These lines occurred to me last week when all eyes were focused on the brutal British seizure of Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
No one should have been surprised by this despicable spectacle carried out in the noonday light for all to see, for the British government has not served as America’s jailer for the past seven years for no reason. It doesn’t take x-ray eyes to see that the British and the Moreno government in Ecuador are twin poodles on the American leash. After a phony display of judicial fairness, the British, as required by their American bosses, will dispatch Assange to the United States so he can be further punished for the crime of doing journalism and exposing war crimes.
Assange has suffered mightily for American sins. The Anglo-American torturers know how to squeeze their victims to make old men out of the young. Abu Ghraib was no aberration. The overt is often covert; just a thin skin separates the sadists’ varied methods, but their message is obvious. No one who saw Assange dragged to prison could fail to see what the war-mongers, who hate freedom of the press when it exposes their criminal activities, can do to a man. Nor, however, could one fail to see the spirit of defiance that animates Assange, a man of courageous conscience cowards can’t begin to comprehend.
Bought and sold, compromised and corrupted to their depths, the American, British, and Ecuadorian governments and their media sycophants have no shame or allegiance to law or God, and have never learned that you can imprison, torture, and even kill a person of conscience, but that doing so is a risky business. For even the corpses of those who say “No” keep whispering “No” forevermore.
While the media spotlight was on central London, Auden’s lines kept running through my mind:
About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters, how well they understood Its human position: how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just Walking dully along
His words transported me from London to a lonely jail cell in Virginia where Chelsea Manning sat brooding. Chelsea hearing the news about Assange. Chelsea realizing that now the screws would be further tightened and her ordeal as a prisoner of conscience would be extended indefinitely. Chelsea summoning all her extraordinary courage to go on saying “No,” “No,” “No.” Chelsea refusing the 30 pieces of silver that will be continually offered to her, as they have been for almost a decade, and that she has refused in her emphatic refusal to give the Judas kiss to Julian, to whom she is wed in this non-violent campaign to expose the truth about the war criminals.
Auden’s words reminded me not to turn away, to pay attention, to not walk dully along and ignore the lonely suffering of truth-tellers. How can anyone who claims to oppose the American wars on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, etc., turn away from defending Manning and Assange, two brave souls who have already spent nearly 15 years combined imprisoned for exposing the war crimes of the American and British governments, crimes committed in our name and therefore our crimes.
Who will have the bad faith to buy the torrent of lies that the propagandists will spew forth about Assange as they wage a media blitz to kill his reputation on the way to disposing of him?
The jackals in government and media, so-called liberals and conservatives, will be sadistically calling for blood as they count their blood money and wipe their lips. Only cowards will join this bleating crowd and refuse to go to that lonely, empty place – that cell of conscience – where the truth resides.
All should remember that Chelsea Manning spent more than seven years in prison under the Obama administration for revealing a video about George W. Bush’s war crimes in Iraq; that Assange had to escape the Obama administration’s clutches by seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy; and that now that Trump is in office, the reimprisonment of Manning and arrest of Assange are perfectly in accord with the evil deeds of his predecessors. These men are titular heads of the warfare state. They follow orders.
Who can sail calmly on and pretend they don’t see the gift of truth and hear the forsaken cries of two lonely caged heroes falling into the sea? Who can fail to defend such voices of freedom?
When President Donald Trump moved the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem last year, effectively sabotaging any hope of establishing a viable Palestinian state, he tore up the international rulebook.
Last week, he trampled all over its remaining tattered pages. He did so, of course, via Twitter.
Referring to a large piece of territory Israel seized from Syria in 1967, Mr Trump wrote: “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability.”
Israel expelled 130,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights in 1967, under cover of the Six Day War, and then annexed the territory 14 years later – in violation of international law. A small population of Syrian Druze are the only survivors of that ethnic cleansing operation.
Replicating its illegal acts in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel immediately moved Jewish settlers and businesses into the Golan.
Until now, no country had recognised Israel’s act of plunder. In 1981, UN member states, including the US, declared Israeli efforts to change the Golan’s status “null and void”.
But in recent months, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu began stepping up efforts to smash that long-standing consensus and win over the world’s only superpower to his side.
He was spurred into action when Bashar Al Assad – aided by Russia – began to decisively reverse the territorial losses the Syrian government had suffered during the nation’s eight-year war.
The fighting dragged in a host of other actors. Israel itself used the Golan as a base from which to launch covert operations to help Mr Assad’s opponents in southern Syria, including Islamic State fighters. Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, meanwhile, tried to limit Israel’s room for manoeuvre on the Syrian leader’s behalf.
Iran’s presence close by was how Mr Netanyahu publicly justified the need for Israel to take permanent possession of the Golan, calling it a vital buffer against Iranian efforts to “use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel”.
Before that, when Mr Assad was losing ground to his enemies, the Israeli leader made a different case. Then, he argued that Syria was breaking apart and its president would never be in a position to reclaim the Golan.
Mr Netanyahu’s current rationalisation is no more persuasive than the earlier one. Russia and the United Nations are already well advanced on re-establishing a demilitarised zone on the Syrian side of the separation-of-forces line. That would ensure Iran could not deploy close to the Golan Heights.
Mr Netanyahu is set to meet Mr Trump in Washington on Monday, when the president’s tweet will reportedly be converted into an executive order.
The timing is significant. This is another crude attempt by Mr Trump to meddle in Israel’s election, due on April 9. It will provide Mr Netanyahu with a massive fillip as he struggles against corruption indictments and a credible threat from a rival party, Blue and White, headed by former army generals.
Mr Netanyahu could barely contain his glee, reportedly calling Mr Trump to tell him: “You made history!”
But, in truth, this was no caprice. Israel and Washington have been heading in this direction for a while.
In Israel, there is cross-party support for keeping the Golan.
Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the US and a confidant of Mr Netanyahu’s, formally launched a plan last year to quadruple the size of the Golan’s settler population, to 100,000, within a decade.
The US State Department offered its apparent seal of approval last month when it included the Golan Heights for the first time in the “Israel” section of its annual human rights report.
This month, senior Republican senator Lindsey Graham made a very public tour of the Golan in an Israeli military helicopter, alongside Mr Netanyahu and David Friedman, Mr Trump’s ambassador to Israel. Mr Graham said he and fellow senator Ted Cruz would lobby the US president to change the territory’s status.
Mr Trump, meanwhile, has made no secret of his disdain for international law. This month, his officials barred entry to the US to staff from the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, who are investigating US war crimes in Afghanistan.
The ICC has made enemies of both Washington and Israel in its initial, and meagre, attempts to hold the two to account.
Whatever Mr Netanyahu’s spin about the need to avert an Iranian threat, Israel has other, more concrete reasons for holding on to the Golan.
The territory is rich in water sources and provides Israel with decisive control over the Sea of Galilee, a large freshwater lake that is crucially important in a region facing ever greater water shortages.
The 1,200 square kilometres of stolen land is being aggressively exploited, from burgeoning vineyards and apple orchards to a tourism industry that, in winter, includes the snow-covered slopes of Mount Hermon.
As noted by Who Profits, an Israeli human rights organisation, in a report this month, Israeli and US companies are also setting up commercial wind farms to sell electricity.
And Israel has been quietly co-operating with US energy giant Genie to explore potentially large oil reserves under the Golan. Mr Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has family investments in Genie. But extracting the oil will be difficult, unless Israel can plausibly argue that it has sovereignty over the territory.
For decades the US had regularly arm-twisted Israel to enter a mix of public and back-channel peace talks with Syria. Just three years ago, Barack Obama supported a UN Security Council rebuke to Mr Netanyahu for stating that Israel would never relinquish the Golan.
Now Mr Trump has given a green light for Israel to hold on to it permanently.
But, whatever he says, the decision will not bring security for Israel, or regional stability. In fact, it makes a nonsense of Mr Trump’s “deal of the century” – a regional peace plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that, according to rumour, may be unveiled soon after the Israeli election.
Instead, US recognition will prove a boon for the Israeli right, which has been clamouring to annex vast areas of the West Bank and thereby drive a final nail into the coffin of the two-state solution.
Israel’s right can now plausibly argue: “If Mr Trump has consented to our illegal seizure of the Golan, why not also our theft of the West Bank?”
Another heavily-armed, sociopath fascist has carried out a carefully-planned, extremely cold-blooded, videotaped massacre. In terms of the particular form of mass murder that involves targeting people because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other such commonly-held characteristic, by far the most large-scale forms of ethnic cleansing have been carried out by governments. Examples include institutionalized forms of genocide such as the European Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Nazi gas chambers, the Japanese Empire’s Rape of Nanking, the smoke-filled caves of Turkey during the First World War, the total devastation wrought from the skies down on entire civilian populations in places like Iraq, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Korea, and Japan by the US Air Force, the price put on each Indian scalp in colonial New England, the many, many massacres of whole villages that took place during the theft of indigenous land or under the banner of “war” throughout the Americas, in Australia and so many other places with similar histories. The names of towns and cities often become representative of the ethnic cleansers of the day, and depending on the time and place, everyone knows what you mean when you use the shorthand of place names such as Alhambra, Guernica, Dachau, Wounded Knee, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, My Lai, Srebrenica, Falluja, Deir Yassin, Sabra, Shatila.
In times and places when such slaughter isn’t a daily occurrence, it’s more shocking. Particularly when the slaughter is carried out not on orders of a commanding officer in an occupied war zone somewhere far away, but by a freelance sociopath from a generally peaceful country who obviously wants so much to kill for his beliefs that he’s willing to die in order to do so. Then we add place names that have become chilling reminders of this special variety of incomprehensible horror, at least for those who remember — Hebron, Oak Creek, Orlando, Charleston, Pittsburgh, Utoya, Christchurch — to name only a few, that adhere strictly to the concept of freelance fascist terror directed at a particular group for the crime of existing. (Which is not to minimize other forms of terror. I’ll get to some of them later.)
Many commentators have aptly pointed out that at a time when the leader of the free world is openly racist (along with the leaders of an increasing array of other major countries), this encourages racist hate crimes, which is evidently and not surprisingly true. I would venture to add a couple things to this discussion, not that I make any pretenses to be the first to do so. For one thing, this legacy of genocide, racial and ethnic division didn’t start with Trump, or even with Hitler — it goes back a lot further than that, and this is crucial to understand for making any sense of the world around us. The other thing I’d add is I don’t feel at all confident that the leaders of most countries in the western world actually want these massacres to stop, and I say this just from my own personal experiences, which I think are worth sharing in some detail.
There have been competing narratives going on throughout the history of Europe and the European-descended settler-colonial/refugee diaspora that has come to dominate so much of the world in recent centuries. Very broadly, you could say that on the one hand there is the divide and rule narrative of the rich and powerful, and on the other, the narrative of solidarity, uniting all the people against their common enemy, the ruling elite. Depending on the time and place, the adherents of one or the other of these narratives have been in the ascendancy, but for most of the history of Europe and its colonies, the elite has maintained their grip on power through the systematic and often very deadly sowing of divisions within the ranks of the people.
Ethnic cleansing has been a major feature since the beginnings of European Christendom. It would be a terrible mistake, however, to assume that what was happening in Europe was happening everywhere else — it wasn’t. During the many centuries that were characterized in much of Europe by the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the expulsions of hundreds of thousands of Jews and Muslims from places like Spain, Portugal (with smaller mass expulsions from England and other countries), in the Ottoman Empire Jews, Christians and Muslims lived side by side in peace and prosperity, with the sultan taking an active role in promoting coexistence of different religions, languages and traditions within the sprawling, extraordinarily diverse Ottoman lands. In one of the most massive and least well-known events during the long period in Europe often referred to as the Dark Ages, when all the Jews of Spain were given three months to leave the newly Catholic country or be killed, most of them were rescued in a gigantic naval operation by the Ottoman fleet. At the time, any Ottoman, Chinese or Andean city was far more prosperous and high-tech than the most advanced parts of Europe. In fact, the term “Europe” wasn’t used to describe the land mass it is currently understood to be referring to, so even writing a history of Europe is a fraught concept to begin with for any historian going back further than the modern period.
Jews, Muslims, and the wrong kinds of Christians were systematically and regularly targeted by crusaders and inquisitors, and then in North America by Puritans, who hanged Indians along with Catholics and Quakers, and burned them alive in large numbers in Connecticut. Among those who came to North America and Australia from England, Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, most were refugees of one form or another, and when they got to wherever they were going — often in chains — they generally lived short and brutal lives. If they were lucky, after a couple generations of assimilation their lot might improve. Not so much for the Africans brought over in chains that were maintained in place by institutionalized racism no matter how many generations later, or for the Indians whose land was taken, with whole populations and cultures reduced to suggestions of what once had been.
