Category Archives: Torture

Russia warns Bolton: “Monroe Doctrine” Remarks are Insulting to Latin America

What is the ‘Monroe Doctrine’? In brief, it is a document which defines the entire Western Hemisphere as a ‘backyard’ of the United States. It ‘philosophically’ justifies Washington’s neo-colonialism, and the most barbaric coups it has been triggering, as well as covered and open interventions in the Caribbean, and in Central and South America.

And now, National Security Advisor John Bolton, is using this term in connection with Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, outraging those who are opposing the US foreign policy in the region. What he means is clear, although it is never pronounced as bluntly as that: Countries in the Western Hemisphere should never be allowed to go socialist, and they should be prevented from disobeying Western dictates.

In Doha, Qatar, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, expressed his outrage over Bolton’s evoking of the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ now, when the West is doing all in its power to overthrow the democratically elected left-wing government of Venezuela:

The theory and the practice of “backyards” is generally insulting…

Sergei Lavrov also added that:

Since 1945, when the UN was founded, the international law is being regulated by this universal and the most legitimate organization.

This is, obviously, not how the United States sees the world. Maybe it never even considered such an approach.

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But back to the ‘notorious’ Monroe Doctrine.

Surprisingly, it was not always intended to intimidate and brutalize independent and progressive Latin American nations.

According to the definition of the United States Department of State:

The Monroe Doctrine was a United States policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas beginning in 1823. It stated that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.

So, in theory at least, this policy was supposed to be putting the brakes on European colonialist expansionism. This may sound almost unbelievable now.

How very unfortunate that it has evolved into one of the most unscrupulous tools of oppression in modern history!

Contradictory to its original meaning, the United States used the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ in order to overthrow basically all patriotic, progressive and left-wing governments in the Western Hemisphere; governments that resisted the selfish geo-political interests of Washington, or the interests of US corporations, including the infamous United Fruit Company which was notorious for treating virtually all Central American countries as if they were its private plantations.

Then during the Cold War, US foreign policy towards Latin America was built on the belief that the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ should be invoked in order to prevent the spread of Soviet-backed Communism in the region.

What followed is well known: massacres in Central America, brutal coups and fascist dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and elsewhere; tens of thousands of men, women and children ‘disappeared’. Death squads murdering, raping and torturing everywhere, from Guatemala and Salvador to Argentina and Chile.

The fight for US hegemony was basically and cynically named as a ‘fight for democracy’. Slavery was defined as ‘freedom’. The ‘Monroe Doctrine’ became synonymous with Plan Condor, with monstrous torture chambers and with people being thrown alive into the sea from helicopters.

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Now the Trump administration is re-deploying those old and fatal Cold War warriors, elevating them to high positions, the same people who were murdering, plotting and cheering assassins. The list reads like a “Wanted for Genocide” catalogue: Elliott Abrams, Michael Pompeo and yes: John Bolton.

These individuals are, of course, unapologetic.

Just recently, John Bolton declared:

In this administration we’re not afraid to use the phrase ‘Monroe Doctrine’. This is a country in our hemisphere and it’s been the objective of American presidents going back to Ronald Reagan to have a completely Democratic hemisphere.

He was talking about Venezuela, of course.

And so, the almost 200 year old ‘Monroe Doctrine’ has been revitalized; put to deadly work once again.

As reported by the Daily Star:

Mr. Bolton said the Donald Trump administration was “not afraid to use the phrase ‘Monroe Doctrine’,” when asked why it was targeting Venezuela while maintaining close alliances with tyrannies such as Saudi Arabia. The doctrine, dating back to the 1820s, denoted the Western hemisphere as a zone of US influence.

It is clear that this time, what Mr. Bolton envisions under the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ has nothing in common with the fight against European colonialism. It is a bellicose ‘modern-day’ interpretation of the doctrine: the justification for Western imperialism all over the Hemisphere. And perhaps all over the world.

Sergei Lavrov correctly defined Bolton’s remarks as ‘insulting’. They are also deadly. As they are indicative of what Western foreign policy may soon become, or has already become: an unapologetic and uncompromising return to the harshest form of expansionism.

What the US tried to avert (perhaps) some 200 years ago, it at some point joined, and then ‘perfected’. Now, it is trying to bring it to an absolute extreme.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

Militarised Conservation: Paramilitary Rangers and the WWF

Think charity, think vulnerability and its endless well of opportunistic exploitation.  Over the years, international charity organisations have been found with employees keen to take advantage of their station.  That advantage has been sexual, financial and, in the case of allegations being made about the World Wild Life Fund for Nature, in the nature of inflicting torture on those accused of poaching.

BuzzFeed, via reporters Tom Warren and Katie J.M. Baker, began the fuss with an investigative report claiming instances of torture and gross violence on the part of rangers assisted by the charity to combat poaching.  It starts with a description of a dying man’s last days, one Shikharam Chaudhary, a farmer who was brutally beaten and tortured by forest rangers patrolling Chitwan National Park in Nepal.  Shikharam, it seems, had been singled out for burying a rhinoceros horn in his backyard.  The horn proved elusive, but not the unfortunate farmer, who was detained in prison.  After nine days, he was dead.

Three park officials including the chief warden were subsequently charged with murder.  WWF found itself in a spot, given its long standing role in sponsoring operations by the Chitwan forest rangers.  As the BuzzFeed report goes on to note, “WWF’s staff on the ground in Nepal leaped into action – not to demand justice, but to lobby for the charges to disappear.  When the Nepalese government dropped the case months later, the charity declared its victory in the fight against poaching.  Then WWF Nepal continued to work closely with the rangers and fund the park as if nothing had happened.”

The report does not hold back, insisting that the alleged murder of the unfortunate Shikharam in 2006 was no aberration.  “It was part of a pattern that persists to this day.  In national parks across Asia and Africa, the beloved non-profit with the cuddly panda logo funds, equips, and works directly with paramilitary forces that have been accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting, and murdering scores of people.”

The poach wars are a savage business, throwing up confected images of heroes and villains.  They do not merely involve the actions of protecting animals, but military-styled engagements where fatalities are not uncommon.  Anti-poaching has become a mission heralded by the romantically inclined as indispensable, its agents to be celebrated.  Desperate local conditions are conveniently scrubbed out in any descriptions: there are only the noble rangers battling animal murderers.

The Akashinga, for instance, are an anti-poaching enterprise of 39 women operating in Zimbabwe who featured with high praise in a report from the ABC in October last year.  Who are the victims, apart from the animals they protect?  There is little doubt in the minds of the reporters: the women themselves, victims of assault, many single mothers from Nyamakate.  Laud them, respect their mission.

It is clear that these women are feted warriors, armed and given appropriate training.  They “undergo military-style training in unarmed combat, camouflage and concealment, search and arrest, as well as leadership and conservation ethics.”  Their source of encouragement and support is Damien Mander, formerly a military sniper and founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation.

Mander’s own laundry list for being a “good anti-poaching ranger”, as featured in an interview to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre in 2015, is unvarnished: “A passion for nature, strong paramilitary base, and ability and willingness to work in hostile environments for extended periods of time as part of a team.”

The line between the mission of charity and its mutation into one of abuse is tooth fine.  In February 2018, The Times, assisted by information supplied by whistleblowers, sprung the lid off Oxfam GB workers in Haiti, suggesting that charity workers had received sexual favours for payment in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.  (Nothing like a crisis that breeds opportunity.)  It was duly revealed that the organisation had done its level best to conceal the fact.  The UK International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt’s statement to Parliament in February took most issue with the latter.  “In such circumstances we must be able to trust organisations not only to do all they can to prevent harm, but to report and follow up incidents of wrongdoing when they do occur.”

In the course of its conduct, Oxfam did not, according to Mordaunt, furnish the Charity Commission with a report on the incidents.  Nor did the donors receive one.  The protecting authorities were also left in the dark on the subject.

Defences have been mounted by those working in the aid sector.  Mike Aaronson, writing in August last year, pleaded the case that aid organisations were being unduly singled out, the scape goats of moral outrage and privileged ethics.  “Aid organisations carry a lot of risk, operating in chaotic and stressful environments where in trying to do good they can end up doing harm.”  In condemning them, it was easy to ignore the fact that they had “done most to address the issue”.

