposition Coalition candidate Nasralla has called for a new election under international observation and control. The Opposition Coordinator and former president, Manuel Zelaya, has issued a statement calling for the investigation and verification of the election procedures and results.

Honduras is important to US foreign policy and the White House is closely following events. In mid-November Foreign Policy magazine ran an article titled “The United States has a lot Riding on the Honduras Election“. The article says “losing Hernandez would be a real setback.”.

Clearly the Honduran people have even more riding on the Honduras election. The coup of 2009 led to increased crime and violence along with massive repression of landless campesinos, environmental and indigenous communities. From the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, the domestic policies of Honduras have been skewed  to benefit foreign corporations, plantations, the local oligarchy and neighbor to the north.

The current situation calls into question the objectivity of the US and Organization of American States (OAS). Will the US and OAS issue token criticisms but ultimately rubber stamp this Honduras election despite the glaring problems? If so, it will highlight the double-standard as the US and OAS have aggressively criticized Venezuelan elections and refused to acknowledge the results even after full recounts and verification.

The Honduras election process offers the potential of verification but only if the data from each and every polling place is compared with the data recorded at the TSE headquarters. The secret National Party training described by The Economist specifically called for disruption of the transmission of unfavorable “actas” (tally sheets) to the headquarters.

If opposition demands for a thorough examination of election procedures and voting tallies are not met, protests and repression may explode in Honduras. The majority of Honduran people evidently want new leadership and voted for it. The election process was manipulated and the theft is transparent.

WMD in Syria just like Iraq in 2003?

Introduction

In early 2003 it was claimed that Iraq was a threat to other countries. Despite ten years of crushing economic sanctions plus intrusive inspections, supposedly Iraq had acquired enough “weapons of mass destruction” to threaten the West. It was ridiculous on its face but few people in power said so. Establishment politicians and media across the U.S. promoted the idea. In the Senate, Joe Biden chaired the committee looking into the allegations but excluded knowledgeable critics such as Scott Ritter. This led to the invasion of Iraq.

Today we have something similarly ridiculous and dangerous. Supposedly the Syrian government decided to use a banned chemical weapon which they gave up in 2013-2014. Despite advancing against the insurgents, the Syrian government supposedly put sarin in a Russian chemical weapon canister and dropped this on the town of Khan Shaykhun which has been under the control of Syria’s version of Al Qaeda for years. To top off the stupidity, they left paint markings on the canister which identify it as a chemical weapon. Supposedly the Syrian government did this despite knowing there are many “White Helmet” activists in the town along with with their cameras, videos, computers, internet uplinks and western social media promoters. Supposedly the Syrian government did this despite knowing that neo-conservatives, neo-liberals and zionists are keen to prolong the conflict and drag the US and NATO into it. Supposedly the Syrian government did this despite knowing the one thing that could trigger direct US aggression in the conflict is the use of chemical weapons …. the “red line” laid down by Barack Obama.

If the above sounds unlikely, it is. But even if these accusations should be laughed out of the room, as they should have been in 2002, let’s take the claims about the event at Khan Shaykun in Syria on 4 April 2017 seriously. Certainly the consequences will be serious if the trend is not reversed.

What Happened at Khan Shaykhun?

The report titled “Seventh report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism” was provided to select governments and media on Thursday 26 October. Media announced the key finding without criticism or question. They highlighted the sentence that the committee is “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin in Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017”.

About 36 hours later, the report was leaked via the internet.  But the die was already cast as establishment media had “confirmed” Syrian guilt.

Following are key contradictions and inconsistencies in the report produced by the Joint Investigative Mechanism of the UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

(a) The Investigation Ignores the Essential Element of Motive

The three essentials in criminal investigation are Motive, Means and Opportunity. All three must be present. Yet the investigation team ignores the question of motive. The Syrian government has every motive to NOT use proscribed weapons. On the other side, the armed opposition has a strong motive to implicate the Syrian government. They have been calling for US and NATO intervention for years. They are losing ground, recruits and allies. Yet these facts are never considered.