Throughout all of this there was profound resistance — resistance which has defined reality for those of us alive today to a huge extent, though perhaps not as huge an extent as the oppressive institutions, systems and ways of thinking we’ve been up against over these centuries of the global struggle between the haves and have-nots. There were Indian nations pitted against each other and others who managed to unite against a common foe. There were race riots and pogroms but there were also slave rebellions, farmer rebellions, and eventually, after many decades of trying and failing, inter-racial unions. The Europe-wide uprisings of 1848, the concurrent Rent Strike movement in the US, and the miner rebellion in Australia soon afterwards all had profound impacts in terms of Europe and these European settler states becoming more democratic and more prosperous.
In the more modern period, divide and rule tactics have been used by most western countries to pit nations against each other in wars over colonial control of other parts of the world, using the working class of one country to slaughter that of another. But at least as significant as those wars between countries has been the systematic use of divide and rule tactics to keep populations under control within a given country. In Europe, the divide between different forms of Christianity and the existence of Jews, Muslims, and later of the supposed threat posed by the Soviet Union and still later once again by the existence of Muslims and specifically Muslim refugees have been some of the main pillars of divide and rule. In the US we’ve had all of that, plus an extra helping of racial division to add a seemingly infinite degree of complexity to the already great challenges inherent in the class struggle anywhere — and that is very much true in Australia as well, which for a very long time had a whites-only immigration policy, as did the US and New Zealand.
So why this history refresher? Because, as far as I can tell, nothing much has changed. For all the talk about cracking down on far right terrorism or white nationalism or whatever they’re using as the modern term for the inquisitors, crusaders, ethnic cleansers, fascists, genocidal colonizers, Puritans, slave-traders, imperialists, CIA coup-plotters or torturers, the crackdown will never be very thorough, because any thorough crackdown would mean a fairly complete transformation of society. It would mean, in short, socialism. In order to overcome these divisions, which were all intentionally created, we have to intentionally put an end to them. This means, to coin a phrase, the workers of the world uniting. And what then of corporate profits?
Well, that, it seems to me, is the problem. I’m now over half a century old, and I’ve been involved with what they call activism since I was twelve or so. From my experience, the powers-that-be in these European and European-colonized countries like the US, Australia and New Zealand don’t seem to be very concerned with the repeating patterns of far right violence. Regardless of the facts, regardless of the news or of what they say they’re going to do, what they seem to do in actuality most of the time is crack down on the left some more. That is, they crack down on the very advocates for the concepts of unity and solidarity that they say they also stand for. It seems to me you can’t have it both ways.
And as they are opposing progressive thought and action in most every form at most every turn (until that which is violently opposed is ultimately embraced as self-evident), they are also constantly supporting and embracing and propagating a false narrative of history that suits their ends, and ultimately ends up supporting white nationalism. Either intentionally or because they don’t know any better, throughout institutions of society in places like the US, Australia and New Zealand, people are being lied to as they’re growing up and throughout their adulthoods, with so many different forms of mythology about the superiority of European civilization. And when the contrast between the wealth in so many of the whiter countries and the poverty of so many of the darker nations is not explained or put into the context of colonialism and imperialism, as it generally isn’t, it might make sense to assume there is something to this white nationalism after all. The way Venezuela is currently being covered in the western media and by western politicians is a case in point. No real historical context is given for why Venezuela was so poor to begin with, how Chavez changed that for so many people, or why the people talking about all of the different ways the US and other forces are acting to destroy the country are clearly the ones with the strength of history on their side.
Media coverage and portrayal by politicians of the global justice movement in the late 1990’s in which I was an active participant is another case in point, and is the first personal example I’ll begin with. You would be forgiven for thinking that intensified and militarized border security and the militarization of police forces in the US was a post-9/11 phenomenon in response to terrorism. For those who were around and involved with the movement, we know differently. The security state flew into high gear in response to the WTO protests near the end of 1999. This is when the total vilification of our movement in the media began.
They consistently painted us as “anti-globalization,” a term we never used. The impression they gave was that we were against trade of any kind. They dismissed us as ignorant people who didn’t appreciate the greatness of capitalism, and all the good the US, the UK, France, etc. has done in the world by promoting free trade and democracy. Many of them probably believe the lies they spout. Why wouldn’t they? They grew up in this mind control experiment called the western world, too, believing all this rubbish. They painted us as universally engaged in violence and property destruction, just the same way they talk about the Yellow Vest movement in France today, although with our movement, as with that one, the rock-throwers were a small minority. Most of the movement was all about nonviolent civil disobedience, which is how many different global trade meetings were disrupted.
And that’s what really upset them — this egalitarian social movement. That’s what they couldn’t stand. And when we, this global movement, began to influence the mainstream understanding of and conversation around so-called development programs and blood-sucking institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, when people broadly began to question whether free trade was good for the average person, while at the same time the billionaires were unable to hold a public meeting and have it go off smoothly unless they held it in a dictatorship, the global elite in the great democracies of the west were facing something of a legitimacy crisis.
For the ruling elite in the US especially, 9/11 was their opportunity to seize the moral higher ground in the face of the argument around stratification of wealth, free trade, and exploitation of workers, the environment, and the Global South — an argument they often appeared to be losing. Now, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they finally had found a worthwhile enemy to distract everyone with — and they finally found a worthwhile enemy to compare us with, as well. I remember the voice of the NPR anchor so well in the days following the attacks on New York, when he said something like, “last week they were protesting the World Trade Organization. Now they’re bombing the World Trade Center.”
And it is true that the last time I recalled being at the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan prior to 9/11 was on May 1st, 2000, when thousands of riot police had been deployed all over the city to make sure we didn’t shut down Wall Street or break windows at Starbucks, McDonald’s or at the Twin Towers. Turns out they had more to worry about than window-breaking teenagers, but you wouldn’t know they were worried about anything other than the left, when you look at the police budgets in different cities, and how they mushroomed not in preparation for potential terrorist attacks, but to prevent us from messing up their meetings.
Sometime around September 13th, 2001 I was driving with a friend past New York City’s smoldering ruins, along i-95 in Connecticut, the stretch of highway that consistently gets the distinction of being voted the ugliest in the United States by the truckers association. No one ever hitch-hikes on i-95, but that day there was a hitch-hiker, and he was Israeli. That was weird. We gave him a ride to New Haven. He said he had been there for a long time. No one would pick him up. He figured it was because he looked Arab.
I don’t know who that guy was, but years later I heard from a friend who had been off the radar for a long time. He wasn’t a close friend, so it wasn’t so strange not to hear from him for a while, but when he resurfaced it turned out that he had been off the radar because he was basically in hiding, afraid he might die at any moment. After not dying for so many years, he ventured to anonymously tell me his story, which he said I could publish on my blog (which I did). To sum up the salient points, my friend knew Mohammed Atta, smoked cigarettes with him at the smoking area outside of a mysterious building in Hollywood, Florida where Atta worked. The building contained companies that had names that seemed to indicate they were moving companies, but they had hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment, and most of their employees were Israelis, at least one of whom clearly didn’t get the cue that he was working for a moving company. The janitor went to the wrong floor and died there. All the businesses in the building suddenly closed on September 12th, 2001. I still want to know what the hell that was all about.
I first learned I was on a watch list in 2002, but I had begun having huge problems crossing the Canadian border before then. I was prevented from entering Canada for the G8 protests in 2002 and told I’d be detained if I tried to enter anywhere else in the country. When would I be released? When the protests were over, I was told. Why would I be held in the first place? The document just said to turn me away, but that they should give me a false reason for having done so. (The border agent wasn’t supposed to show his orders to me, but he was too freaked out by them not to. Other people have similar stories, including Laura Poitras.)
I mention the watch list because under treaty, the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand share all of that kind of information, since 1948. I learned that in 2013, when I was denied entry to New Zealand.
I had been to Aotearoa — what the European settlers named New Zealand — on several occasions before then, playing gigs and getting to know people and places on those lush, green, beautiful islands. I had met people on watch lists, and people who were on trial on charges that involved the word “terrorism” being thrown around frequently. They were all either Maori or non-Maori supporters of Maori sovereignty.
But then to be denied entry in 2013, to find out that government agents from those islands are reading my blog, and telling me about it in detail as they explain that pot-smoking musicians like me are not welcome in their country, was a surprise to me and to the veteran immigration lawyer in Christchurch who tried and failed to help get this decision overturned.
Only weeks later in Australia I got some strange news through the bizarre circumstance of knowing a government worker in Canberra. Down the hall from where she worked, through the open door of the War Crimes Department one of her coworkers clearly heard people inside that department discussing me. Her coworker didn’t hover near the door to try to get more information, but he excitedly reported this bit of gossip to my friend, which was as unreal to him as it was to her and to me.
However else you want to decipher this set of facts and the facts that have come to light since the massacre in Christchurch, I was on watch lists in both New Zealand and Australia, and this Australian fascist with a long and active record of hate speech on the internet was able to get a license to own an arsenal of machine guns, and he was not on a watch list in either the country of his birth, Australia, or the country he had moved to, where he bought his guns and killed all those people. Lest anyone be left with the impression that I’m talking about my history with being on multiple international watch lists in order to prove how cool I am, that is not the point. The point is that the authorities are wasting their time and effort on people like me, and however many thousands or millions of other people like me, and they are missing the people they should be watching. (Not that this is a problem that can be solved by better policing in the first place.)
I was in Scotland for the 2005 G8 summit and protests there, which involved lots of nonviolent civil disobedience, delayed meetings, and other festivities. It also involved thousands and thousands of riot cops to make sure the summit would be able to go on. They felt they needed such a large police presence that there weren’t enough cops in Scotland for the job, so they imported loads of cops from other places. None of this is unusual, by the way. Many of the cops they imported for the protests were from London. Turns out that in July, 2005 the London cops had other things they might have been looking into aside from nonviolent protesters in Scotland. What they know of in England as 7/7, the terror attacks on the London Underground, occurred at the tail end of the G8 meetings in Scotland, while the London cops were away policing us.
I was in Oslo only a couple weeks after the bombing there and the massacre in Utoya that followed in 2011. The mounds of flowers at the Oslo Cathedral were still fresh. It was the same cathedral where a few years earlier I stood with Afghan refugees who had been on hunger strike for weeks, trying to draw attention to the fact that Norway intended to send them back to a war zone to die. I watched the police destroy their tents one night, and I watched the Red Cross put up new tents the following morning, in a direct challenge to the police.
Like other people following the news in July, 2011, I was hearing stories about the slow police response to the massacre that had been unfolding on the island. One of the things that kept getting mentioned was that the city of Oslo had just one police helicopter.
Only then in the wake of by far the worst massacre in post-World War 2 Scandinavian history did I learn the significance of the experience I had had not long before that time, when Barack Obama was in town to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The tabloid press and the Norwegian authorities were apparently so concerned about Islamists attacking the Nobel proceedings with rocket launchers that they had arrested Norway’s one known Islamist before Obama’s arrival as a precaution.
On the day when Obama was getting his prize and some few anarchists were protesting in the rain, including a number of my Scandinavian friends, I wasn’t feeling well. I was trying to take a nap around midday, when a helicopter showed up directly above me. I was on a bed on the fifth floor of a five-story building, and the helicopter above me was deafeningly loud. It hovered there for around two hours, preventing me from napping.
Being an activist and getting harassed by helicopters is, believe it not, not an unfamiliar experience for me and for many other people who I could introduce you to. But knowing that the helicopter harassing me in this particular case was probably Oslo’s one police helicopter, at a time when they were supposedly worried about Islamist violence, less than two years before the country would be devastated by a horrific act of rightwing violence, it felt very much like yet another example of a grievous misallocation of police resources, at the very least.
I could share so many more examples, but my abundant experience indicates that whether we’re talking about a more nakedly capitalist country like the US under the leadership of an open bigot or under the leadership of a suave gentleman of color; whether we’re talking about Thatcher’s England or the pacific social democracies of Scandinavia led by people who apparently really do think free health care and government housing are good things; the mainstream media and the mainstream political leadership of all of these countries are much more concerned with the possibility that progressive movements will upset their status quo than they are concerned with mass murderers.