The WWF situation, which has moved the matter into the dimension of animal protection and conservation, has hallmarks that are similarly problematic with the humanitarian sector in general.  And the reaction of the organisation has also been fairly typical, laden with weasel-worded aspirations.  “At the heart of WWF’s work are places and people who live with them,” an organisation spokesman for WWF UK asserted in response to the allegations.  “Respect for human rights is at the core of our mission.”  There were “stringent policies” in place to safeguard “the rights and wellbeing of indigenous people and local communities in the places we work.”

Students of the broad field of humanitarian ventures suggest four instances where militarisation takes place.  Charities and relief organisations have become proxy extensions in armed conflict (consider Nicaragua and Afghanistan during the 1980s); creatures of embedment (the Red Cross in the World Wars); agents of “self-defence” – consider the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in the twelfth century; and engaged in direct conflict (the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War).

The WWF case suggests a direct connection between the mission of a charitable organisation and its captivation by a dangerous militancy.  It has become a sponsor, and concealer, of vigilante action, obviously unabashed in cracking a few skulls in the name of shielding protected species.  Along came the networks of informants, surveillance and exploiting local issues.  No longer can this be regarded a matter of altruistic engagement in the name of animal conservation; it is a full-fledged sponsorship of a paramilitary operation with all the incidental nastiness such an effort entails.

Glossip v. Gross: the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States

On June 29, 2015 the United States Supreme Court argued in Glossip v. Gross that executions may continue with the use of lethal drug cocktails including the use of midazolam, an extremely painful drug, which in effect, burns to death the condemned by scorching internal organs. The use of midazolam, according to the Court, does not constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment. The Court found that condemned prisoners can only challenge their method of execution after providing a known and available alternative method.

In dissenting views justices opened the legal door for future challenges to the death penalty. In a meticulously crafted dissent Justice Stephen G. Breyer joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg initiated a timely counterargument to capital punishment. This was joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in diverging dissents of their own. The dissents were significant in that they outline the legal framework for the abolition of the death penalty based on the Eighth Amendment. Nevertheless, Sotomayor and Kagan argued in separate opinions that the use of lethal chemicals in executions was intolerably painful.

In turn this begged the question, for many, as to whether or not executions could ever be legitimized since executions must necessarily involve physical or mental pain. In all democratic societies, intentionally inflicting pain on another human being is torture.

This article addresses the Court’s concerns, expressed in Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion, that protests against Glossip’s anticipated execution was a “guerilla war” against the death penalty and that inflicting physical or mental pain intentionally on a human being is an acceptable component of execution and consistent with the U.S. Constitution.

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In Gregg v. Gerogia (1976) the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 7-2 decision that capital punishment did not violate the Eighth Amendment. This, in effect, reversed Furman v. Georgia (1972) which placed a moratorium on capital punishment in the United States. Robert Bork argued the case for the United States, that capital punishment and judicious use of the death penalty may be appropriate if carefully used. The Supreme Court argued that the Court was not prepared to overrule the Georgia legislature who has by law defined capital punishment an effective tool in the deterrence of future capital crimes and as an appropriate means of social retribution (retributive justice) against the most serious offenders

On April 29, 2015, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Glossip v. Gross, a case which challenged the use of the anti-anxiety drug midazolam in lethal injection executions. Petitioners argued in their brief to the Court that there is “undisputed evidence . . . that midazolam cannot reliably ensure the ‘deep, coma-like unconsciousness’ required where a State intends to cause death with painful drugs” (Brief for Petitioner at p. 29). Use of this drug to carry out executions by lethal injection does not comport with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual suffering. In the last year alone, midazolam was used in several botched executions. Then on June 29, 2015, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Glossip v. Gross, ruling that the anti-anxiety medication midazolam is constitutional for use as the first drug in a three-drug lethal injection formula. The case was brought by death row prisoners in Oklahoma, who argued that the state’s use of midazolam in this manner creates an “objectively intolerable risk of harm.”

The Glossip ruling evidenced two Justices directly challenging the legal foundation of capital punishment based on the Eighth Amendment which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” Indeed, states such as Nebraska have recently abolished the death penalty based on the Eighth Amendment, making it the nineteenth state to do so, and the seventh to abolish capital punishment since 2007. Nonetheless, a majority of justices on the Supreme Court at the time – John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito – still maintain the constitutionality of the death penalty, as argued in Glossip.

In Baze v. Rees (2008), the Supreme Court reviewed the three-drug protocol then used for lethal injection by at least thirty states, in which the first drug, an short-acting barbiturate, rendered the prisoner unconscious, and the second and third drugs, a paralytic and potassium chloride, paralyzed the prisoner and stopped the heart. The Court noted that the first drug, the barbiturate, causes a “deep, coma-like unconsciousness” and therefore “ensures that the prisoner does not experience any pain associated with the paralysis and cardiac arrest caused by the second and third drugs.” The Oklahoma drug protocol challenged in Glossip was also a three-drug protocol that uses a paralytic and potassium chloride as the second and third drugs, but it substitutes the benzodiazepine midazolam for the first drug, creating risk of “severe pain, needless suffering and a lingering death.”

As the Brief for Petitioner states:

In Baze, there was consensus that sodium thiopental, if properly administered, would produce deep coma-like unconsciousness. With midazolam, the opposite is true. Midazolam is not approved for use as the sole anesthetic for painful surgery. Clinical studies showed that midazolam does not reliably induce deep unconsciousness; when used in surgery, patients felt pain. The medical consensus is that midazolam cannot generate deep, coma-like unconsciousness. There is also no substantial practice among the states of using midazolam for lethal injections. Although sodium thiopental was widely used in lethal injections for years, only four states have used midazolam in an execution, and only two have tried to use it as anesthesia. On these undisputed facts, the use of midazolam to create deep coma-like unconsciousness presents an “objectively intolerable risk of harm” (Baze, 553 U.S.).

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Midazolam is not a barbiturate, but a benzodiazepine commonly used in pre-operative settings to alleviate anxiety. It is the shortest-acting drug in the same class of anti-anxiety drugs as Xanax, Atavan and Valium. All of the experts who testified in a three-day hearing in Oklahoma in December 2014, including the state’s expert, agree that midazolam has a ceiling effect, above which additional dosing has no additional effect, and no analgesic (pain-relieving) qualities (Joint Appendix to Brief for Petitioner, medical testimony from three-day hearing at pp. 199, 256, 274). The four states which have used midazolam in lethal injection executions are Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma. Three executions that used midazolam triggered formal state investigations into why they did not go as planned (Brief for Petitioner at p. 31). In all of these botched executions, the prisoners initially appeared to lose consciousness, but then started moving and demonstrating signs of struggle and suffering.

Glossip v. Gross originated in federal court in Oklahoma as a response to the botched execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29, 2014. Charles Warner was originally one of the Petitioners, but the Court denied a stay of execution in his case, and he was executed using midazolam in a three-drug formula on January 15, 2015, just eight days before the Court accepted this case for review. On January 28, 2015, the Court stayed the executions of the three Petitioners, Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole, who are Oklahoma death row prisoners. In their Petition for Certiorari, Petitioners asked the Court to “provide urgently needed guidance” to prisoners and courts addressing new, experimental lethal injection protocols.

In her dissent from the denial of a stay for Charles Warner, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by three other justices, recognized that the district court relied on a “single purported expert” who testified from suspect sources and in a manner that contradicts empirical data. Justice Sotomayor explained, “In contending that midazolam will work as the State intends, Dr. Evans cited no studies, but instead appeared to rely primarily on the Web site www.drugs.com. Here, given the evidence before the District Court, I struggle to see how its decision to credit the testimony of a single purported expert can be supported given the substantial body of conflicting empirical and anecdotal evidence.”

Justice Breyer, who has served twenty years on the Supreme Court, never argued that the death penalty was unconstitutional. What both Breyer and Ginsburg argued was that new evidence over the past two decades had convinced them that the death penalty is costly, ineffective, and unreliable, not that it was necessarily inhumane. Their argument was based on cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and the real possibility of wrongful execution. More than one hundred death row inmates had their convictions or sentences dismissed in the last decade.