(b) The Investigation Relies Primarily on Biased Sources

On page 1 the Joint Investigative Mechanism claims they have conducted a “rigorous independent examination”. But most experts and witnesses are biased toward the “regime change” policies of western governments.  On page 4 the report saysThe Mechanism engaged several internationally recognized forensic and specialist defense institutes… to provide forensic and expert support to the investigation.”

Any “defense institute” connected or contracting with France, UK or USA will have inherent assumptions and bias since these governments have actively promoted the overthrow of the Syrian government.

(c) The Investigation Ignores Credible But Critical Analyses

The Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) team makes no mention of the published analysis and findings of numerous researchers, investigative journalists and scientists. For example:

  • MIT Professor Theodore Postol has analyzed the Khan Shaykhun incident. He persuasively challenges the main theory about the crater site and munition.
  • American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has also written about the incident. His information from U.S. military and intelligence officers reveal that the American military knew about the forthcoming attack in advance.  He reports the Syrian jet attack was “not a chemical weapons strike …. That’s a fairy tale.”
  • Investigative journalist Gareth Porter has written an expose titled “Have We Been Deceived over Syrian Sarin Attack? Scrutinizing the Evidence in an Incident Trump Used to Justify Bombing Syria.” Porter presents a devastating critique of the sarin-crater theory. He documents how easily false positives for sarin could have been created and how the OPCW has violated their own investigation protocols.
  • Researcher Adam Larson has written an expose titled “Syria Sarin Allegation: How the UN-Panel Report Twists and Omits Evidence.” After closely inspecting the photographs and videos, he questions whether the victims are civilians kidnapped from a nearby village five days previously. Larson’s site “A Closer Look at Syria” has a good index of videos and articles on this and other events.

The above “open source” analysis and information was published well before the current report but apparently not considered. A “rigorous, independent examination” needs to evaluate investigations such as these.

(d) Victims Appear Before the Attack

On pages 28-29 it is reported that “Certain irregularities were observed in elements of information analyzed. For example, several hospitals appeared to start admitting casualties of the attack between 0640 and 0645 hours…. in 57 cases patients were admitted in five hospitals before the incident in Khan Shaykhun….in 10 such cases, patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 125 km away from Khan Shaykhun at 0700 hours while another 42 patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 30 km away at 0700 hours.”

It is reported that “The Mechanism did not investigate these discrepancies and cannot determine whether they are linked to any possible staging scenario, or to poor record-keeping in chaotic conditions”. Given the importance of determining whether this incident was caused by the Syrian government or staged by elements of the armed opposition and their supporters, why were these discrepancies not investigated further? Clearly it is not possible that victims were transported 125 kms and delivered to a hospital in 15 minutes. This is potentially powerful evidence of a staged event.

(e) ‘White Helmets’ Were Warning of a Chemical Weapons Attack Before the Attack

On page 20 it says “The Mechanism collected information from witnesses to the effect that a first warning of a possible upcoming chemical attack was received by “Syrian Civil Defense” (also known as the “White Helmets”) and spotters in Kahn Shaykun…. The witness stated that the alert advised residents to be careful as the aircraft was likely carrying toxic chemicals.”

It seems reasonable to ask: Was the advance talk of “toxic chemicals” a signal to get ready for a staged event? How would a plane spotter know there was a one-time chemical bomb aboard? This is another area that needs more investigation.

(f) Were Syrian Planes Over Khan Shaykhun at the Critical Time?

The basic question of whether or not there were Syrian jets over Khan Shaykhun is unanswered. The Syrian military says they did NOT fly over Khan Shaykhun in the early morning.

Page 21 documents that the Syrian pilot and log books record that the Su-22 jet was executing attacks at other nearby towns and not closer than 7 – 9 kms from Khan Shaykhun. Radar track data from the U.S. appears to support this, indicating the Syrian jet path was 5 kms from Khan Shaykun.

On page 7 it says “SAAF aircraft may have been in a position to launch aerial bombs” (underline added).  On page 22 it says, “the witness reported waking up at around 0700 hours on 4 April 2017 to the sound of explosions. The witness stated that there had been no aircraft over Khan Shaykhun at the time and that aircraft had only started launching attacks at around 1100 hours.” (underline added)

There are conflicting testimonies on this issue but curiously no video showing jet fighters at the time of the explosions in Khan Shaykun. It is unconfirmed how the ground explosions occurred.