Given that the historical evidence indicates that the cure for fascist movements is successfully-implemented socialism that allows everyone to live dignified lives with universal housing, health care, education, etc., the tendency of all of these neoliberal European, North American and South Pacific nations to suppress progressive movements wherever they crop up in their own countries or elsewhere in the world, to almost always side with corporate interests against the interests of their own people or other people, will continue to be one of the major factors providing a great breeding ground for the ethnic cleansers in our midst following in the paths of a thousand years of rule by the descendants of the Crusaders.
You want to de-radicalize the fascists among us, hand-wringing western democratic leaders of the world? You can start by taking your corporate boots off of the necks of the progressive social movements that have been trying to oppose these people while you’ve been pretending you don’t have a history as an explicitly racist state with a whites-only immigration policy.
Paul Manafort has been convicted and sentenced to four years in prison for what the judge calls “white collar crimes” unrelated to “Russian collusion.” The mainstream press is in a state of shock. Surely, the morning cable anchors protest, he should have gotten 20 years!
He was friends with (“pro-Russian”) Ukrainian businessmen and politicians! He took fees for political consulting work with foreigners—that he never reported to the IRS! He committed bank fraud and tax fraud! And he may have had a role in the decision of the Republican National Committee at the Republican convention in July 2016, to modify a section of the program to remove reference to the provision of U.S. lethal military aid to Ukraine!
For two years that last accusation has been treated by the press as the truly damning one, the clear proof of a conspiracy to help Russia. There’s been a deliberate effort to generate outrage, where none really smolders in the masses’ breasts. How many people in this country feel strongly about the issue of Ukraine, could find the country on the map, have any knowledge in its history or any strong feelings about the matter of who should have sovereignty over Crimea?
The implicit argument is that not to give offensive weapons to the government in Ukraine at the time (then headed by Arseniy Yastenyuk, who had attained power through a U.S.-supported violent coup and the documented sponsorship of grotesque neocon beast Victoria Nuland) was anything other than the height of irresponsibility, if not treason. (“What more do we need than that?” demands the angry CNN “foreign policy analyst” or “national security analyst” while the hosts nod in agreement.), But this new regime in Kiev was riddled with fascists, was engaged in an effort to impose its armed authority over a rebellious ethnic Russian Donbas region, and might potentially be at war with Russia at any moment.
One could interpret the platform change as a rational retreat from an unnecessary provocation of Moscow. Why should that be so controversial or mysterious?
But to the talking heads of MSNBC and CNN, and maybe some on Fox, the minor move was sure, clear proof of Russian collusion. The party committee couldn’t have been applying mere common sense, and deference to a presidential nominee who’d expressed hope for normal relations with Russia. No, it had to have been hijacked by Russian agents.
In the real world, it’s just possible that Manafort (for whatever reasons) had educated Trump to some basic facts: Ukraine has long been ethnically divided between Ukrainians and (ethnic) Russians. The regime that seized power in February 2014 (toppling the democratically elected if highly corrupt one that Manafort had served) had completely alienated the Donbas region from the outset by its anti-Russian discriminatory measures, provoking the rebellion. As for the Crimean Peninsula, it had been Russian from 1785 to 1954, and the base of the Russian Black Sea Naval Fleet since the 1780s, so it wasn’t surprising that Moscow would want to re-assert sovereignty to prevent the very real prospect of losing its base to the relentlessly expanding NATO.
(It would have made sense for Bernie Sanders, had he won the Democratic nomination—that is, had we had a fair, not rigged, Democratic primary process—-to have stricken out any such language from a Democratic Party platform.)
I wrote a number of columns about Ukraine after the 2014 putsch opposing U.S. intervention in Ukraine and the U.S. effort, involving about $ 5 billion invested in what Victoria Nuland and Madeleine Albright both referred to publicly as “support for the Ukrainian people’s European aspirations.” (This was code for the drive of right-wing politicians in Ukraine to join EU after following the well-established pattern of former east bloc countries first joining NATO, then the European trade bloc.) Some of these were re-posted on Russian media. Am I thus guilty of collusion?
This matter of the non-support for military involvement in Ukraine, as a bad thing, is at the heart of the collusion case. The Manafort judge T.S. Ellis has been right to be skeptical, and to suspect that the prosecutors have been trying too hard to pin on Manafort a conspiracy charge implicating Trump and Russia. (Or a Trump staffer and a Russian businessman. Or a Trump aide and a Ukrainian businessman, or Russian-Ukrainian businessman, or Russian-American businessman.)
The fact of the matter is, as Graham Stack, a Fusion GPS researcher once hired to gather dirt on Manafort, pointed out last year: “Manafort was nothing like a pro-Kremlin influence on the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych… Instead, Manafort was one of the driving forces pushing Yanukovich towards signing the agreement with the EU. The Kremlin has every reason to hate him.”
That is, Manafort for his own business reasons wanted Ukraine to join the European Union, just like Victoria Nuland wanted to use the Ukrainian people’s (supposed) yearning to join the organization—that was then squeezing the life out of the Greeks and was subsequently rejected by the British—-as part and parcel of Ukraine’s planned entry into the anti-Russian military alliance. (This had been announced in 2008, the same year as NATO unveiled plans to welcome Georgia as well in the near term. That plan is on hold after the Russo-Georgia War of that year, just as plans to admit Ukraine are permanently on hold for fear—by the Germans, if not the U.S.—of provoking Russia.)
The motives of Nuland and Manafort were very different. She wanted a cause that would unite the opposition and facilitate regime change; he wanted a deal that would personally aggrandize him, given his investments in EU countries and in Ukraine. But Russia was as of February 2014 opposed, for reasons Moscow stated clearly. (Basically, the cross-border economies are so deeply integrated, the cultures so similar and movement between the two countries so free that EU goods once in Ukraine would flow uncontrollably into Russia, damaging the Russian economy. Was the Russian stance unreasonable? Moscow offered Kiev a generous aid package, which Yanukovych accepted; meanwhile, Russia indicated it had no problem with Ukraine’s eventual EU membership once certain issues were resolved, and reiterated Putin’s aspiration for a Eurasia-wide free market to extend from Vladivostock to Lisbon. (Was this reasonable? Or does it “threaten our national interests” somehow?)
The Russians perhaps convinced Yanukovych that the austerity measures Ukraine would have to accept even for associate NATO membership would be destabilizing. So he withdrew from the provisional deal that had been pushed by Manafort.The U.S.-backed opposition declared Yanukovych a traitor loyal to Russia, and the government fell giving way to the current dysfunctional regime that lionizes fascists like Stephan Bandera.
One should definitely condemn Manafort for his past “consulting work”—with the likes of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, Gerald Ford, Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Jonas Savimbi. (This list of clients includes at least five mass murderers.) But why single him out for assisting the former, democratically elected Ukrainian president in his negotiations with the EU? (Oh, because he didn’t report the income…the tax fraud thing… Terrible indeed.)
The fact is, Manafort would not have been on trial had there not been an effort to seize on any kind of link between anyone around Trump and any one or thing Russian to substantiate the charge of “Russian interference” in the U.S. election. The thinly researched and argued January 2017 “Assessing Russian Activities”intelligence report on that “interference” was followed by a drive to investigate Trump campaign collusion with Russia, with a clear political mission to explain Hillary’s loss by attributing it to Trump’s (treasonous, secret) relationship with Putin.
It hasn’t led to anything yet but a meeting in a Manhattan cigar bar Aug. 2, 2016 between Manafort, his deputy Mike Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian business partner of Manfort’s since 2005 (“thought to be linked to Russian intelligence”) that might have involved the sharing of some polling data that by law should have been kept secret (or only shared with U.S. political operatives seeking to legitimately influence the outcome of the U.S. election).
Maybe some Russians used the information to influence targeted U.S. minds, using Facebook to throw the election result in Wisconsin. That would see horrible, would it not? An attack by other people on our democracy?! (While we never interfere, anywhere!)
The message is in any case clear. We should be outraged that “the Russians” “interfered” in “our election” tainting its result. We should view “our” elections as sacrosanct affairs, and be outraged that Trump staffers were willing to talk to Russian officials or private citizens, about the election or lots of other things, neglecting to report any contact with nationals of a country that (for some reason) we’re supposed to regard as an “adversary.” Indeed, the overriding historical import of the movement to drive Trump from office is its re-enforcement of Russophobia in this country.
Trump is depicted as evil less due to his bigotry, misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, or corrupt business practices than due to his failure to do the right thing: take a hard line on Russia.
That means denouncing Putin, the way Hillary did. (Clinton as top U.S. diplomat called Putin a new Hitler, for re-annexing Crimea.) It means continuing to demand, as Obama did, that Russia withdraw from Crimea and cease whatever material support it provides to the separatists in the Donbas region or face continuing U.S. (and EU) sanctions. (These are hopeless demands, and are hurting Europe as well as Russia. Yet their maintenance is depicted as the only responsible route forward, and suggestions they be lifted portrayed as capitulation to evil.)
And it means howling in indignation when Paul Manafort, the closest thing to a “smoking gun” about collusion between Russia and Trump, only gets four years behind bars. It means disparaging Judge Ellis, noting his expressed concern about special prosecutors’ overreach and the possibility of the case becoming a “political weapon.”
News anchors visibly consternated by the sentence length seem troubled too by the likelihood that the Mueller probe will conclude with no real evidence. The dream of Trump being exposed as a Russian agent—promising sanctions relief after his victory in return for advance Russian notice about Wikileaks’ hacked emails publication schedule—-is fading.
In its place is the dream of replacing Trump in 2020 with an (appropriately) anti-Russian leader. This would mean one committed to NATO (which is still officially on track to include Georgia and Ukraine, to better encircle and provoke Russia); committed to the sanctions designed to hobble the Russian economy and prevent other countries from trading with it; committed to challenging Russia’s influence in the Middle East and depicting any such influence as “foreign interference” in a region that ought by rights be dominated by the U.S. as the world’s “exceptional” nation; and the insistence on the myth that the U.S. has “national interests” transcending class interests that need to be protected from Russia pursuing its own.
The appropriately anti-Russian leader the mainstream media seeks must of course be, preeminently, a proud capitalist. The restoration of normality must combine the new Russophobia (which has nothing to do immediately with anticommunism—since the Russian state is thoroughly capitalist and Putin’s party is both pro-market and pro-Orthodox religion—but draws on Cold War specifically anti-Russian tropes) with a clear repudiation of socialism.
Saturday: Dave Gura on MSNBC expressing puzzlement that John Hinckenluper in a Joe Scarborough interview refused to call himself a capitalist (recognizing the negative connotations of that word among many young people).
Shame! the bipartisan panelists all agree; he should have proudly broadcast his capitalist status, and promoted the market as the key to creating jobs. If the Dems go with a “socialist” message, Trump will win! The very word socialism is Kryptonite!
These two phenomena—the mainstream ruling-class disappointment that the “Russian collusion” case is collapsing, and alarm at the soaring popularity of “socialism”—are related. To bring him down, one accuses the president of collusion with a country vilified throughout the Cold War; the USSR was targeted for its “socialism” but also attacked on the basis of ethnic stereotypes that remain useful to the anti-Russian propagandist. To make sure his successor is committed to the post-Cold War strategy of maintaining global hegemony and preventing the emergence of any rival, one must insure that someone who accepts capitalist imperialism takes office.
The morning TV news anchors, makers of public opinion, unite in agreement that it is unacceptable to question the motives of legislators who always vote in favor of Israel. (In this they in fact unite with Trump, who’s opportunistically charging the Democrats with antisemitism.) They also unite in agreeing it’s good the Hanoi summit between Kim and Trump failed, because it would be against U.S. interests to reduce sanctions until Pyongyang gets rid of it’s nukes (which it’s not going to do without sanctions relief, so the anti-Trump position is a virtual demand for war). These are some of the responsible positions of the anti-Trump mainstream.
My, what an awful, awful man! Such a Russian stooge! Jeopardizing our national security, serving Russian interests, by pulling out of Syria! (When did insistence on indefinite deployment of U.S. forced illegally in Syria become so mainstreamed?) And by talking about an Afghan pullout!
And his campaign chairman was meeting Russians! (Let us recall Manafort was chairman all of three months.) And Manafort was secretly meeting Russians, our adversaries!
Such outrage. Such unanimity. Such slavish devotion to capitalism, imperialism, “our heroes” in the U.S. military, sterile political correctness plus unquestioned devotion to Israel, and of course the systematic vilification of Russia. The trashing of both socialism and Russia, the latter having nothing to do with the former anymore, but what difference does it make? We’re supposed to believe that both of them are Kryptonite, and that the choice before us is between the responsible capitalist and Russophobe (such as Joe Biden) and the capitalist and imagined Russophile traitor Donald Trump.