Nevertheless, in the majority opinion Justice Alito countered Sotomayor and Kagen’s view arguing that pain is simply part of what constitutes an execution. He states, “Because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, we have held that the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether.”1 Breyer, nevertheless argued, that the broader issue of wrongful convictions takes greater precedence since executing innocent people can never be remediated. Moreover, Breyer and Ginsburg argued that “increasingly lengthy delays” of several decades between convictions and executions undermined the deterrence argument that executions deter crimes.2

Prior to Glossip, Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, in essence, echoed the opinion of Justice Harry Blackmun who, in 1994, argued that the death penalty in the United States was unable to be impartial toward minorities, specifically African Americans. Likewise, in 2008, Justice John Paul Stevens concluded that the death penalty was arbitrary and unreliable as a deterrent and ineffective in terms of punishment. However, in Glossip, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen, while not joining in Breyer and Ginsburg’s dissent, nevertheless wrote what could arguably be the strongest dissent. The two justices claimed that the majority on the court allowed a “method of execution that is intolerably painful – even to the point of being the chemical equivalent of burning alive.”

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Alito’s position is one in which the inflicting of pain on others, as torture, is a necessary component of execution. This is a plausible position to hold. However, in that Alito and the majority argue that torture does not contradict the U.S. Constitution and the Eighth Amendment is subject to serious question.

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As stated earlier, torture is the act of deliberately inflicting severe physical or psychological pain on a human being by another as a punishment or in order to fulfill some desire of the torturer or force some action from the victim. Torture, by definition, is a knowing and intentional act; deeds which unknowingly or negligently inflict suffering or pain, without a specific intent to do so, are not typically considered torture. But under U.S. law, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Torture has been carried out or sanctioned by individuals, groups, and states throughout history from ancient times to modern day, and forms of torture can vary greatly in duration from only a few minutes to several days or longer. Reasons for torture can include punishment, revenge, political re-education, deterrence and even coercion.

Alternatively, some forms of torture are designed to inflict psychological pain or leave as little physical injury or evidence as possible while achieving the same psychological devastation. The torturer may or may not kill or injure the victim, but torture may result in a deliberate death and serves as a form of capital punishment. Depending on the aim, even a form of torture that is intentionally fatal may be prolonged to allow the victim to suffer as long as possible, such as half-hanging or even inadvertently seizing in pain from lethal injections.

In other cases, the torturer may be indifferent to the condition of the victim or simply take delight in the sadistic gratification of torture in whatever form.

This indifference best fits the Alito majority. On one hand, indifference may be its most compassionate form of torture, while on the other it very well could mean that sociopaths exist on the highest court in the land. And in Glossip the Eighth Amendment is once again desecrated and Alito’s majority decision exalts the deviant status of the Torture Court of the United States.

  1. Glossip v. Gross, June 29, 2015, No. 14-7955, SCOTUS, I, A, Majority Opinion, Justice Alito, Roberts, Thomas, Kennedy, Scalia, Oyez, ITT Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology.
  2. Death Penalty Focus, Working for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, May 31, 2013.

Women Politicals of the American Empire

There have been many women dissenters who have been jailed by the American government as political prisoners.  There are women in jail now who are undergoing punishment as perceived enemies of the American Empire.  Two such women are nuclear resister Elizabeth McAlister and alleged “terrorist” Aafia Siddiqui.  When I wrote about Pakistani-born Aafia Siddiqui as one of the “women  politicals (not) in the news” eight years ago, she had just begun her 86-year sentence at Carswell Federal Prison in Texas for allegedly assaulting US soldiers of the Empire in Afghanistan.  Now 46, she recently appealed to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for help:  “I want to get out of prison, my imprisonment in the US is illegal as I was kidnapped and taken to the US. . .”  Dr. Siddiqui was accused of being a would-be assassin and an Al Qaeda terrorist.  But she was the one who was grievously wounded in the stomach.  She was the one whose youngest child was killed when she was taken, “disappeared” in Pakistan, and her other two children imprisoned separately for years.  She was the one who was beaten, raped, tortured and kept in solitary in black site prisons of the American Empire.  Her “crime” was being a doctor in Boston who was a Muslim activist, and who, through a series of unfortunate and skewed connections, ended up on Attorney General Ashcroft’s “watchlist.”  For her “crime,” lshe had to endure the consequences of an extreme anti-“terrorist”/anti-Muslim era which began with the September 11, 2001 bombings.

Crimes against Muslims globally, and immediate repression of Muslims within the US, although not starting then, greatly intensified after 9/11.  The FBI, in its zeal to root out Arab “terrorists,” has been involved in questionable activities which fly in the face of civil rights or constitutional law.  We’ve seen the use of the grand jury as bullying tactic, wholesale surveillance, sweeps to arrest dissenters, and entrapment to create “terrorists” when real ones do not exist.

Pro-Palestinian activists have been victimized, along with young Muslim women who have been candidates for entrapment.  In 2013, Rasmea Odeh, deputy executive director of the Arab-American Network, was indicted by the US government for “immigration fraud” when she applied for citizenship.  Although the State Department was well aware of the circumstances of her moving to the US, Israel Lobbyists worked to get her arrested.  Caught in a “security sweep” in Israel in 1969, she was, although innocent, imprisoned for a supermarket bombing.  During her 10 years in Israel’s jails, she was tortured and raped.  After coming to the US in 1994, she became an activist for Arab-American women, and found herself jailed again.  She was deported in September of 2017.  In 2015, Asia Siddiqui and Noelle Velentzas were arrested in NYC by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, and charged with conspiracy to “use a weapon of mass destruction.” They were skillfully entrapped by an FBI informant, never planning or even thinking about bombings until the agent suggested they should.  They await their trial.  The climate of fear existing in America, along with “terrorism” charges needing no habeus corpus or rules of evidence, mean no justice and no sanity for Muslim women caught by the US “justice” system.

As a “terrorist” enemy of the Empire and its soldiers, Aafia Siddiqui had no chance at all.  She was mistakenly accused initially.  She was “disappeared” in Pakistan by helpful agents, and when her true story began to emerge, she was put in black site prisons, beaten and tortured.  When she was finally put on trial, she was a broken woman, and had only to be disposed of by a kangaroo court—sentenced to 86 years at Carswell.  She has been visited by Pakistan’s Consul General in Houston, who has complained to the US Justice Department about Siddiqui’s continued brutal treatment.  She says Siddiqui suffers “immense physical and sexual torment.”  Pakistani and American authorities all say they are looking into the matter, but nothing has happened.  One Pakistani official’s statement was that the US treats its prisoners “humanely and in a manner that complies with our human rights obligations.”  Indeed.

The Empire applies its “humane” treatment to more than its accused Muslim “terrorists.”  Women of the anti-nuclear Plowshares movement, who bear witness against weapons threatening potential annihilation of the planet, are also considered “terrorist” threats.  Elizabeth McAlister, former nun and widow of anti-nuclear activist Philip Berrigan, at age 73, is in jail in Georgia for her part in an anti-nuclear action:  Kings Bay (GA) Plowshares, carried out on April 4, 2018.  Seven stalwarts, three of whom were women—McAlister, Martha Hennesy of NYC and Clare Grady of Ithaca—entered the naval base which houses Trident submarines armed with nuclear warheads.  They were there to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination.  Their banners included King’s “The ultimate logic of racism is genocide.”  They smeared the base’s logo with human blood.

And they carried with them indictments of the US government, President Trump and the base commander Brian Lepine, for war crimes.  They were charged with the felonies of conspiracy and destruction of government property.  Clare Grady and Elizabeth McAlister were jailed, and McAlister remains in jail today.   According to nukeresister.com, McAlister is in prison to fight the Empire:  “We resist militarism that has employed deadly violence to enforce global domination. . .  The weapons from one Trident have the capacity to end life as we know it on planet Earth.”  Such activists provide way too much transparency for the American Empire.