(g) The Investigation Team did not try to Visit the Scene of the Crime

On page 3 the report says “The Mechanism did not visit the scenes of the incidents…. While the Leadership Panel considered that a visit to these sites would have been of value, such value would diminish over time. Further, the panel was required to weigh the security risks against the possible benefits to the investigation.”

While it is certainly appropriate to consider security, the actual scene of a crime provides unique opportunities for evidence. The OPCW has previously stated the necessity of having access to a crime site then taking and transferring samples to a certified lab with a clear chain of custody.

If the insurgents still controlling Khan Shaykhun have nothing to hide, they should welcome the investigation.

Furthermore, Russian authorities offered to guarantee the safety of the inspection team. Yet the investigation team apparently made no effort to visit the site. Why? In an investigation of this importance, with potentially huge political consequences, visiting and analyzing the scene of the crime should be a requirement if at all possible.

(h) The Material Evidence Comes from Insurgents with no Verifiable Chain of Custody

On page 23 it says “Samples taken from the crater and its surroundings were found by the Fact Finding Mission to contain sarin.” On the day of the event, insurgents took soil samples and victims to Turkey where they were received and subsequently tested. Without verified origins and “chain of custody”, this data cannot be verified and must be considered skeptically.

As indicated in the report, one theory about the 4 April 2017 event is that it was staged to implicate the Syrian government. If that theory is correct, it is predictable that the plotters would have samples prepared in advance, including sarin samples with markers matched to the Syrian stockpile. The Syrian sarin was destroyed aboard the US vessel “MV Cape Ray”. Given the heavy involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Syrian conflict it is likely they analyzed and retained some portion.

(i) The Report Repeats Discredited Claims about Bomb Fragment and Filler Cap

On page 26 it is reported that “two objects of interest … were the filler cap from a chemical munition and a deformed piece of metal protruding from deep within the crater. According to information obtained by the Mechanism, the filler cap, with two closure plugs, is uniquely consistent with Syrian chemical aerial bombs.”

This information may come from a Human Rights Watch report which has been discredited. The “filler cap” was supposedly a match for an external plug for a Russian chemical weapon bomb but was found to not match and to be based on a 1950’s era museum photo. An insightful and amusing critique of the HRW report is here.

The authenticity of the fragments in the crater is also challenged by the lack of a tailfin or any other bomb fragments. A chemical weapon bomb is designed to release and not burn up the chemical and therefore the munition casing should be on site.

(j) Strange Actions Suggesting a Staged Event 

On page 28 the report notes methods and procedures “that appeared either unusual or inappropriate in the circumstances.”  For example, they observe that a Drager X-am 7000 air monitor was shown detecting sarin when that device is not able to detect sarin, and “para-medical interventions that did not seem to make medical sense, such as performing heart compression on a patient facing the ground.”

On page 29 it is reported that one victim had blood test showing negative for sarin and urine test showing positive. This is an impossible combination. Also on page 29 it is noted that some of the rescue operations were inappropriate but might have been “attempts to inflate the gravity of the situation for depiction in the media.”

The report does not mention the video which shows “White Helmet” responders handling victims without any gloves or protection. If the patients truly died from sarin, touching the patients’ skin or clothing could be fatal. Incidents such as these support the theory that this was a contrived and staged event with real victims.

(k) The Team is “Confident” in their Conclusions Yet Basic Facts are in Dispute

On page 22, the report acknowledges that “To date the Mechanism has not found specific information confirming whether or not an SAA Su-22 operating from Al Shayrat airbase launched an aerial attack against Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017.”

How can they be “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017” when such basics have not been confirmed?

Conclusion

The report of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) gives the impression of much more certainty than is actually there. Seizing on the false “confidence”, the White House has denounced the “horrifying barbarism of Bashar al Assad” and “lack of respect for international norms” by Syria’s ally Russia. International diplomacy is being steadily eroded. .

Most western “experts” were dead wrong in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Are these same “experts”, institutes, intelligence agencies and biased organizations going to take us down the road to new aggression, this time against Syria?