In recent years, the importance of military drones has become increasingly obvious and the use of drones is increasingly controversial.1 Periodic overviews and attempts to clarify and understand drones can be very useful for people concerned with this new technology and should be directed towards a re-imagining of what drones are and are used for.
The American military has in recent years increasingly suffered from a “Jupiter Complex”, or a commitment to a vision of one single global battlefield, where the most modern sciences and technologies are believed to be best applied to constant and continuous global surveillance, reconnaissance, and information networking, including a weaponized attack and emergency response system which is envisioned, designed, and intended to establish a constant American military presence over the entire surface of the planet Earth. Among other things, this Jupiter Complex has advocated and encouraged a program for armed drone patrols, drone surveillance, and drone-based missile strikes on a planetary scale. Following 9/11, the US Congress approved an “Authorization for the Use of Military Force”, which the Bush administration interpreted as an authorization to expand the use of armed drones, which had at that time become for some people an exciting new military technology. The American Department of Defense (DoD) operates drones under the AUMF, which is an openly overt authorization, and the DoD reports to Congressional armed services committees in public hearings where drone funding is public and known. The DoD has arrangements established through diplomatic channels and other forums and an established and known chain of command with recognized accountability standards regarding the use of military drones.
There had been at least a seven-fold total increase in drone attacks between the Bush and Obama administrations. During Bush’s presidency, there were less than 50 strikes launched between 2004 and 2009, mostly during the last year of the second term and mostly inside Pakistan. This trend would have almost certainly continued in the years following Bush’s second term, since drones are considered a Revolution in Military Affairs (RIMA), which inevitably generates repercussions in politics and government. Over the two years between 2009 and 2010, President Obama authorized more than four times as many strikes than during Bush’s entire term, at one point averaging one strike every four days compared with one strike every forty days during Bush’s term. In Obama’s first four months, there were as many strikes as during Bush’s entire term. Again, these deployments would have occurred regardless of election results. Drones had by that time become a priority amongst influential military, industry, and government leaders and an issue of intense contention.
There were at least 420 American launched drone strikes (and perhaps many more) between 2004 and 2013. As many as 5,000 people might have been killed, but perhaps many more. By 2011, nearly 2,300 people had been killed by American drones. In 2013, the number could have reached 4,700 or more with at least 3,600 verified. Most strikes and deaths have occurred inside Pakistan, where there were at least 9 strikes in 2007, 36 in 2008, 53 in 2009, 122 in 2010, 73 in 2011, 48 in 2012, and at least 27 in 2013. There have been a growing number of strikes in Yemen, where nearly 100 have happened since 2002, with nearly 500 people killed. In 2009, there were as many as 80 strikes in Yemen. In 2012, there were at least 42 strikes, with at least 200 people killed. US drones have also attacked a “handful” of targets in Somalia since 2006, including the first in two years during late 2013.
Budgets, Procurement, and Costs
The budgets of various managing authorities responsible for drone programs, including the American Defense Department, and the global expansion of drone basing are examples of how this Jupiter Complex is manifested.
Between 1988 and 2000, the United States spent about $4 billion on military “drones”. In 2000, $284 million. In 2001, at least $667 million, by 2005, there was at least an 18% spending increase, reaching $1 billion annually. Since 2001, a 23% annual spending increase. Between 2001 and 2013, there was a forty-fold increase in spending, and costs grew from less than $1 billion to an estimated $26 billion cumulative by 2013. By 2010, drones were costing America up to $5 billion annually, with at least $6 billion spent in 2011, $5.8 billion in 2012, $6 billion in 2013, $6.3 billion in 2014, and a projected $6.5 billion in 2015. Some estimates see $30.8 billion in acquisition and research spending between 2011 and 2015. Other estimates expect between $30 and $40 billion in spending by 2021 (for about 730 drones).
“Drones” collectively consume between 10% and 20% of Pentagon spending on military aircraft and at least 1% of the entire Pentagon budget, rising to an unknown total after factoring in classified spending, which could be billions of dollars. In 2010, of an estimated $58 billion Pentagon “black budget” on spending for classified programs and operations, which includes drones, investments in drones consumed an unknown but respective share of $19 billion for research and development, $17 billion for procurement, and $15 billion for operations and maintenance. In early 2014, the US Congress had $530 billion in classified spending, an unknown amount of which was (is) for drones.
By 2011, the US already accounted for at least one-third of all spending on all drones by all countries. By 2022, US spending may account for between 62% and 77% of global research and development and between 55% and 69% of procurement. Of a projected $94 billion total spending globally by 2022, the US may account for as much as $85 billion, much of which is spending for military drones, including thousands of armed and/or weaponized drones.
In 2000, the US National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) stated that drones should comprise one-third of the Pentagon’s air fleet by 2015. Drones today (2014) represent roughly one-third of the entire Pentagon air fleet, numbering up to 11,000, with nearly 500 weaponized. There were fewer than 200 American military drones in 2001, and fewer than 10 were armed or weaponized. By 2009, there were at least 5,500 total US military drones, and there were at least 8,000 by 2012. Procurement declined slightly after an unprecedented spike peaking during the US “surge” in Iraq, the Pentagon is expected to (or was at one time expected to) double the number of its drone fleet by 2020 to as many as 15,000, including thousands of armed drones. In 2012, one of the Pentagon’s drone programs purchased at least 1,211 drones. The number of purchases for this program dropped slightly below 300 in 2013, and expected purchases in 2014 were below 60. In a separate program managed under a separate authority within the Pentagon, investment increased by $600 million for as many as 150 drones annually through 2018, with a possible two to three-fold increase in coming years. For another growing drone program at the Pentagon, directed by another separate managing authority, the US military will likely purchase at least 730 drones through 2022, which is a 35% inventory increase at a cost of roughly $37 billion over ten years.
Another example of growing procurement is the Pentagon’s “Unmanned Multi-role Surveillance and Strike” program, which had 72 drones in 2010, and could grow by 600% to nearly 500 drones by 2020, with a 700% spending increase from $1 billion to at least $7 billion. By 2022, “multi-role” drones may total nearly 550, which is a four-fold increase from 2012. Even if procurement steadies or declines, costs are still expected to rise as drone models become more sophisticated and expensive, as manufacturing monopolies on materials and technologies solidify, and as manufacturing orders are revised by the Pentagon and financial forecasts are modified. In 2005, for instance, the Pentagon was billed for an 18% increase in costs because it was buying so many drones, but in 2011, when an order for 22 drones was reduced to 11, the Pentagon absorbed an additional 11% spike in costs. Depending on the type and model, a single drone can cost anywhere between $5 million and $150 million, and in rare cases for test models and prototypes, costs can rise as high as $635 million. The most popular model right now (2014) costs about $150 million each. But costs rise in other ways not included in budgets.
In addition to research and development, and purchases, expenses increase with costs to operate “ground cockpit” systems and other support infrastructure needed to run the program on a global scale. These costs are one example of how to see where the drone program’s costs are expanded beyond procurement. As of 2014, the US had at least sixteen stateside drone training and operating bases, and more than a dozen other known drone-oriented airbases around the world, including in Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and at least six bases in Africa. Since 2013, the US has been running drones from at least four locations inside Tunisia to monitor people and events in Algeria and Libya. US drones have also been launched into Mali from a US base inside Niger, where at least 100 Americans are stationed (as of 2014, anyway). In Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, at Camp Lemmonier the US spent at least $38 million annually to lease 500 acres for an airbase that housed more than 3,000 American service members and support personnel, including as many as 1,100 Special Operations personnel ( this was a three-fold increase since 2011). Drones accounted for 30% of all US military flights from the Djibouti base and at least 16 patrols were launched daily into Yemen and other countries in the region until 2013, when crashes and mishaps forced the US to relocate. The US has spent at least $68 million on runway renovations in Djibouti, at least $7 million training local air traffic controllers to help with drone flight coordination, and a total of at least $1.4 billion building Camp Lemmonier into an airbase designed specifically to accommodate American drones. The American Congress authorized at least $13 million to relocate the base following the persistent complications encountered there.
In addition to drone basing and procurement, and classified spending and research and development, costs also rise as the US buys fewer piloted aircraft and trains fewer “flight ready” pilots. Piloted aircraft accounted for 95% of US aircraft in 2005, but fell to 69% by 2012, with a projected 10% additional decline by 2020. The most advanced piloted American aircraft cost about $100 million more than the latest drone aircraft, and costs are growing as fewer airplanes are produced and procured. A collective decrease in airplanes and pilots is expected to coincide with an increase in costs, which have been projected to rise from about $17 billion to $19 billion annually. The cost of training drone specialists is only one-tenth the cost for training flight-ready pilots, and the number of flight-ready pilots being trained has fallen to about 250 annually (as of 2014). A byproduct or consequence of the US drone program is that the cost of training fighter and bomber pilots is expected to increase while the US is producing fewer pilots ready to fly fewer, but much more expensive and sophisticated, aircraft.
Another cost in using drones comes through losses from accidents and mishaps. Despite improving technology, drones still have high failure rates, and mishaps in hostile and non-hostile environments are common and are considered inevitable. A noteworthy accident happened in 2011, when a US drone crashed into the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. In late 2013, a US drone crashed into the side of a US Navy vessel near San Diego, California. At least five armed American drones have crashed out of Djibouti since 2011, at least 3 have been lost inside Iran (as of 2014). The US had recurring problems at Camp Lemmonier because of crashes related to launch problems and drones congesting civilian, non-military, airspace. An unknown number of US drones have been lost inside Pakistan, and other crashes have been documented. Crashes often occur during landings or due to weather conditions, and there are high failure rates while trying to land on naval vessels. Crashes happen through systems and communications malfunctions, unintentional “engine kills”, and human error. Crashes have become the focus of studies on counter-drone technologies, including scrambling and jamming GPS signals.
A reliable idea of failure rates is difficult to gather because the number of units and locations of total drones lost is unknown, but at least 200 and possibly many more, have crashed since 2004 in several different countries. Mishaps were frequent during the Bush administration, but are less common as the US gains experience and refines capabilities using drones. Some estimates suggest a failure rate of at least 9 drones lost per 100,000 flying hours, with a higher number lost during the first 50,000 flying hours. In 2004, mishaps were very high, but flight hours were at only about 50,000. By 2011, mishaps decreased as flight hours rose to about 650,000. In 2005, five different drone models crashed between 20 and 285 different times under different circumstances. By 2009, some estimates calculated 7.5 crashes per 100,000 hours. At least 70 of 195 launched between 2008 and 2009 crashed “catastrophically” or at “crippling rates”. In 2010, there had been at least 79 verified accidents at the cost of about $1 million each, though the cost of losses has been declining. In 2012, at least 50 drones were verified as entirely lost.
These numbers show only a very general idea of totals, since a reliable absolute bare minimum total is unknown. It is also unclear how many drones have been lost in hostile incidents, which can include drones being shot down or being targeted by electronics interference, jamming, and scrambling. In addition to the financial losses of a destroyed drone, these incidents collectively lead to the unregulated proliferation of lethal technology that has no solidified legal foundations and has been the subject of intense and ongoing controversy amidst an intensifying global drone arms race which many observers suppose will turn the world into one between countries with, and countries without, military drones.
In addition to the expenses and costs detailed above, drone spending also rises during the regular operations of drones. A typical price-tag for an hour of drone airtime is between $3,500 and $5,000, not including costs for munitions during combat missions, which can run from tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. Since 2005, there has been at least a 1,200% increase in US drone patrols globally, with a 600% increase between 2003 and 2009. In 2007, there were at least 21 patrols at any given time during a 24-hour period. In 2010, there were at least 500,000 flight hours logged. In 2011, there were at least 350,000 hours logged with 54 patrols. In 2012, there were at least 330,000 hours logged, and by 2013, there were more than 2 million total flight hours logged, creating such an overabundance and backlog of drone video and film to review and to edit, that outside agencies and corporations were consulted and contracted by the Pentagon, including the National Geo-spatial Intelligence Agency and the sports entertainment media network ESPN. At any given time, at least 65 different US drone patrols could be happening around the world. Combat patrols are made up of at least four aircraft, including one in-flight, one in-maintenance, one in-transit, and one re-fueling. For a given 24-hour patrol there are at least seven and as many as ten crews of at least twenty people each operating and monitoring drones. One-hundred is a typical number of people for lethal strike drone missions. In rare cases, up to 300 people could be involved, including remote control pilots, sensor operators, systems coordinators, information analysts, communications and video crew, field personnel, intelligence operatives, military lawyers, senior civilian officials, private companies’ representatives, and drone mechanics and other staff.