The US considers those who object to its global empire with its drones, bombs, universal surveillance and support for fellow oppressive nations—whether in the Middle East or Latin America—as potential terrorists.  So women who protest against the School of the Americas or unmanned drone attacks from US bases are arrested and jailed.  Since the 80s, women protesters have been jailed from six to 15 months for speaking out against the SOA, an American institution which has trained Latin American death squads.  Ann Tiffany and Nancy Gwin of Syracuse, both served six months at Danbury for “illegally entering” military bases, and shining light on the Empire.  Mary Anne Grady Flores (of Ithaca) got a year for anti-drone action, and very busy anti-Empire activist Kathy Kelly has had four stints in federal prison for protesting against the death and destruction brought by unmanned bomber drones in the Middle East.  Women who resist the ominous nuclear arms threat of the United States can receive particularly stiff sentences, as “terrorist” threats to government property and national security.

In part inspired by Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan began a movement to beat swords into plowshares by taking on the American nuclear arms (military and corporate) juggernaut.  Women—for the most part Catholic nuns—were enthusiastic participants from the beginning.  Sister Anne Montgomery took part in six Plowshares anti-nuclear actions including the first, along with four men (with the two Berrigan brothers), and Molly Rush, in 1980 at King of Prussia (PA).  Montgomery spent 11 weeks in jail for King of Prussia; she was indicted in 2009 at age 83 for her final action—Disarm NOW Plowshares in Bangor (WA).  Sister Montgomery was trained in civil disobedience at the McAlister/Berrigan Jonah House.

Sister Elizabeth McAlister was an art history professor at Marymount College when she met Father Philip Berrigan and was inspired by him to become an activist.  Such activism led to them becoming two of the “Harrisburg 7,” charged with conspiring to raid federal offices in order to bomb underground conduits—and to kidnap Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.  They had kidded about doing that in letters, but J. Edgar Hoover was not amused.  The government eventually had to downgrade the charges to anti-draft actions.  McAlister and Berrigan both left their orders and married in 1973.  Jonah House was founded by Elizabeth McAlister and her husband in Baltimore, as one of a number of “resistance communities” begun in the 70s; and was, and is, a base and training ground for civil disobedience and anti-nuclear actions.

On Thanksgiving morn 1983, the “Plowshares 7” entered the Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, NY.  They hammered dents into and spilled blood on a B-52, there on alert, armed with nuclear weapons.  They had to wait outside over an hour, singing and marching with their banner before security came to arrest them.  The “7” included four women—Jacqueline Allen (of Hartford, CT), Kathleen Rumpf (of Marlboro, NY), Clare Grady (then 25, of Ithaca), and in her first Plowshares action, Elizabeth Mcalister.  Their judge decided the defendants could not use a defense addressing the “imminence of the harm” of the weapons because they did “acts of destruction” to government property.  He sentenced them to federal prison:  two years for Rumpf, Allen and Grady and three for McAlister.  Daughter Frida Berrigan has said that her family has paid a price for her parents’ fight against nuclear weapons:  they were separated from each other or their children for a total of 11 years.

The work continues for Plowshares women.  Through the 1980s and 90s and beyond, they have been jailed by the Clinton, Bush (both), Obama and Trump administrations—administrations which all featured massive nuclear build-ups.  Sisters Jackie Hudson, Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert spent years in jail for, as Gilbert said, “symbolically disarming America’s weapons of mass destruction.”  After 2001 such women would be treated as terrorists.  Sister Megan Rice, 82, for her part in the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Plant (TN) action of 2012, got three years as a “violent offender.”  Elizabeth McAlister was jailed for the Kings Bay action in April.  She was charged under Georgia state law, according to nukeresister.org, for misdemeanor criminal trespass, but also for two felonies:  possession of tools to commit a crime and interference with government property.  The defense team has mounted a defense based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that the protesters were acting “from privacy of conscience rooted in their faith.”  The judge will decide on that—and never has any sort of defense based on moral grounds ever worked, mind you—at the end of January, and a trial date will be set.  McAlister and her fellow protesters were charged because they dare to resist militarism that employs “deadly violence to enforce global domination.”

Elizabeth McAlister, in jail since April, remains steadfast, modest and unassuming.  She hesitates to give interviews.  She did write after her arrest about why she resists the Empire’s weapons:  “We came to Kings Bay Submarine Base animated by the absurd conviction that we could make some impact on slowing if not ending, the mad rush to the devastation of our magnificent planet.”  Such sentiments, such absurd convictions, that anyone can interfere in the Empire’s global destruction, have to be punished.  Such female dissenters have to be jailed and silenced.  There should be no more silence surrounding America’s women politicals.  Whether considered terrorist threats because, like Aafia Siddiqui, they are part of a group deemed an enemy race; or considered terrorist threats because, like Elizabeth McAlister, they resist and expose America’s global domination—such women will be made political prisoners of the Empire.1

  1. To learn more about America’s women political prisoners, please consult my new book Women Politicals in America.

What Happens if the French Yellow Vests Win?

What if protesters in Paris win, and the French government gives in to all their demands?

What if taxes are reduced, wages increased, President Macron steps down?

I am not talking only about the fuel tax; attempts to impose it have been already abandoned. I am not talking about increase of the minimum wage – the government already agreed to rise it by 100 euro per month.

What I am talking about are real, fundamental changes which many protesters seem to be desiring: substantial tax reduction for the majority of French citizens, generous increase in wages and enhancement of social benefits for all.

So, if the Yellow Vests manage to win all this, then what will happen? Who would benefit? But also, who would lose?

*****

One of my readers recently wrote to me that France should reduce its military budget and from those billions of euro saved, could easily finance demands of the protesters.

Another reader wrote that the richest citizens of France (or call them ‘elites’) should be taxed heavily, and the money saved in this way could be then distributed among the poor and the lower middle class.

Sounds ‘reasonable’? Yes, definitely; reasonable and logical. The only tiny defect is: we all know that it will never happen this way.

President Macron was elevated to the throne by precisely those so-called elites. In return, those rich folks expect their privileges to be guaranteed, even swollen.

And to imagine that a NATO member country (in this case France) would suddenly slash its military budget and from what is saved, start to finance various new social programs for the poor and the middle class, is unrealistic, even childish.

So where will the funds come from, if the French government decides to do something truly ‘radical’; radical at least by the standards of our era of turbo-capitalism: to listen to its own people?

Let me stop beating about the bush and ask my question brutally and concretely: “What if all demands of the Yellow Vests get satisfied; who will pay the bill?”

*****

To put all this into a context: I write this essay in Hanoi, capital of socialist Vietnam.

Some time ago, I used to live in this city. I spent almost three years here, when it was still poor, and people remembered war, some even the French colonialism.

Right after I arrived, what shocked me the most was that while the Vietnamese people seemed to ‘forgive’ the USA, they had never forgiven the French colonialists.

“Why?” I asked my friends. “How is it possible? Wasn’t the US bombing and killing campaign during the ‘American War’ (which is known in the West as ‘Vietnam War’) terribly brutal, with millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians losing their lives?”

“Of course, it was”, I was readily explained. “But we fought and, despite the terrible losses and hardship, we defeated Americans in relatively short time. And anyway, it was not only them; members of the coalition also consisted of countries like South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Thailand, and of course, France.”

And the story continued:

The French were occupying and tormenting us for much longer. They also had been humiliating our people, continuously. They enslaved up, tortured us, took our women, they raped them, and they had stolen all that we had.

Near where I used to live, was a notorious “Central Jail”, equipped with guillotines, torture chambers, solitary confinement cells. Now, on exhibit there, are monstrous instruments used by the French colonizers, to torture and rape captured Vietnamese patriot women: beer bottles, electric wires, walking canes.

Liberty-Equality-Fraternity but only for French

Whatever the colonized Indochina had, was stolen: taken to France, in order to finance construction of grandiose theatres, railroads, metro, parks, and universities. And, yes, to subsidize formation of that famous French social system which, as the Yellow Vests are now correctly saying, is being dismantled by the French ‘elites’ and by the political system which they are fully controlling.

Vietnamese people fought bravely against the French, finally defeating them during an iconic battle at Dien Bien Phu. But the victorious Vietnamese Communist forces inherited ransacked, divided land, stripped of its resources and even of its art work (several French intellectuals, including famous writer and later Minister of Culture in de Gaulle’s government, Andre Malraux, confessed to stealing art objects from ‘Indochina’, when he lived there as a young man).

Needless to say, that until now, French companies are brutally pillaging many parts of Southeast Asia, through mining and other neo-colonialist projects, as they do in various areas of Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.