In contrast with the JIM report, Gareth Porter reached the opposite conclusion: “The evidence now available makes it clear that the scene suggesting a sarin attack at the crater was a crudely staged deception.” That is also more logical. The armed opposition had the motive, means and opportunity.

A Courageous Israeli Speaks Out

On October 6 there was a presentation in Lafayette California featuring the Israeli-American Miko Peled.  The event was sponsored by Mt Diablo Peace & Justice Center (MDPJC) with co-sponsorship by Jewish Voice for Peace and others.

What Miko Peled says is seldom heard by Americans.

Miko was born in Jerusalem and comes from a famous Israeli family. His grandfather was one of the signers of the Israeli founding documents. His father was a soldier in the war which led to the creation of Israel and later a senior Army general during the 1967 war. Adding to the power of his voice, one of Miko’s nieces was killed in a suicide bombing attack. Miko Peled is author of the acclaimed book The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.

In contrast with what one might expect, Miko Peled is a voice of sharp criticism of Israel and Israeli policies. He does not mince his words. Israel is a “settler colonial state” and Israel does NOT have a “right to exist” as an apartheid state with preferential treatment based on ethnicity.

Miko does not speak in the abstract; he gives specific examples to demonstrate what he says. Palestinians in the West Bank have no consistent running water while settlers enjoy unlimited drinking water plus swimming pools and water for green lawns. The situation in Gaza is even worse. The two million residents of the tiny Gaza strip endure horrific conditions. Babies with medical conditions die while just a few miles away, Israeli babies with the same conditions will live.

Peled does not limit his criticism to the “Occupied Territories”. He says all of the state should be called Palestine with equal rights and opportunities for all. Peled pokes fun at the claims that Jews anywhere have a “right to return” because of a supposed 2000 year old claim and entitlement. These claims are based on the Old Testament not scientific history. In contrast with the myth, most Israeli citizens have zero DNA connection to the region. Peled humorously points to the irony of zionists who claim a 2000 year old “right” to the land as they deny and denigrate the rights and claims of Palestinians who were expelled in 1948 and after. As Peled explains, most Israelis are quick to tell Palestinians to “get over it” despite the fact that Palestinian claims are well documented and only go back 70 years not 2000. Unknown to most Americans, about half a million Palestinians languish in Lebanon, waiting for the time when they return to their villages in Palestine from which they were expelled in 1948 and after. The actual history of those events has been clearly documented by the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe.

Peled thinks that the situation is better now that the pretense of a “two state solution” is openly dismissed by US President Trump and Israeli PM Netanyahu. There are two paths: the current situation of supremacist democracy for Jews only with continuing occupation and oppression for the Palestinians or democracy for all. While acknowledging the unpopularity of equality for most Israelis today, Miko Peled recalls how quickly the change happened in South Africa. He says if they could overcome apartheid in South Africa, why is this not possible in Israel/Palestine?

In the 1980’s and early 90’s, the international Boycott Apartheid campaign helped to end open racism in South Africa. Around the world there is a similar peaceful and non-violent campaign pressing for the end of open racism in Israel.  It’s called “BDS” for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. The goal is to pressure Israel to abandon its apartheid policies just as South Africa did. Making clear his own stand, Miko Peled wore a large BDS button on his lapel. For those who mistakenly believe that Israel is a progressive force internationally, the reality is that Israel was one of apartheid South Africa’s closest allies.

For taking the stance he does, and especially because of his family roots, Miko Peled has been vilified and threatened. It takes great courage to follow his beliefs as he has. His family is apparently with him. In his book he describes how his mother refused to take furniture or property of Palestinians who had been expelled from Jerusalem in 1967, as many other prominent Jewish families were doing. He describes his father’s evolution from military general to an advocate for peace and respect for Palestinians. And he describes the reaction of his sister and how she blamed Netanyahu and racist policies for the death of her daughter. Miko Peled demonstrates courage and integrity.  Through his writing and speeches he exposes racist policies in Israel and the US. He seeks a better future even if it sometimes appears hopeless and provokes slander and personal threats against himself.

Miko Peled’s book is published by Just World Books. A video of his Lafayette presentation, including the introduction by St Mary’s College Professor Hisham Ahmed, is posted at the Mt Diablo Peace & Justice Center website.