Drone Expansion and Criticisms
As the military drone program establishes itself, the US military is trying to fulfill a growing demand for drone pilots and related personnel. The drone generation in America is seeing a growth beyond military training and into university and graduate degree programs, laboratory funding, and investments in corporate development. By 2009, in the US military, there were about 400 trained drone specialists, some migrating from traditional Air Force training, or with prior “air sense” and flying experience, and some novice and entry-level. By 2009, more drone specialists were being trained than traditional combat pilots. In 2011, the Air Force Academy graduated its first class of 350 drone specialists, compared with 250 conventional pilots that year. At least 350 operators were trained in 2012, adding to the total that year of 950 operators and 1,400 drone pilots. By 2015, the Air Force expected at least 2,000 each of both drone pilots and operators, and a growing number of support staff. The cost of training drone specialists was about one-tenth the cost of training conventional pilots in 2014, and the training process has been streamlined in many cases because of high demand. Many trainees take a course of only 3 or 9 months instead of 10 or 16 months for more thorough specialization. Specialists do not usually live an “active-duty lifestyle” and do not endure the demanding physical testing which “flight ready” pilots require. Some drone specialists are assigned to patrols with as few as 20 flying hours logged, instead of the 200 hours set by higher standards and less demanding deadlines for other drone specialists. For these, and other reasons, drone specialists are considered to be detached from combat mentality except for a desensitized “push button” and “PlayStation” mentality, which is sort of byproduct of modern technologies that has raised concerns about the “dehumanization” of warfare.
Drones tend to generate a perception of war as a simulation or video game, and drone operators are often seen as a “chair force”, or, “cubicle warriors” criticized as second-class soldiers fighting a coward’s war by striking targets from remote distances (perhaps as many as 8,000 miles from a target) with no possibility of retaliation by any actual enemy in any immediately shared battle-space. There are accounts of psychological stress drone pilots endure as a result of monitoring computer screens for extended time periods and sometimes launching missiles that kill innocent people. About 30% of drone operators probably do have some stress related to their assignments, and an estimated 20% are considered clinically distressed. Of 600 operators and drone pilots surveyed by the Air Force in 2011, 42% had moderate to high stress and 20% had “emotional burnout”. In addition to concerns about the type of soldiers drone operators are, there are also criticisms about a perceived lack of honor, or a loss of virtue, in drone warfare. In 2013, for example, the Pentagon encountered a controversy by planning to issue a “Distinguished Warfare Medal” to drone operators who had an “extraordinary direct impact on combat operations”. Production of the medal was discontinued following criticisms from dozens of US senators and from service veterans about the nature of drone warfare and drone specialists’ place in drone warfare.The issue of drone operators is connected to larger issues in the age of weaponized drones.
Drones are controversial because they are an application of a non-military technology to an overtly offensive military aim. The US chose to employ drone technology as a weapon, and has since 2001 become the focus of intense criticism from observers in every academic and scientific field and discipline. The criticisms of US foreign service officers, of veteran military commanders, military operational and administrative officials, and others, suggest a situation that has struggled to reach stability but has been advocated for anyway. Despite convictions that military drones are useless or counterproductive, and amidst ongoing debates and attempts to clarify and solidify a legal framework for drones, drones have continued to be deployed in American military and intelligence operations, which many see as a serious mistake.
In mainstream American politics, for example, open opposition to drones or open criticisms of drone attacks has been noticeable only very rarely. The opposition of the American political left and others has been increasingly focused on the human rights violations, the lack of transparency and accountability, the violations of due process, the misinterpretation of authorizations, and the continued denial of information which has been happening since drones were first introduced. In the sciences and philosophy, drones have raised questions about ethical programming and computer autonomy, where drones as weapons are either considered inherently unethical or else have been put to unethical ends. Questions are also being raised about whether it is or is not ethical to allow drones an increasing amount of autonomy and separation from human control, where the role of monitoring increases and the role of controlling drones decreases. The autonomy debate involves drone operators and the so-called “human loop”, where today there is a human “in the loop”, there will be in the future merely a human “on the loop”. One of the most serious criticisms is that drone warfare makes going to war or deciding to use force less scrutinized or “easier” and that the ease with which the US seems to have been using drones has led to abuses and excesses with very little accountability and almost no transparency. The Central Intelligence Agency, for instance, employs people who answer to no known chain of command. The scrutiny over CIA drone strikes continues to be a serious controversy even though drones are being developed and deployed without any established legal agreements or consensus amongst the various people involved in these operations.
Resistance to and scrutiny of drones has been evident for as long as drones have been relevant as a new military technology. During the early years of the US drone program, the consensus within the US military was that drones were not an honorable way to fight. This sentiment became less influential as the program developed and drones were prioritized by influential factions at the Pentagon and in government and industry. During the Bush administration, CIA Director George Tenet expressed reservations about the CIA’s authority to use drones in conflict scenarios. Military hierarchy has been affected by disagreements about drones. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission expressed concerns about the US drone program being under CIA control and recommended changes that have since been reiterated, if still ignored, by policymakers. Following the 9/11 Commission’s report, the General Accounting Office in 2005 alluded to establishing a single authority for drones, amidst a lack of oversight. In 2011, the US Ambassador to Pakistan left office following repeated disagreements with the CIA and the White House over the negative impact of ongoing US drone strikes inside Pakistan. A Congressional filibuster in 2013 publicized drones, albeit in a sensationalist way, and serves as an example of a latent concern within the American government about drones amidst an increasingly tacit acceptance of drones. By 2014, the US Congress’ “Unmanned Systems Caucus” (the “Drone Caucus”), had at least 60 members in both major parties. Between 2011 and 2012, the Drone Caucus received at least $2.3 million from the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), a drone lobbying and trade group representing as many as 600 corporations, companies, and businesses, and over 7,000 individuals. The AUVSI gives Congress at least $250,000 annually and doubled its lobbying budget in 2011. This investment shows how, despite some concerns about drones, the defense budget can be recycled by the defense industry back into political lobbying and thereby influence government and policy to support the drone initiatives of industry and some military leaders.
Drones have been criticized by some military veterans as being “strategically dumb” and “tactically smart”, where any benefit is too costly and any mistakes too counterproductive to justify the deployment of drones as weapons. As time passes and drone specialists inevitably gain experience and influence, drone policy will be increasingly directed by a new generation of people unsympathetic to the concerns of many military officers, human rights advocates, and others. When official training for drone operators started in 2010, for instance, policymakers inside the military mostly included veteran combat pilots who were very highly skeptical and sometimes openly unsupportive of military drones. The tendency was to see drones as expensive and wasteful, and any benefit being negligible and any mistakes being very costly. Experience had shown that drones could not survive hostile conditions, but as America’s military power increased, the nature of America’s wars changed, becoming more asymmetrical and low-intensity, which some saw as an opportunity to introduce drone technology.
The conventions of war changed following the Cold War and as the Global War on Terror has changed into an undefined, open-ended, ongoing, “long” war, drones have become integrated and “federated” into the US military, and have become normalized despite the concerns of military leadership and others about the highly controversial nature of drones and drone combat. Drones were, and are, perceived as stifling reform and encouraging abuse, and as being wrongly employed as a strategy while they would have been better employed, very sparingly, if at all, as a tactic. For some, again, any strategic benefit drones might offer is generated at too great a cost and for too small a gain to justify the problems generated when drones cause damage, which is apparently far too often. The “whack-a-mole” criticism noticed by experienced observers says that for any one target the US kills, several other “enemies” will have been created. In this way, drones are known to have generated several types of blowback and to have backfired on far too many occasions and for too wide a variety of reasons.
Drones are criticized as being prone to create and sustain insurgency and to perpetuate endless war, yet they are being used in America’s ongoing military operations globally under the auspices of the Global War on Terror. The GWOT is understood to involve “asymmetrical” warfare, where the proportion of US force is strong enough to create a military imbalance making high-intensity conventional conflict between two or more superpowers increasingly less likely and low-intensity small-scale unconventional hostilities more likely. The US is not at war with other nations and national armies, but instead is at war with non-state actors in a transnational and globalized battlefield. In this situation, drones are believed or portrayed to have some relevance, but these assumptions have not been validated. Moreover, drones have been problematic beyond these military concerns expressed by veteran US commanders.
More than 15 years after America started attacking targets with drones, and after a period of well-documented abuses and ongoing controversies, no consensus exists, no single comprehensive international statement on drones exists, and yet the practice of drone attacks continues to establish a worrisome precedent of unregulated military activity amidst an intensifying and unregulated proliferation of lethal drone technology around the world. Drones have raised objections about and have been associated with problems including extraordinary rendition, CIA black-sites, enhanced interrogation and torture, kill lists, targeted assassinations and signature strikes, collateral damage, and extrajudicial killings. People continue to live in fear of drones, and yet there are no indications that the reality being created by drones will ever be governed by a consensus which reflects the concerns of those with valid observations, considerations, and insights about drones.
US military drones and the use of military drones have affected the UN Charter, the Geneva Convention, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Drones have raised debates among professionals interested in just war theory, international humanitarian law, the law of armed conflict, and law on national sovereignty and self-determination. The US has suffered allegations of war crimes, violations of rights to due process, a lack of transparency and accountability, and criticisms over a refusal to provide or share any basic information on drone warfare or to clarify the basis and justifications for the policies supporting deployment of drones.
The most serious issues about the impact drones are having include collateral damage, casualties to innocent bystanders, the CIA program and its attendant problems, endless spending on what is unpopular with experienced decision makers and many American citizens, the proliferation of lethal technology, endangering American civilians, and questions about the role of the courts either having a role in deciding who to target, or having only a limited role in deciding if US drone attacks are legal. Outside of government, human rights organizations, non-governmental organizations, and most of the rest of the word have expressed concern or disapproval of US drones. These include, but are certainly not limited to, criticisms from Reprieve, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, Pakistan Body Count, the New America Foundation, the American Moslem Political Action Committee, CODEPINK, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Questions persist about the approval and vetting process used in CIA strikes, including the respective roles of the presidency, the courts, and the military. The CIA program has a black budget. Operatives do not answer to any known chain of command. The CIA operate as many as 80 drones tracking up to 20 targets at a given time. CIA drones are maintained and armed by private contractors and account for as many as 80% of all American drone strikes. The US Air Force works with the CIA during some strikes and many CIA operatives were formerly in the US Air Force.
Drones have been used under the AUMF, and also under Title 10 of the US Code of Laws, which is considered to be outdated, but which has been avoided as an issue for American politicians because of concerns that political careers may be jeopardized if any kind of public stance on drones is declared. The CIA is, and has been, running covert drone operations, and reporting to Congressional intelligence committees only in closed sessions, while receiving unknown classified funding and authorization. CIA operatives do not have a known chain of command and often work with private companies who have no oversight or accountability, or adherence to any established rules of conflict but only secretive arrangements with unknown terms with host governments.
Most countries around the world strongly disapprove of US drone strikes and popular opinion polls and informal polls within military circles around the world show a strong suspicion and dislike for US drones and drone policy generally. In countries experiencing US drone strikes and hosting drone infrastructure, the unpopularity is unusually intense. Protests are common, and in too many places the US is seen as an occupying and invasive presence, with an attendant arrogance and belligerence, that only complicates an already dismal situation for those concerned with America’s problematic attitudes and ideas about human rights in the 21st century.
Note: This article was written several years ago and some of the figures can be updated to remain current, but the information is still useful and hopefully offers some general ideas about drones and drone technology as these technologies are being applied to America’s controversial military programs around the world. Thanks to the efforts of human rights organizations and others who have worked to raise awareness and to positively change the problem of military drones today.