Now ask in Hanoi, ask in Phnom Penh or Vientiane, whether people of ‘Indochina’ (what an insulting and bizarre name was given to this part of the world by the French, during the colonial era!) are supporting Yellow Vests in Paris? Ask whether they think that if they win concessions in Paris, it would improve life in Asia.

Are you guessing what the answer would be?

*****

I don’t say that demands of the people who are fighting in the streets of Paris are wrong. They are not. They are absolutely legitimate.

French elites are brutal, selfish, even perverse. Present French government is simply serving them, as the US presidents are all serving huge corporations, including those deadly military conglomerates. ‘They should go’, they should disappear, give way to what is logical human evolutionary pattern: a socialist, egalitarian society.

But they are not ready to go. On the contrary. They are robbing, for centuries, entire planet, and now they went so far as to plundering their own people (who were used to sharing the booty).

French citizens are not used to being plundered. For centuries they lived well, and for several last decades, they were living ‘extremely well’. They were enjoying some of the most generous benefits anywhere in the world.

Who paid for it? Did it matter? Was it ever important to those in Paris, in other big cities, or in the countryside? Were the French farmers wondering how come they were getting generous subsidies when they were producing excessive amounts of food and wine, but also when they were asked by the government not to produce much of anything? Did they often travel to Senegal, or elsewhere in West Africa, to investigate how these subsidies thoroughly destroyed agriculture sector in several former French colonies? Did they care that lives of millions there were totally ruined? Or that as far as Indonesia or Brazil, French corporations have been, aggressively, taking over food and beverage production, as well as food distribution, and that as a result, food prices in many poor countries skyrocketed to double or triple of what they are in Paris, while the local incomes remain, in some cases, only 10% of those in France?

And the food is only one example. But this essay was supposed to be about something slightly different: about the Yellow Vests, and what will happen if all of their demands would be met.

*****

If we agree that the regime that is governing in France, entire West, and in many of its colonies and neo-colonies, is truly monstrous, perverse and brutal, we have to come to a logical conclusion that it is not going to pay the bill for better medical care, education, as well as lower taxes and higher wages of the ordinary French citizens.

If demands of the protesters are met, there will be someone else who will be forced to cover the bill. Most likely tens of millions, or hundreds of millions will be ‘taxed’. And they will not be living in France, or in the European Union, or even anywhere near.

Are protesters of Mouvement des gilets jaunes, thinking about this? Does it matter to them at least a little bit?

It did not in the past, either. Perhaps when few people like Jean Paul Sartre were still alive, these questions were periodically asked. But not lately; not now. Not during this rebellion on Champs-Élysées.

Do people in France question how many millions would have to die in order to improve the quality of life in the French cities and in provinces?

Or perhaps, to ‘compensate’, to cover the social spending, some country would ‘have to be’ invaded? Would it be Iran? Or maybe Venezuela?

The New York Times, in one of its articles about the French provinces, mentioned that people were complaining they cannot afford to even take their wives to a restaurant for dinner, anymore. That is truly serious, but would it justify a battle for Iran or Venezuela, and their consequent plunder, or would it excuse massacre of further few hundreds of thousands of West Papuans?

*****

I would suggest something that would help to convince the true internationalists, as well as people all over the pillaged world, that the Mouvement des gilets jaunes is not just selfishly fighting for the benefits that would improve lives of the French citizens, at the expense of many others all over the world:

They should indicate that they understand; that they are not indifferent to others. Say clearly that they are against capitalism and imperialism, against colonialism and plundering of the people and their resources in absolutely all parts of our Planet!

Say that they are for freedom, equality, and fraternity of all human beings, not just French!

Say that this is true revolution, true battle for improving the world, not just for more money, lower taxes, and better benefits exclusively for people who are living in France!

Say that they would never accept any benefits or extra money, if they come from robbing poor and colonized nations of all that have left.

If they do say all this, and if they demonstrate that they truly mean it, I will have to shout Vive la Révolution! and join them – the protesters – wholeheartedly.

But until they do, until I am convinced that their victory would not harm others, millions of others, I’ll continue to be much more concerned about people of Vietnam and Papua, about Iran, Africa, Syria or the entire Middle East, than about whether some one individual in rural France can afford to take his wife for dinner to a restaurant.

• Originally published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

The Saudi Arabian Model: Blueprints for Murder and Purchasing Arms

It reads like a swaying narrative of retreat.  A man’s body is subjected to a gruesome anatomical fate, his parts separated by a specially appointed saw doctor – an expert in the rapid autopsy – overseen by a distinctly large number of individuals.  Surveillance cameras had improbably failed that day.  We are not sure where, along the line, the torturers began their devilish task: the diligent beating punctuated by questions, followed by the severing of fingers, or perhaps a skipping of any formalities.  One Turkish investigator sniffing around the Saudi consulate in Istanbul saw such handiwork “like a Tarantino film.”

The result was clear enough: the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went into the Saudi embassy on October 2 and never came out alive.  (Even an attempt of the gathered crew of death to procure a Khashoggi double was noted.)

For aspiring authoritarians, the Saudi state is a model instructor.  First came blanket denial to the disappearance: the Saudi authorities had no idea where the journalist had gone after October 2.  On October 18, Riyadh officially acknowledged Khashoggi’s death.  By October 21, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir had come to the conclusion that this had, in fact, been murder, and a mistake. “This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the authorities and responsibilities they had”.

Then, an improbable story of a fist fight developed through the media channels. (When one has to kill, it is best to regard the enemy as inappropriately behaved when they dare fight back.)  In the presence of 15 Saudi operatives, this was all richly incredulous – but the Kingdom does specialise in baffling and improbable cruelties.

It was clear that distancing was fundamental, hence the cultivation of the “rogue” theory, with Saudi operatives taking a merry trip off the beaten path.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was happy to pour water on the suggestion. “We have strong evidence in our hands that shows the murder wasn’t accidental but was instead the outcome of a planned operation.”  It had been executed “in a ferocious manner”.

The Turkish president has, however, danced around the issue of ultimate state sanctioned responsibility.  Neither King Salman, nor Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have been publicly outed in any statements as either showing awareness of the killing or ordering it.  Prince MBS and his father are happy to keep it that way, severing their links with the killing as assuredly as the killers had severed the journalist’s fingers.  This is evidenced by the Crown Prince’s own labelling of the act as a “heinous crime that cannot be justified”.

The Saudi Public Prosecutor has also decided to move the case from one of accidental killing (fist fights will do that sort of thing) to one of planned murder.  A bit of cosmetic housecleaning has been taking place (another authoritarian lesson: look busy, seem engaged with heavy concern): 18 people have been arrested and two advisers sacked by the Saudi state.  The Crown Prince, according to the official Saudi Press Agency, has chaired the first meeting of a committee established to reform the country’s intelligence services.

This authoritarian blueprint also implies a staying power in the face of other states who see Saudi Arabia as cash cow and security partner.  The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a rich appetite for foreign arms, a point not missed on the weapons makers of the globe.  Some attrition is bound to take place: certain countries, keen to keep their human rights credentials bright and in place, will temporarily suspend arms sales.  Others will simply claim disapproval but continue leaving signatures on the relevant contracts of sale.

Some ceremonial condemnations have been registered.  Members of the European Parliament voted upon a non-binding resolution on Thursday to “impose an EU-wide arms embargo on Saudi Arabia.”  Germany, temporarily concerned, has suspended arms sales to the House of Saud, with Chancellor Angela Merkel deeming the Khashoggi killing “monstrous”. Canada’s Justin Trudeau briefly pondered what to do with a lucrative defence contract with Riyadh worth $12 billion, only to then step back.

The Canadian prime minister did acknowledge that the killing of Khashoggi “is something that is extremely preoccupying to Canadians, to Canada and to many of our allies around the world” but has not made good any threats.  His predecessor has become the ideal alibi.  “The contract signed by the previous government, by Stephen Harper, makes it very difficult to suspend or leave that contract.”  Cancellation would lead to penalties which, in turn, would affect the Canadian tax payer.  How fortunate for Trudeau.

France, the United Kingdom and the United States remain the three biggest suppliers of military hardware to the kingdom, a triumvirate of competitors that complicates any effective embargo.  Which state, after all, wants to surrender market share?  It’s a matter of prestige, if nothing else.  President Donald Trump’s reaction is already clear: a suitably adjusted lid will be deployed to keep things in check till matters blow over; in the meantime, nothing will jeopardise a $110 billion arms deal.  Business with a theocracy can be patriotic.

The French angle has been reserved and coldly non-committal.  “Weapons exports to Saudi Arabia are examined in this context,” claimed foreign ministry deputy spokesman Olivier Gauvin, meaning that his country’s arms control policy was made on a case-by-case basis.  For France, keeping Riyadh in stiff opposition to Tehran’s regional ambitions has been a matter of importance in its Middle Eastern policy for decades, a point reiterated by President Emmanuel Macron in April.  And the Kingdom pays French arms exporters well: between 2008 and 2017, Saudi Arabia proved the second biggest purchaser of French arms (some 11 billion euros), with 2017 being a bumper year with licenses coming to 14.7 billion euros.  Riyadh can expect little change there.

Britain’s Theresa May, in the tradition of elastic British diplomacy (condemnation meets inertia), has insisted that her government already has the appropriately stringent rules on arms exports, another way of shunning any European resolution that might perch on human rights.  Such strictness evidently does not preclude the eager oil sheiks of Riyadh, though Britain’s foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt did suggest the Khashoggi killing, should it “turn out to be true” would be “fundamentally incompatible with our values and we will act accordingly.”  Such actions are bound to be symbolic – much money has been received by the British arms industry, with earnings of £4.6 billion coming from sales to the Kingdom since the Saudi-led war on Yemen began in 2015.  Sowing death, even if through the good agency of a theocratic power, is lucrative.

The fate of Khashoggi, cruel and ghastly, seems a piddle of insignificance in that light.  “Brexit,” urged Philippe Lamberts, MEP and leader of the Group of the Greens, “must not be an excuse for the UK to abdicate on its moral responsibilities.” That abdication, on the part of Britain and its arms competitors, took place sometime ago.

Embassy Disappearances: Jamal Khashoggi and the Foreign Policy Web

Do this outside. You will put me into trouble.

— Mohammad al-Otaibi, Saudi consul, to Saudi agents, Istanbul, October 2, 2018

It smells, but anything wedged between the putrefaction of Saudi foreign policy, the ambition of Turkish bellicosity, and the US muddling middleman is bound to.  Three powers tussling over image and appearance; all engaged in a wrestle over how best to seem the least hypocritical.  US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi already seems to have found his name into the books of martyred dissidents, but we have no body, merely an inflicted disappearance suggesting a gruesome murder.

The journalist, a notable critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was last seen on October 2 entering the residence of the Saudi consul-general in Istanbul, ostensibly to obtain a document necessary for his upcoming nuptials.  A senior Turkish official put forth a brutal scenario on Wednesday based on obtained audio recordings.  Saudi operatives, probably numbering 15 from the intelligence services and the Royal Guards, were waiting for Khashoggi’s arrival at 1.15 pm.  Within a matter of minutes, Khashoggi was dead, decapitated, dismembered, his fingers removed.  The entire operation took two hours.

The New York Times pondered how the brutality was inflicted.  “Whether Mr. Khashoggi was killed before his fingers were removed and his body dismembered could not be determined.”  The Saudi consul Mohammad al-Otaibi was revealed to be squeamish and worried, suggesting the agents ply their craft elsewhere.  The reply from one of the company was curt and unequivocal: “If you want to live when you come back to Arabia, shut up.”  A Saudi doctor of forensics, Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, a worthy addition to the crew, got to work disposing of the body.  His advice to any companions feeling wobbly: listen to music, soothe the savage breast.

A danse macabre has developed between the various power players.  US president Donald Trump has asked his Turkish counterparts for any audio or video evidence that might shed light on the journalist’s fate.  To date, these have been drip fed with tantalising timing, disturbing the White House’s neat and comfortable acceptance of the account put forth by Riyadh.  But Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, an individual never shy to exploit a jingoistic moment, has remained cautiously reticent.

This is where the world of image, supposition, and make-believe, comes into play.  The procuring of evidence is being resisted.  Trump asks, but does not expect any. The Turkish side, thus far, supplies crumbs, finding their way into selected news outlets such as the Daily Yeni Şafak.  Trump, for his part, remains non-committal, even indifferent to what might emerge.  “I’m not sure yet that it exists, probably does, probably does.”

The picture is patchy, gathered from audio surveillance, intercepted communications and a miscellany of sources, but on this point, Ankara remains ginger.  US intelligence officials have so far suggested that circumstantial evidence on the involvement of Crown Prince Mohammed is growing.

Trump’s game with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of hedging and hoping: hedging on the issue of blood-linked complicity, and hoping that the sordid matter will simply evaporate in the ether of the next event.  “I just want to find out what’s happening,” he deflected. “I’m not giving cover at all.” But he has again fallen victim to the characteristic, off colour corker: allegations against the Saudis might be analogously seen with those of sexual assault against now confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.  “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent.  I don’t like that.  We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”  US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also shown a marked reluctance to go near any details, telling the press that any facts on Khashoggi will not be discussed.

Politicians in the United States have been attempting to add tears and remorse to the equation, though these dry quickly.  Rep. Eric Swalwell Jr. from California suggested that the explanations were needless. “If someone was killed in your home, while you were in it, and 15 days later you’re still coming up with an explanation… forget it.  We already know.”  US Rep. Paul Ryan and Senator Orrin Hatch are chewing over the prospect that Khashoggi’s fate might have been occasioned by an “interrogation gone wrong”.

The one person to again blow the cover off any niceties, to destroy the façade of propriety in what is otherwise a grizzly affair is the US president. He has avoided funereal respects and regrets. He has avoided referencing any idyllic notions of a free press.  The all-powerful dollar and arms sales remain paramount.  “You’ve got $100 billion worth of arms sales… we cannot alienate our biggest player in the Middle East.”  And just to show that a love of God and the foetus won’t deter evangelicals from embracing a ghoulish Arab theocracy, Pat Robertson has added his hearty support. “For those who are screaming blood for the Saudis – look, these people are our allies.”

Whatever happens regarding Khashoggi, the relationship between Washington and Riyadh is assured.  Turkey, from first signs, is avoiding open confrontation.  Murder, alleged or otherwise, can take place in certain circumstances, however brazenly executed. The brutality against Khashoggi, should it ever come to be properly aired, is but another footnote in the program of a kingdom indifferent to suffering, from the saw doctor to the jet.  And business remains business.

Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos

In the early seventies, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were torn to distraction by a Greek refugee journalist living in the U.S. named Elias Demetracopoulos. He had been definitively documenting — on an ongoing basis — the ties they had with the corrupt junta ruling the cradle of democracy in unprecedented authoritarian fashion.

No matter what one thinks of Christopher Hitchens in general, prior to his apostasy he wrote a really convincing account (in his The Trial of Henry Kissinger) of how U.S. federal agencies (with the encouragement of Nixon and Kissinger) conspired with the extreme right-wing dictatorship of generals (under psychopath Brigadier Ioannidis) to kidnap and kill Demetracopoulos by luring him to their embassy.

Wow, the more things move along the more they remain the same, yes?

One of the things that has gotten lost in the shuffle with regard to Khashoggi’s “disappearance” is the legal responsibility the CIA has for warning residents of the U.S. when they know that such dynamics have been set in motion; early reports indicated that there was definitely some serious question about whether or not federal agencies knew what was about to come down. Regardless, the fact that none of what was attempted with Demetracopoulos many decades ago would have been considered without “approval” from the highest levels of our government should give everyone pause in responding to the abomination of Khashoggi’s disappearance. For the same is true today, and has always been true… whether it involved the murders of Rene SchneiderSheik Mujibur Rahman or Archbishop Makarios.

Murder is murder, and no amount of arms sales should preclude the prosecution of criminality, especially when war criminality is intimately associated with the kind of horrific act inflicted on an individual; I’m thinking of Yemen’s current crisis, for one.

Trump was lying when he claimed that the Saudis could simply buy weapons elsewhere if we rubbed them the wrong way over Khashoggi’s disappearance; arms supplied by the West for decades have components which make it impossible to turn easily to Russia or China as a supplier. Dealing with all that would take decades. And the impact of losing $100 billion plus for our economy was enormously exaggerated. No matter what, though, we cannot afford to use jobs or anything like that as the bottom line for our moral compass.