This news-report is being submitted to all U.S. and allied news-media, and is being published by all honest ones, in order to inform you of crucial facts that the others — the dishonest ones, who hide such crucial facts — are hiding about Venezuela. These are facts that have received coverage only in one single British newspaper: the Independent, which published a summary account of them on January 26th. That newspaper’s account will be excerpted here at the end, but first will be highlights from its topic, the official report to the U.N. General Assembly in August of last year, which has been covered-up ever since. This is why that report’s author has now gone to the Independent, desperate to get the story out, finally, to the public:
The Covered Up Document
On 3 August 2018, the U.N.’s General Assembly received the report from the U.N. Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, concerning his mission to Venezuela and Ecuador. His recent travel through both countries focused on “how best to enhance the enjoyment of all human rights by the populations of both countries.” He “noted the eradication of illiteracy, free education from primary school to university, and programmes to reduce extreme poverty, provide housing to the homeless and vulnerable, phase out privilege and discrimination, and extend medical care to everyone.” He noted “that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and Ecuador, both devote around 70 per cent of their national budgets to social services.” However, (and here, key paragraphs from the report are now quoted):
22. Observers have identified errors committed by the Chávez and Maduro Governments, noting that there are too many ideologues and too few technocrats in public administration, resulting in government policies that lack coherence and professional management and discourage domestic investment, already crippled by inefficiency and corruption, which extend to government officials, transnational corporations and entrepreneurs. Critics warn about the undue influence of the military on government and on the running of enterprises like Petróleos de Venezuela. The lack of regular, publicly available data on nutrition, epidemiology and inflation are said to complicate efforts to provide humanitarian support.
23. Meanwhile, the Attorney General, Tarek Saab, has launched a vigorous anticorruption campaign, investigating the links between Venezuelan enterprises and tax havens, contracting scams, and deals by public officials with Odebrecht. It is estimated that corruption in the oil industry has cost the Government US$ 4.8 billion. The Attorney General’s Office informed the Independent Expert of pending investigations for embezzlement and extortion against 79 officials of Petróleos de Venezuela, including 22 senior managers. The Office also pointed to the arrest of two high-level oil executives, accused of money-laundering in Andorra. The Ministry of Justice estimates corruption losses at some US$ 15 billion. Other stakeholders, in contrast, assert that anti-corruption programmes are selective and have not sufficiently targeted State institutions, including the military.
29. Over the past sixty years, non-conventional economic wars have been waged against Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in order to make their economies fail, facilitate regime change and impose a neo-liberal socioeconomic model. In order to discredit selected governments, failures in the field of human rights are maximized so as to make violent overthrow more palatable. Human rights are being “weaponized” against rivals. Yet, human rights are the heritage of every human being and should never be instrumentalized as weapons of demonization.
30. The principles of non-intervention and non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign States belong to customary international law and have been reaffirmed in General Assembly resolutions, notably [a list is supplied].
31. In its judgment of 27 June 1986 concerning Nicaragua v. United States, the International Court of Justice quoted from [U.N.] resolution 2625 (XXV): “no State shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed towards the violent overthrow of the regime of another State, or interfere in civil strife in another State”.
36. The effects of sanctions imposed by Presidents Obama and Trump and unilateral measures by Canada and the European Union have directly and indirectly aggravated the shortages in medicines such as insulin and anti-retroviral drugs. To the extent that economic sanctions have caused delays in distribution and thus contributed to many deaths, sanctions contravene the human rights obligations of the countries imposing them. Moreover, sanctions can amount to crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. An investigation by that Court would be appropriate, but the geopolitical submissiveness of the Court may prevent this.
37. Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns with the intention of forcing them to surrender. Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees. A difference, perhaps, is that twenty-first century sanctions are accompanied by the manipulation of public opinion through “fake news”, aggressive public relations and a pseudo-human rights rhetoric so as to give the impression that a human rights “end” justifies the criminal means.
39. Economic asphyxiation policies are comparable to those already practised in Chile, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nicaragua and the Syrian Arab Republic. In January 2018, Middle East correspondent of The Financial Times and The Independent, Patrick Cockburn, wrote on the sanctions affecting Syria:
There is usually a pretence that foodstuffs and medical equipment are being allowed through freely and no mention is made of the financial and other regulatory obstacles making it impossible to deliver them. An example of this is the draconian sanctions imposed on Syria by the US and EU which were meant to target President Bashar al-Assad and help remove him from power. They have wholly failed to do this, but a UN internal report leaked in 2016 shows all too convincingly the effect of the embargo in stopping the delivery of aid by international aid agencies. They cannot import the aid despite waivers because banks and commercial companies dare not risk being penalised for having anything to do with Syria. The report quotes a European doctor working in Syria as saying that “the indirect effect of sanctions … makes the import of the medical instruments and other medical supplies immensely difficult, near impossible”.
In short: economic sanctions kill.
41. Bearing in mind that Venezuelan society is polarized, what is most needed is dialogue between the Government and the opposition, and it would be a noble task on the part of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to offer his good offices for such a dialogue. Yet, opposition leaders Antonio Ledezma and Julio Borges, during a trip through Europe to denounce the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, called for further sanctions as well as a military “humanitarian intervention”.
44. Although the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has not yet reached the humanitarian crisis threshold, there is hunger, malnutrition, anxiety, anguish and emigration. What is crucial is to study the causes of the crisis, including neglected factors of sanctions, sabotage, hoarding, black market activities, induced inflation and contraband in food and medicines.
45. The “crisis” in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is an economic crisis, which cannot be compared with the humanitarian crises in Gaza, Yemen, Libya, the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq, Haiti, Mali, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, or Myanmar, among others. It is significant that when, in 2017, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela requested medical aid from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the plea was rejected, because it ”is still a high-income country … and as such is not eligible”.
46. It is pertinent to recall the situation in the years prior to the election of Hugo Chávez. 118 Corruption was ubiquitous and in 1993, President Carlos Pérez was removed because of embezzlement. The Chávez election in 1998 reflected despair with the corruption and neo-liberal policies of the 1980s and 1990s, and rejection of the gulf between the super-rich and the abject poor.
47. Participatory democracy in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, called “protagónica”, is anchored in the Constitution of 1999 and relies on frequent elections and referendums. During the mission, the Independent Expert exchanged views with the Electoral Commission and learned that in the 19 years since Chávez, 25 elections and referendums had been conducted, 4 of them observed by the Carter Center. The Independent Expert met with the representative of the Carter Center in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, who recalled Carter’s positive assessment of the electoral system. They also discussed the constitutional objections raised by the opposition to the referendum held on 30 July 2017, resulting in the creation of a Constitutional Assembly. Over 8 million Venezuelans voted in the referendum, which was accompanied by international observers, including from the Council of Electoral Specialists of Latin America.
48. An atmosphere of intimidation accompanied the mission, attempting to pressure the Independent Expert into a predetermined matrix. He received letters from NGOs asking him not to proceed because he was not the “relevant” rapporteur, and almost dictating what should be in the report. Weeks before his arrival, some called the mission a “fake investigation”. Social media insults bordered on “hate speech” and “incitement”. Mobbing before, during and after the mission bore a resemblance to the experience of two American journalists who visited the country in July 2017. Utilizing platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, critics questioned the Independent Expert’s integrity and accused him of bias, demonstrating a culture of intransigence and refusal to accept the duty of an independent expert to be neutral, objective, dispassionate and to apply his expertise free of external pressures.
67. The Independent Expert recommends that the General Assembly: (g) Invoke article 96 of the Charter of the United Nations and refer the following questions to the International Court of Justice: Can unilateral coercive measures be compatible with international law? Can unilateral coercive measures amount to crimes against humanity when a large number of persons perish because of scarcity of food and medicines? What reparations are due to the victims of sanctions? Do sanctions and currency manipulations constitute geopolitical crimes? (h) Adopt a resolution along the lines of the resolutions on the United States embargo against Cuba, declaring the sanctions against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela contrary to international law and human rights law.
70. The Independent Expert recommends that the International Criminal Court investigate the problem of unilateral coercive measures that cause death from malnutrition, lack of medicines and medical equipment.
72. The Independent Expert recommends that, until the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court address the lethal outcomes of economic wars and sanctions regimes, the Permanent Peoples Tribunal, the Russell Tribunal and the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission undertake the task so as to facilitate future judicial pronouncements.
The first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years has told The Independent the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law.
Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, has criticized the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans.
The comments come amid worsening tensions in the country after the US and UK have backed Juan Guaido, who appointed himself “interim president” of Venezuela as hundreds of thousands marched to support him.
The US Treasury has not responded to a request for comment on Mr de Zayas’s allegations of the effects of the sanctions programme.
US sanctions prohibit dealing in currencies issued by the Venezuelan government. They also target individuals, and stop US-based companies or people from buying and selling new debt issued by PDVSA or the government.
The US has previously defended its sanctions on Venezuela, with a senior US official saying in 2018: “The fact is that the greatest sanction on Venezuelan oil and oil production is called Nicolas Maduro, and PDVSA’s inefficiencies,” referring to the state-run oil body, Petroleos de Venezuela, SA.
Mr De Zayas’s findings are based on his late-2017 mission to the country and interviews with 12 Venezuelan government minsters, opposition politicians, 35 NGOs working in the country, academics, church officials, activists, chambers of commerce and regional UN agencies.
The US imposed new sanctions against Venezuela on 9 March 2015, when President Barack Obama issued executive order 13692, declaring the country a threat to national security.
The sanctions have since intensified under Donald Trump, who has also threatened military invasion and discussed a coup.
Despite being the first UN official to visit and report from Venezuela in 21 years, Mr de Zayas said his research into the causes of the country’s economic crisis has so far largely been ignored by the UN and the media, and caused little debate within the Human Rights Council.
He believes his report has been ignored because it goes against the popular narrative that Venezuela needs regime change.
The then UN high commissioner, Zeid Raad Al Hussein1, reportedly refused to meet Mr de Zayas after the visit, and the Venezuela desk of the UN Human Rights Council also declined to help with his work after his return despite being obliged to do so, Mr de Zayas claimed.
Ivan Briscoe, Latin America and Caribbean programme director for Crisis Group, an international NGO, told The Independent that Venezuela is a polarising subject. … Briscoe is critical of Mr de Zayas’s report because it highlights US economic warfare but in his view neglects to mention the impact of a difficult business environment in the country. … Briscoe acknowledged rising tensions and the likely presence of US personnel operating covertly in the country.
Eugenia Russian, president of FUNDALATIN, one of the oldest human rights NGOs in Venezuela, founded in 1978 before the Chavez and Maduro governments and with special consultative status at the UN, spoke to The Independent on the significance of the sanctions.
“In contact with the popular communities, we consider that one of the fundamental causes of the economic crisis in the country is the effect that the unilateral coercive sanctions that are applied in the economy, especially by the government of the United States,” Ms Russian said.
She said there may also be causes from internal errors, but said probably few countries in the world have suffered an “economic siege” like the one Venezuelans are living under.
In his report, Mr de Zayas expressed concern that those calling the situation a “humanitarian crisis” are trying to justify regime change and that human rights are being “weaponised” to discredit the government and make violent overthrow more “palatable”….
Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and an abundance of other natural resources including gold, bauxite and coltan. But under the Maduro government they’re not easily accessible to US and transnational corporations.
US oil companies had large investments in Venezuela in the early 20th century but were locked out after Venezuelans voted to nationalise the industry in 1973.
Other than readers of that single newspaper, where has the public been able to find these facts? If the public can have these facts hidden from them, then how much trust should the public reasonably have in the government, and in the news-media?
• Here is the garbage that a reader comes to, who is trying to find online Mr. de Zayas’s report on this matter: As intended, the document remains effectively hidden to the present day. Perhaps the U.N. needs to be replaced and located in Venezuela, Iran, or some other country that’s targeted for take-over by the people who effectively own the United States Government and control the U.N.’s bureaucracy. The hiding of this document was done not only by the press but by the U.N. itself.
• On February 6th, a former UK Ambassador to Syria vented at an alt-news site, 21st Century Wire (since he couldn’t get any of the major-media sites to publish it), “A Guide to Decoding the Doublespeak on Syria“, and he brazenly exposed there the Doublespeak-Newspeak that the U.S. Government and press (what he called America’s “frothing neocons and their liberal interventionist fellow travellers”) apply in order to report the ‘news’ about Syria. So: how can the public, in a country such as the U.S., democratically control the Government, if the government and its press are lying to them, like that, all the time, and so routinely?)
Zeid Raad Al Hussein, who “reportedly refused to meet Mr de Zayas after the visit,” is Prince Zeid Raad Al Hussein, a Jordanian Prince. Jordan is a vassal-state in the U.S. empire. But Prince Hussein is a Jordanian diplomat who served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2014 to 2018 — hardly an unbiased or independent person in such a supposedly nonpartisan role.