Kavanaugh Is The Wrong Nominee For Our Times

Demonstrators protest outside of Supreme Court after Judge Brett Kavanaugh was chosen by President Trump as his nominee for the high court. From FOX 45 DC twitter.

The Kavanaugh confirmation process has been a missed opportunity for the United States to face up to many urgent issues on which the bi-partisans in Washington, DC are united and wrong.

Kavanaugh’s career as a Republican legal operative and judge supporting the power of corporations, the security state and abusive foreign policy should have been put on trial. The hearings could have provided an opportunity to confront the security state, use of torture, mass spying and the domination of money in politics and oligarchy as he has had an important role in each of these.

Kavanaugh’s behavior as a teenager who likely drank too much and was inappropriately aggressive and abusive with women, perhaps even attempting rape, must also be confronted. In an era where patriarchy and mistreatment of women are being challenged, Kavanaugh is the wrong nominee for this important time. However, sexual assault should not be a distraction that keeps the the public’s focus off other issues raised by his career as a conservative political activist.

A demonstration against the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh outside the Capitol this month. Credit Erin Schaff for The New York Times

The Security State, Mass Spying and Torture

A central issue of our era is the US security state — mass spying on emails, Internet activity, texts and phone calls. Judge Kavanaugh enabled invasive spying on everyone in the United States.  He described mass surveillance as “entirely consistent” with the US Constitution. This is a manipulation of the law as the Constitution plainly requires probable cause and a search warrant for the government to search an individual.

Kavanaugh explained in a decision, “In my view, that critical national security need outweighs the impact on privacy occasioned by this [NSA] program.” This low regard for protecting individual privacy should have been enough for a majority of the Senate to say this nominee is inappropriate for the court.

Kavanaugh ruled multiple times that police have the power to search people, emphasizing “reasonableness” as the standard for searching people. He ruled broadly for the police in searches conducted on the street without a warrant. He ruled in favor of broader use of drug testing of federal employees. Kavanaugh applauded Justice Rehnquist’s views on the Fourth Amendment, which favored police searches by defining probable cause in a flexible way and creating a broad exception for when the government has “special needs” to search without a warrant of probable cause. In this era of police abuse through stop and frisk, jump out squads and searches when driving (or walking or running) while black, Kavanaugh is the wrong nominee and should be disqualified.

Kavanaugh also played a role in the Bush torture policy. Torture is against US and international law, certainly facilitating torture should be disqualifying not only as a justice but should result in disbarment as a lawyer. Kavanaugh was appointed by President Trump, who once vowed he would “bring back waterboarding and … a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Minimizing torture is demonstrated in his rulings; e.g., not protecting prisoners at risk of torture and not allowing people to sue the government on allegations of torture.

Torture is a landmine in the Senate, so Kavanaugh misled the Senate, likely committing perjury on torture.  In his 2006 confirmation, he said he was “not involved” in “questions about the rules governing detention of combatants.” Tens of thousands of documents have been kept secret by the White House about Kavanaugh from the Bush era. Even so, during these confirmation hearings documents related to the nomination of a lawyer involved in the torture program showed Kavanaugh’s role in torture policies leading Senator Dick Durbin to write:

It is clear now that not only did Judge Kavanaugh mislead me when it came to his involvement in the Bush Administration’s detention and interrogation policies, but also regarding his role in the controversial Haynes nomination.

Durbin spoke more broadly about perjury writing:

This is a theme that we see emerge with Judge Kavanaugh time and time again – he says one thing under oath, and then the documents tell a different story.  It is no wonder the White House and Senate Republicans are rushing through this nomination and hiding much of Judge Kavanaugh’s record—the questions about this nominee’s credibility are growing every day.

Perjury allegations should be investigated and if proven should result in him not being confirmed.

This should have been enough to stop the process until documents were released to reveal Kavanaugh’s role as Associate White House Counsel under George Bush from 2001 to 2003 and as his White House Staff Secretary from 2003 to 2006. Unfortunately, Democrats have been complicit in allowing torture as well; e.g., the Obama administration never prosecuted anyone accused of torture and advanced the careers of people involved in torture.

Shouldn’t  the risk of having a torture facilitator on the Supreme Court be enough to stop this nomination?

Protesters show there are a lot of reasons to reject Kavanaugh (Photo from NARAL Twitter)

Corporate Power vs Protecting People and the Planet

In this era of corporate power, Kavanaugh sides with the corporations. Ralph Nader describes him as a corporation masquerading as a judge.  He narrowly limited the powers of federal agencies to curtail corporate power and to protect the interests of the people and planet.

This is evident in cases where Kavanaugh has favored reducing restrictions on polluting corporations. He dissented in cases where the majority ruled in favor of environmental protection but has never dissented where the majority ruled against an environmental interest. He ruled against agencies seeking to protect clean air and water. If Kavanaugh is on the court, it will be much harder to hold corporations responsible for the damage they have done to the climate, the environment or health.

Kavanaugh takes the side of businesses over their workers with a long history of anti-union and anti-labor rulings. A few examples of many, he ruled in favor of the Trump Organization throwing out the results of a union election, sided with the management of Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian Casino Resort upholding the casino’s First Amendment right to summon police against workers engaged in a peaceful demonstration — for which they had a permit, affirmed the Department of Defense’s discretion to negate the collective bargaining rights of employees, and overturned an NLRB ruling that allowed Verizon workers to display pro-union signs on company property despite having given up the right to picket in their collective bargaining agreement. In this time of labor unrest and mistreatment of workers, Kavanaugh will be a detriment to workers rights.

Kavanough opposed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling in favor of net neutrality, which forbids telecom companies from discrimination on the Internet. He argued net neutrality violated the First Amendment rights of Internet Service Providers (ISP) and was beyond the power granted to the FCC. He put the rights of big corporations ahead of the people having a free and open Internet. The idea that an ISP has a right to control what it allows on the Internet could give corporations great control over what people see on the Internet. It is a very dangerous line of reasoning in this era of corporations curtailing news that challenges the mainstream narrative.

In 2016, Kavanaugh was asked if he believed that money spent during campaigns represents speech, and is protected by the First Amendment and answered: “Absolutely.”  Kavanaugh joined in decisions and wrote opinions consistent with efforts to oppose any attempt by Congress or the Federal Elections Commission to restrict campaign contributions or expenditures. His view that free speech allows unrestricted money in elections will add to the avalanche of big money politics. Wealthy elites and big corporations will have even greater influence with Kavanaugh on the court.

Kavanaugh will be friendly to powerful business and the interests of the wealthy on the Supreme Court, and will tend to stand in the way of efforts by administrative agencies to regulate them and by people seeking greater rights.

Kavanaugh protesters call for his rejection over sexual assault call to Believe Survivors (Photo by Carol Kaster Associated Press)

Women’s Rights, Abortion and Sexual Assault

Judge Kavanaugh has not ruled on Roe v. Wade and whether the constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion. In 2017, Kavanaugh gave a Constitution Day lecture to the conservative American Enterprise Institute where he praised Justice Rehnquist and one of the cases he focused on was his dissent in Roe. Rehnquist opposed making abortion constitutionally protected, writing, it was not “rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people.”  Shortly after that speech, Kavanaugh wrote a dissent that argued an immigrant minor in government detention did not have a right to obtain an abortion.

On the third day of his confirmation hearings, Judge Brett Kavanaugh seemed to refer to the use of contraception as “abortion-inducing drugs.” It was a discussion of a case where Kavanaugh dissented from the majority involving the Priests for Life’s challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Kavanaugh opposed the requirement that all health plans cover birth control, claiming that IUDs and emergency contraception were an infringement of their free exercise of religion.

Multiple accusers have come forward to allege Kavanaugh’s involvement in sexual assault and abuse. While Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is viewed as credible — she was the only witness allowed to testify — it is not clear these allegations will be thoroughly reviewed. After being approved by the committee, the Republican leadership and President Trump agreed on a limited FBI investigation. It is unclear whether the FBI will be allowed to follow all the evidence and question all the witnesses. As we write this newsletter, the outcome has yet to unfold. If there is corroborating evidence for the accusers, Kavanaugh should not be approved.