There’s a scene in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia where he describes how the communists propagandized the fascists during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Orwell was with a scruffy, makeshift band of fighters high in the Spanish Alps. Both the communists and fascists were dug into their trenches and a general stalemate had ensued. During the frigid mountain days, certain soldiers were tasked with communicating to the enemy. They would first position themselves in a safe place. Then using a megaphone would recite a prefabricated monologue about how the fascist soldiers were little more than pawns in the service of elite capital interests. They were the disposable implements of war, easily discarded once used. Orwell wrote that nearly everyone on the communist side assumed the efficacy of these communiques. The conscripted fascist, often a teenager and drafted against his will for a fight he had little knowledge of or interest in, would be sunk within a muddy trench, hungry, thirsty, tormented by the alpine freeze of high altitudes. How could the socialist message not appeal to him? Of particular value, Orwell noted, were the segments of the script that announced to the disgruntled fascists that the communist speaker was, at that very moment, consuming a delicious piece of warm, buttered toast. An absurd thing to say, and perhaps the brooding fascist understood how unlikely it was to be true, but the mere image of it, a slightly burnt half of toast slathered in golden melting butter, was enough to destabilize even the most stout-hearted soldier.
The Language of Transformation
The point being, to win “the fight for the minds of men,” as America’s great war propagandist George Creel put it, one must conjure charismatic images, weave imagistic tales, and produce a historical narrative that resonates with and unifies a vast disenfranchised public. Creel served under the Wilson administration and helped turn a pacifist citizenry into a bristling public angry at the fearsome “Hun” it had never actually encountered (not unlike the roving, rape-obsessed immigrants that hysterical Republicans have never encountered, even as they obsessively grease their rifles).
Despite the obvious need for compelling stories, how often do we read interviews or articles with committed leftists or socialists, even the venerable Noam Chomsky, for instance, reminding us in the driest of terms that voting is a mere five-second act that should be given no more attention than a quick, lesser-evil calculation before stepping into the voting booth. Rather, as various authors remind us, like humorless fathers admonishing a frivolous child, that only the hard, laborious, and thankless work of community organizing, conducted tirelessly between elections, will lead to real and lasting change. True as it may be, it is, as framed and presented, a cheerless and dispiriting prospect, a maxim that literally no one wants to hear or is wont to repeat.
What this deadpan delivery misses is how voting is the one event that truly captures the imagination of the public. It is the collective ritual that confirms for many Americans that we are privileged members of a rich and enlightened western democracy. That, despite our problems, we are yet at the forefront of history, participating in the march of human progress with a faith and purpose rivaled on by the Athenian demos and the arbiters of the Magna Carta. It forgets that for many it is a hallowed booth into which we step, where one’s choice is cloaked behind a dark curtain like some kind of secular confessional, and after making their confession, the cleansed citizenry wear bright stickers proclaiming to all and sundry that they did their civic duty.
Voting, perhaps, is the one communal political act which our atomized capitalist society permits us. It rests alongside holiday consumption sprees and sporting rituals as self-defining markers in the firmament of our national consciousness. It may be myth but it is an animating myth of our society. As such, it shouldn’t be discarded with such facile contempt. Rather, it ought to be mined for pointers on how to model a socialist myth that can be evangelized to a public in desperate need of new answers.
Story and Symbol
In Geoffrey Miller’s evolutionary psychology tour de force, The Mating Mind, in which he explores the idea that art and language evolved under sexual selection pressures (rather than by pressures of natural selection), he writes the following:
Imagine some young hominids huddling around a Pleistocene campfire, enjoying their newly evolved language ability. Two males get into an argument about the nature of the world, and start holding forth, displaying their ideologies.
The hominid named Carl proposes: “We are mortal, fallible primates who survive on this fickle savanna only because we cluster in these jealousy-ridden groups. Everywhere we have ever traveled is just a tiny, random corner of a vast continent on an unimaginably huge sphere spinning in a vacuum. There sphere has traveled billions and billions of times around a flaming ball of gas, which will eventually blow up to incinerate our empty, fossilized skulls. I have discovered several compelling lines of evidence in support of these hypotheses…”
The hominid named Candide interrupts: “No, I believe we are immortal spirits gifted with these beautiful bodies because the great god Wug chose us as his favorite creatures. Wug blessed us with this fertile paradise that provides just enough challenges to keep things interesting. Behind the moon, mystic nightingales sing our praises, some of us more than others. Above the azure dome of the sky the smiling sun warms our hearts. After we grow old and enjoy the babbling of our grandchildren, Wug will lift us from these bodies to join our friends to eat roasted gazelle and dance eternally. I think these things because Wug picked me to receive this special wisdom in a dream last night.”
Which ideology do you suppose would prove more sexually attractive? Will Carl’s truth-seeking genes–which may discover some rather ugly truths–out-compete Candide’s wonderful-story genes? The evidence of human history suggests that our ancestors were more like Candide than Carl. Most modern humans are naturally Candides. It usually takes years of watching BBC or PBS science documentaries to become as objective as Carl.
If this is so, is the left guilty of transforming itself into a brooding Carl, arms overflowing with manifestos and tomes, arguing apocalypse to a weary electorate that just wants some good news? Or, at the very least, a piece of escapism, an entertaining tale that removes them from their chronic worries for a couple of hours? Recently, teacher Bruce Lerro illustrated some of the themes he emphasizes in a class he teaches, “Brainwashing Propaganda and Rhetoric: Dark Psychology in the 20th Century”. The gist of his two-part series is that socialism has yet to grasp the theatrical side of human nature that is a requisite of movement building. He points to religion, nationalism, and sports as three fields which have successfully leveraged the tribal, ethnocentric, and ritualistic tendencies within human nature to promote their particular interests.
We know Hollywood and the defense industry often collaborate on films that reify the tropes of patriotic Americanism for each passing generation. We know from marketing that advertising that creates dramatic tension and that draws from the story arcs of conventional dramatic theory improve attention and likability. Metaphors are triggering devices for the senses, hence the durable appeal of the ‘shining city on a hill’ and the visual tropes of the American Dream.
The figure of the charismatic leader has lately done a number on the American imagination. If we are so addicted to facts, as the interminable and farcical Russiagate campaign has so many of us believing, then why is Barack Obama still revered as a peace candidate? A man who as Commander in Chief dropped 26,000 bombs in a single calendar year. Who bombed the Middle East for eight years with the implacable consistency of a religious rite. Who was at war in some fashion or another his entire presidency. Yet Obama was just last month handed the RFK Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award. The organization tweeted an image of the former president in a popular pose: impeccably dressed in an expensive suit of muted azure thread, his face is a portrait of composure and gentle optimism, as his eyes gaze placidly at some unnamable dream far and high and away from where he–and we–are. The gap between the man and the myth is abyssal. Yet one can recall the masterfully rendered illustrations of the young Obama gazing determinedly into the near distance, above bolded letterings of “HOPE” and “CHANGE”, and the flowing waves of the campaign logo.
The Need for a New Myth
All this to say that without a more stirring socialist vision, imbued with the symbols and ritual that instantiate human myth, we will continue to find our attempts to inspire revolution co-opted by monopoly capital, which tend to better stories than the left does. As Henry Giroux points out, “…the lack of mass resistance to [neoliberal] oppression signals more than apathy or indifference, it also suggests that we don’t have an informed and energizing vision of the world for which we want to struggle.” Are we fighting for socialism or against neoliberalism? Are we battling neoliberalism or capitalism itself? Are we after a New Deal or a new society? Is the enemy neoconservatism or the white supremacist? Are we fighting racism, sexism, imperialism, neoliberalism, or all of the above?
This messaging mayhem is not an issue for the establishment. Rather than issuing harsh systemic critiques, the establishment paints pictures. For liberal audiences, Democrats fulminate about Donald Trump as the living manifestation of evil and traffic in the language of tyranny and resistance. For white supremacists, Republicans rouse racist enmities with images of impoverished refugees moving steadily toward our borders, which take on a monstrous character in the minds of MAGA minions. For uncompromising patriots, the armed forces air commercials of heroic young men jumping from helicopters and landing crafts and running across smoke-filled landscapes “toward the sound of chaos.” For bootstrap conservatives, there are Reagan’s welfare queens arriving at the unemployment office in waxed Cadillacs. For humanitarian interventionists, there is Colin Powell’s imagery of a team of mad scientists zigzagging Mesopotamia in mobile weapons labs, or Tony Blair brandishing a dossier warning that a nuclear-tipped WMD could hit central London in just 45 minutes.
In a mediascape littered with symbols, calls for the head of corporate capitalism on a gilded platter are thus swept aside by an interdependent duopoly that thrives on facilitating corporate exploitation with one hand and teasing the inexhaustible well of mass credulity with the other. Belief is the dodgy virtue that venal duopolists deploy the most. Each election cycle is an exercise in peddling hope and fear in alternating cycles, like a trafficker controlling his prisoners by a devious alternation of drug and deprivation. The left has done well illustrating the monstrosities of corporate capital, and the need to colorfully adumbrate the crimes of the ruling class will always be crucial. But so too is the need to craft more compelling stories of a world without war and a land where health and education and work are rites of passage rather than a lifelong ordeal. Can the traditional bearers of bad tidings shape an electrifying vision of a socialist society? A companion narrative that finally replaces the extant portrait of collectivism as a bloodbath of mayhem and menace? The left’s chances for mass appeal likely depend on it. Even the Bolsheviks, who were scathing critics of socialist opportunism, let alone capitalists, headlined their 1917 revolution with the triple promise of, “Peace! Land! Bread!” The workers and the peasants knew exactly what they were fighting for.
Arresting PressTV’s Marzieh Hashemi on no criminal charges demonstrates by any objective measure the United States operates as a rogue state in its utter contempt for accepted international human-rights law and standards.
Hashemi, an African American mother and grandmother converted to Islam, moved to Iran more than 25 years ago. She has become an internationally recognized journalist as a result of her press and media work in Iran, but specifically with her work on PressTV, an outlet that—like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the United Kingdom—receives most of its support from the Iranian government.
Hashemi flew to the United States to visit an ailing brother and to complete a documentary on the Black Lives Matter movement. She was working on this film when she was detained by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in Saint Louis. For two days, her family had no information on what had happened to her. When she was finally allowed to communicate with her children, they were horrified to learn that she had been disappeared by the FBI and moved to a detention center in Washington, D.C., where she was subjected to degrading treatment, including the forcible confiscation of her hijab, constant surveillance, disrespecting her halal diet as required of her adopted faith by feeding her animal products, and not informing her as to why she was being detained.
Over the course of some days, it was revealed that Hashemi was being detained either under the authority of the vague and sweeping new laws passed by the U.S. Congress that has given the president the power to indefinitely detain, disappear, and even murder citizens— or a dramatic and unprecedented use of the material witness statute.
The Strengthening of the Police State has Been a Bipartisan Affair
The arrest and imprisonment of journalists—publishers of “dangerous” materials—used to be actions associated in the popular imagination with “illiberal” states in the Global South. But with the current economic, political and ideological crisis in the West, the superficiality of the West’s commitment to “liberal” human rights and its rule of law has been revealed to the world over the last decade and a half.
The Patriot Act was the first in a series of repressive legislation passed just a few days after the September 11, 2001 attacks. This ominous development intensified the process of destroying any legal protection of human rights, which is recognized as fundamental to any democratic state and the international order.
Built on the foundations of law that saw the erosion of habeas corpus during the Clinton administration, the act provided the mechanisms for the objective elimination of prohibitions by the state against unlawful, unreasonable searches and seizures and due process.
The expansion of repressive state power continued and even quickened during the Obama years. After ensuring impunity for Bush officials who were involved in authorizing torture and disproportionate military force in the execution of the war crimes of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration authorized indefinite detentions and military trials with Executive Order 13567.
But while that order gave the military more latitude to target non-citizens and deprive them of their rights, another question emerged: What would the U.S. government do with U.S. citizens working with “enemy states” and movements. That was resolved in 2012, with the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It provided the legal authority to indefinitely detain anyone—including U.S. citizens—holding them on suspicions, hearsay, secret evidence, or no evidence at all in the United States or abroad.
And, of course, we know detaining U.S citizens was not the most dangerous element of these new powers. Obama demonstrated a U.S. president could murder U.S. citizens—even a 16-year-old named Abdulrahman al-Awlaki—and get away with it.
Abdulrahman’s father, Anwan, was murdered by the Obama administration a few weeks earlier. Obama said adding Anwar al-Awlaki to his weekly kill list was an easy task for him. When gently asked by the corporate media about Anwar al-Awlaki’s due process under the constitution, an Obama spokesperson stated it had given him due process, a process not taken to the court but conducted within the executive!
Marzieh’s detention violates protection theoretically offered by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment that prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures”; the Fifth Amendment that affirms the right of “due process of law” in any proceeding that denies a citizen “life, liberty or property”; and the Eighth Amendment that prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments”—what Marzieh has been subjected to daily.
It is not even necessary to spend much time on the U.S. constitutional violations since it is clear that even the Bill of Rights don’t provide protections when you have been designated an enemy of the state.
Like any other rogue state, the United States determines its law supersedes international law. The United States signed and ratified just three of the main human-rights treaties, with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights being one of them. The United States is theoretically obligated to adhere to it. It says quite clearly in Article 9 that everyone has “the right to liberty and security of person” and “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.”
Hashemi Is Being Punished As a “Runaway Slave”
Reuters cited an unnamed U.S. federal source, saying PressTV is being investigated as an Iranian “propaganda outlet.”
But even with it increasingly becoming clear that Press TV is the target, it is also evident, according to Stanley Cohen, that the state is using the material witness statute in a very creative way to deny Marzieh her freedom.
There is no reason for Marzieh to be detained. With family in the United States and travel documents that could theoretically be seized if the state was really concerned she would not appear before a grand jury, the only reason she is being held captive is to once again demonstrate how a runaway slave is treated.
On Wednesday, 23 individuals who make up a grand jury will be making a decision about Hashemi’s fate, according to her son Hussein. Her association with PressTV has put her in the crosshairs of the U.S. state.
For unknown reasons, she has now been moved into solitary confinement, according to her son.
But we, the colonized, the inhabitants of the zones of non-being, we who have no human rights—we understand.
To have the audacity to leave the plantation that is the United States and seek a home in a nation the United States considers an enemy state is an offense that requires an extraordinary demonstration of white colonial power. This boldness may inspire others on the plantation to attempt to strike out for freedom. This is not even new. The state doubled the bounty on Assata Shakur to $2 million on the watch of its first HNIC because, after all, they are the ones really in charge. Yeah, we get it, if others don’t. The message is clear—this is our nigger and we will do with her what we want.
Today Marzieh Hashemi sits alone. Isolated and entombed deep in a government catacomb, she stands charged with no offense but in the eyes of this administration guilty as charged . . . a Muslim, a journalist, and a U.S. ex-pat who has found shelter from its storm in Iran.
But she is not alone. We will stand with Marzieh and give her voice when she has none. We are not afraid, even though we know we are next. Our people have endured this and more and will endure even more before this nightmare that is U.S. settler-colonialism is over. And unlike Dr. King, when our people and the people of the world emerge on the other side of freedom, we will not thank god for our freedom, but ourselves.
January the 1st, 2019 marked the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. Back in December 1958 the city of Santa Clara fell to the combined forces of Che Guevara, Cienfuegos, and Revolutionary Directorate (RD) rebels led by Comandantes Rolando Cubela, Juan (“El Mejicano”) Abrahantes, and William Alexander Morgan. Upon hearing the news of the defeat of his forces by the Fidel Castro-led revolutionaries, Batista left Cuba and flew to the Dominican Republic on 1 January 1959.
Havana (October 2018)
Since then the Cuban people have struggled to maintain their independence as allies came and went and enemies tried to reverse the revolution. In recent years President Obama attempted to normalise relations between Cuba and the United States (known as the Cuban Thaw) by reducing U.S. travel and remittances restrictions and reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana and the Cuban embassy in Washington. Obama even became the first U.S. President to visit Cuba since 1928.
However, since the election of Donald Trump many of these gains have been reversed.
Havana (October, 2018)
In November 2018 the US government reversed the positive changes brought in by Obama. The Trump government will disallow most individual visits and (as before Obama’s changes) Americans will have to travel in groups licensed for specific purposes. Most importantly Americans will be barred from staying in state-owned hotels, and frequenting state-owned restaurants and stores. The plan seems to be to starve the government of revenue while at the same time encouraging the growth of the private sector; e.g., private accommodation and restaurants.
The Trump administration is adding new names to a list of Cuban tourist attractions that Americans are barred from visiting. The 26 names range from the new five-star Iberostar Grand Packard and Paseo del Prado hotels in Old Havana to modest shopping centers in beach-side resorts far from the capital. All are barred because they are owned by Cuba’s military business conglomerate, GAESA.
Santa Clara (October, 2018) Che Guevara Mausoleum
Adding to these difficulties is the existence of two operating currencies: the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC). The CUC is pegged to the dollar and is worth 25 times more than the CUP. One Cuban convertible peso (CUC) is about one Euro. Most Cuban citizens are paid in CUP but consumer goods are priced in CUC. While it was announced a few years ago that this system was going to end, it is still going strong.
Havana (October, 2018)
It is a system that could cause major problems for the government. While most citizens are paid in CUP — 1000-2000 pesos (40-80 Euros) per month — those working in the tourism sector can earn CUC. One can earn 30 CUC (30 Euros) driving a tourist from the airport to the centre of Old Havana or 20 CUC (20 Euros) a night in a private Airbnb room letting. The local bars, restaurants and even supermarkets all use CUC. Cigar factory workers are paid in CUP, yet one Cohiba cigar could cost 10 CUC in the factory shop. On my recent trip there I asked the bar and restaurant staff in Havana for CUP notes (the three peso note carries a picture of Che Guevara) only to find them asking all their workmates if they had any CUP and eventually arriving back triumphantly with the requested notes and handing them to me as a gift, demonstrating the growing gap in the value of the two currencies.
Havana (October, 2018)
Is it possible that the growing disparity between those who earn CUP and those who earn CUC is creating a well-off new middle class? It is interesting to note that Trump’s Cuban policies seem to be created to ensure the exacerbation of these discrepancies. Is there a political strategy developing here? If we look at the essential elements of recent Colour Revolutions we generally find the combination of a disgruntled middle class and mobile data access to the internet.
To avail of the internet in Havana most people buy ETECSA prepaid internet cards and go to a nearby WiFi hotspot (usually the local park). However, data packages are becoming available. They are expensive if you are earning only CUP and only the relatively well-off will be able to afford them (e.g. 4GB of data for $30 – a month’s wages in CUP). But for those working in the tourist sector this should be affordable potentially creating the basis for a powerful social media in Cuba.
The growth of the private sector can be seen in the number of new private restaurants, bnb/pension type accommodation, cafes and bars in Havana. Yet many of the Cubans I met could not afford to buy even a sandwich in the cafes as they are priced in CUC. The collapse of state enterprises already under a lot of stress could lead to cheap real estate being bought up by the cash-rich and generally benefit non-supporters of Castro and left wing ideology, politically and financially.
As it is, there is increasing pressure on the government with only 1.2 percent growth in the economy and a 40 percent drop in Venezuelan oil deliveries (since 2014) in a society where state-run companies account for and control most economic activity.
Havana (October, 2018)
The difficulties for the Cuban people are increased by the ongoing United States-led embargo against Cuba. In October 2018 the UN General Assembly adopted its annual resolution to end the embargo. Ma Zhaoxu, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations stated that the blockade “is contrary to the principle of the United Nations Charter and cause[s] huge financial and economic damage for Cuba” and “hinders Cuba’s ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.
For the Cuban people it will be a case of ‘resist to exist’ like the Palestinian situation but in Cuba one can see frustration and determination for a better life all around. The 60th anniversary celebrations of 2019 will be a most important symbolic reminder in the discussions on the differing possible paths for Cuba’s future.
No other country in the world symbolizes the decline of the American empire as much as Afghanistan. There is virtually no possibility of a military victory over the Taliban and little chance of leaving behind a self-sustaining democracy — facts that Washington’s policy community has mostly been unable to accept…. It is a vestigial limb of empire, and it is time to let it go.
This is the voice of American imperialism speaking through one of its more reliable hand-puppets. Foreign Policyhas twice named Robert Kaplan one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers.” In his op-ed, Kaplan blames Afghanistan’s current problems on the illegal US war on Iraq in 2003, adding parenthetically and without further explanation: “which I mistakenly supported.” The unintended joke here is that he frames the Iraq War as a mistake largely because it diverted the US from nation-building in Afghanistan. Yes, he says exactly that. He has nothing to say about either war’s criminality or US atrocities. Those are not serious concerns for the imperial mindset – those are just the necessary inconveniences of maintaining an empire. He even appears unaware that his formulation about Afghanistan and the decline of the American empire perfectly fits the historical reality of US defeat in Vietnam.
On New Year’s Eve, the day before Kaplan’s op-ed, the lengthy lead story in the Times was headlined: “CIA-Led Afghan Forces Leave Grim Trail of Abuse.” This report is based on months of reporting on night raids, torture, and summary executions of Afghan civilians carried out by CIA-trained death squads, euphemistically called “strike forces” in the paper. The instances described in the report are horrifying and savage. In one, the death squad puts bags over the heads of two brothers, executing them with their families in the next room. For good measure, the death squad blew up the room where the bodies lay.
Perhaps it’s just another sign of American psychic numbing, but the Times story seems to have provoked little response from other media, from politicians of any stripe, or from the public. More American war crimes in some Muslim country? Well, Happy New Year!
The US invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, under Operation Enduring Freedom, accusing the Taliban of harboring some of the 9/11 attackers, most of whom were Saudis. More to the point, the US has been creating havoc in Afghanistan at least since 1979, when we started training the mujahedeen to fight the Russians only to receive “our” Islamist radicals’ blowback at the Twin Towers. Afghanistan is a country about the size of Texas with a population of about 35 million (almost 40% literate). Some 63% of the population is under 25 years old and so has little conscious memory of a time when Afghans weren’t the targets of the American war machine.
Presently the US has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, but nobody now quite knows how long they’ll be there. Mostly what US troops do is protect the official government from the apparent majority of the population that prefers the Taliban or some imaginary other option. The Afghan government controls little more than half the country most of the time. All sides have been killing civilians at the rate of about 8,000 a year for several years now, with the US and allies doing most of the killing. At least 18 CIA operatives were killed in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2017. This disproportionately deadly toll has not done much to win the hearts and minds of the people, but in seventeen years, the US hasn’t figured out how to do anything else better than create carnage.
The CIA-run death squad campaign isn’t new, but it has been seriously expanded during the past two years. Death squad personnel run into the thousands, mostly Afghans, but are recruited, trained, equipped, and controlled by CIA agents or CIA contractors. They operate independently of the US military command, typically without the military’s knowledge. They are effectively terrorist cells. They carry out night raids, long opposed by the Afghan government and the population at large. The night raids target civilians the CIA thinks it has reason to assassinate or capture and torture. The Times report describes survivors of night raids, all of whom insist on their innocence. There is no official accountability for these terrorist tactics:
A spokeswoman for the C.I.A. would not comment, nor would Afghans directly involved with the forces. Afghan security officials in Kabul tried to play down the level of the forces’ autonomy and the nature of their abuses. When pressed with details of specific cases, they did not respond.
And there is no evidence that these terrorist tactics are doing any good in a country that has despised foreign invaders for centuries. Virtually the same US terror tactics failed spectacularly in Vietnam. There the CIA mounted the infamous Phoenix Program to terrorize South Vietnamese villages with CIA-run death squads who “neutralized more than 80,000 real or suspected Viet Cong”.
Once Osama bin Laden escaped capture in 2001, the US war in Afghanistan lacked any clear mission. The Bush administration and the military shifted their attention to making war on Iraq instead. Failing to disengage sensibly from Afghanistan, the US let the war drift on mindlessly. In 2009, President Obama declared Afghanistan the “smart war” and decided to escalate it without really figuring out why. Obama relied particularly on CIA drones to kill massive numbers of people, mostly civilians, ultimately to no useful purpose.
In 2016, President Trump campaigned on getting out of Afghanistan. Once in office, Trump appointed Mike Pompeo to run the CIA. Pompeo set out to expand CIA killing, particularly with the death squads discreetly called “strike forces” by the Times. This paramilitary escalation, primarily against the Taliban, was first reported in October 2017, creating little stir. Six months later, the CIA still denied the story was true. In the fall of 2017, Pompeo expressed US policy this way:
We can’t perform our mission if we’re not aggressive. This is unforgiving, relentless. You pick the word. Every minute, we have to be focused on crushing our enemies.
This CIA program of using Afghan militias to conduct commando raids, the vast majority of which will be used against civilians despite what the CIA states, falls in line with American plans to escalate the use of air and artillery strikes against the Afghan people in Taliban-held areas, almost all of whom are Pashtuns. Again, the purpose of this campaign is not to achieve a political settlement or reconciliation, but to brutally subjugate and punish the people, mostly rural Pashtuns, who support the Taliban and will not give in to the corrupt American run government in Kabul.