A Republican Political Operative As A Justice?

Kavanaugh has been a legal operative for the Republican Party involved in many high profile partisan legal battles. He spent three years working for Ken Starr on the impeachment of Bill Clinton where he pressed Starr to ask Clinton sexually graphic details about his relationship with Monica Lewinisky. He tried to expand the Starr investigation into the death of Vince Foster, whose death had been ruled a suicide. He was a lead author of the infamous Starr Report—widely criticized as “strain[ing] credulity” and being based on “shaky allegations.”

Kavanaugh was one of George W. Bush’s lawyers in the litigation after the election in 2000, which sought to block a recount of ballots in Florida, resulting in a decision that handed the presidential election to Bush. In the Bush administration, he was involved in pushing for conservative judges as well as controversial policies like torture.

During his confirmation process, in response to the accusations of assault, he claimed they were “a calculated and orchestrated political hit” and “revenge on behalf of the Clinton’s.” He demonstrated partisan anger and displayed a lack of judicial temperament, making him unfit to serve on the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh exposes the true partisan nature of the highest court, which is not a neutral arbiter but another battleground for partisan politics. The lack of debate on issues of spying, torture and more shows both parties support a court that protects the security state and corporate interests over people and planet. Accusations of sexual assault must be confronted, but there are many reasons Kavanaugh should not be on the court. The confirmation process undermines the court’s legitimacy and highlights bi-partisan corruption.

Marching for Peace: From Helmand to Hiroshima

I have just arrived in Hiroshima with a group of Japanese “Okinawa to Hiroshima peace walkers” who had spent nearly two months walking Japanese roads protesting U.S. militarism.  While we were walking, an Afghan peace march that had set off in May was enduring 700km of Afghan roadsides, poorly shod, from Helmand province to Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul. Our march watched the progress of theirs with interest and awe.  The unusual Afghan group had started off as 6 individuals, emerging out of a sit-in protest and hunger strike in the Helmand provincial capital Lashkar Gah, after a suicide attack there created dozens of casualties. As they started walking their numbers soon swelled to 50 plus as the group braved roadside bombs, fighting between warring parties and exhaustion from desert walking during the strict fast month of Ramadan.

The Afghan march, which is believed to be the first of its kind, is asking for a long-term ceasefire between warring parties and the withdrawal of foreign troops. One peace walker, named Abdullah Malik Hamdard, felt that he had nothing to lose by joining the march. He said: “Everybody thinks they will be killed soon, the situation for those alive is miserable. If you don’t die in the war, the poverty caused by the war may kill you, which is why I think the only option left for me is to join the peace convoy.”

The Japanese peace walkers marched to specifically halt the construction of a U.S. airfield and port with an ammunition depot in Henoko, Okinawa, which will be accomplished by landfilling Oura Bay, a habitat for the dugong and unique coral hundreds of years old, but many more lives are endangered. Kamoshita Shonin, a peace walk organizer who lives in Okinawa, says:

People in mainland Japan do not hear about the extensive bombings by the U.S. in the Middle East and Afghanistan, they are told that the bases are a deterrent against North Korea and China, but the bases are not about protecting us, they are about invading other countries. This is why I organised the walk.

Sadly, the two unconnected marches shared one tragic cause as motivation.

Recent U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan include the deliberate targeting of civilian wedding parties and funerals, incarceration without trial and torture in Bagram prison camp, the bombing of an MSF hospital in Kunduz, the dropping of the ‘Mother of all bombs’ in Nangarhar, illegal transportation of Afghans to secret black site prisons, Guantanamo Bay prison camp, and the extensive use of armed drones. Elsewhere the U.S. has completely destabilised the Middle East and Central Asia, according to The Physicians for Social Responsibility, in a report released in 2015, stated that the U.S. interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan alone killed close to 2 million, and that the figure was closer to 4 million when tallying up the deaths of civilians caused by the U.S. in other countries, such as Syria and Yemen.

The Japanese group intend to offer prayers of peace this Monday at Hiroshima ground zero, 73 years to the day after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city, instantly evaporating 140,000 lives, arguably one of the worst ‘single event’ war crimes committed in human history. Three days later the U.S. hit Nagasaki instantly killing 70,000. Four months after the bombing the total death toll had reached 280,000 as injuries and the impact of radiation doubled the number of fatalities.

Today Okinawa, long a target for discrimination by Japanese authorities, accommodates 33 U.S. military bases, occupying 20% of the land, housing some 30,000 plus U.S. Marines who carry out dangerous training exercises ranging from rope hangs suspended out of Osprey helicopters (often over built-up residential areas), to jungle trainings which run straight through villages, arrogantly using people’s gardens and farms as mock conflict zones. Of the 14,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Afghanistan, many to most would have trained on Okinawa, and even flown out directly from the Japanese Island to U.S. bases such as Bagram.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan the walkers, who call themselves the ‘People’s Peace Movement’, are following up their heroic ordeal with protests outside various foreign embassies in Kabul.  This week they are outside the Iranian Embassy demanding an end to Iranian interference in Afghan matters and their equipping armed militant groups in the country. It is lost on no-one in the region that the U.S., which cites such Iranian interference as its pretext for building up towards a U.S.-Iran war, is an incomparably more serious supplier of deadly arms and destabilizing force to the region. They have staged sit-in protests outside the U.S., Russian, Pakistani and U.K. embassies, as well as the U.N. offices in Kabul.

The head of their impromptu movement, Mohammad Iqbal Khyber, says the group have formed a committee comprised of elders and religious scholars. The assignment of the committee is to travel from Kabul to Taliban-controlled areas to negotiate peace.

The U.S. have yet to describe its long term or exit strategy for Afghanistan. Last December Vice President Mike Pence addressed U.S. troops in Bagram: “I say with confidence, because of all of you and all those that have gone before and our allies and partners, I believe victory is closer than ever before.”

But time spent walking doesn’t bring your destination closer when you don’t have a map.  More recently U.K. ambassador for Afghanistan Sir Nicholas Kay, while speaking on how to resolve conflict in Afghanistan said: “I don’t have the answer.”  There never was a military answer for Afghanistan.  Seventeen years of ‘coming closer to victory’ in eliminating a developing nation’s domestic resistance is what is called “defeat,” but the longer the war goes on, the greater the defeat for Afghanistan’s people.

Historically the U.K. has been closely wedded to the U.S. in their ‘special relationship’, sinking British lives and money into every conflict the U.S. has initiated. This means the U.K. was complicit in dropping 2,911 weapons on Afghanistan in the first 6 months of 2018, and in President Trump’s greater-than-fourfold average increase on the number of bombs dropped daily by his warlike predecessors. Last month Prime Minister Theresa May increased the number of British troops serving in Afghanistan to more than 1,000, the biggest U.K. military commitment to Afghanistan since David Cameron withdrew all combat troops four years ago.

Unbelievably, current headlines read that after 17 years of fighting, the U.S. and Afghan Government are considering collaboration with the extremist Taliban in order to defeat ISKP, the local ‘franchise’ of Daesh.

Meanwhile UNAMA has released its mid-year assessment of the harm done to civilians. It found that more civilians were killed in the first six months of 2018 than in any year since 2009, when UNAMA started systematic monitoring. This was despite the Eid ul-Fitr ceasefire, which all parties to the conflict, apart from ISKP, honoured.

Every day in the first six months of 2018, an average of nine Afghan civilians, including two children, were killed in the conflict. An average of nineteen civilians, including five children, were injured every day.

This October Afghanistan will enter its 18th year of war with the U.S. and supporting NATO countries. Those young people now signing up to fight on all sides were in nappies when 9/11 took place. As the ‘war on terror’ generation comes of age, their status quo is perpetual war, a complete brainwashing that war is inevitable, which was the exact intention of warring decision makers who have become exceedingly rich of the spoils of war.

Optimistically there is also a generation who are saying “no more war, we want our lives back”, perhaps the silver lining of the Trump cloud is that people are finally starting to wake up and see the complete lack of wisdom behind the U.S. and its hostile foreign and domestic policies, while the people follow in the steps of non-violent peace makers such as Abdul Ghafoor Khan, the change is marching from the bottom up.

Okinawa to Hiroshima Peace Walk (Photo by Maya Evans)