Category Archives: US War Crimes

Solidarity in a Time of Pandemic, while the US capitalizes on Disaster

Like most everyone else, I don’t get out much lately due to shelter-in-place. But when I walk around my community, I am heartened by neighbors asking if there is anything we might need. I suspect this scenario is taking place everywhere.

Around the world amidst the pandemic, people step out at a mutually designated evening hour to make noise in a collective show of gratitude for heroic frontline healthcare workers. In New York City and Rome, they bang pots and pans. They’re cheering from rooftops in London and Vancouver. Elsewhere they sing in harmony. Here in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, we emerge at dusk to howl like coyotes.

What we are seeing is not social distancing but people coming together…while maintaining the prescribed 6-foot physical distancing. Our enforced physical isolation has paradoxically awakened a deeper appreciation of our commonality and mutual dependence, echoed by the response of nations other than the US.

International solidarity

Cuba has sent over 700 health professionals all over the world to fight COVID-19. The antiviral recombinant Interferon alfa-2b, developed in Cuba, has been successfully used in China to treat the virus in its early stages and is being exported widely. The Cuban approach is: “we don’t just give what we have left over but share what we have.” In a word, solidarity.

The Venezuelan air force mobilized to carry Cuban medical brigades to Caribbean counties fighting COVID-19. Venezuelan soldiers mustered not to their guns but to sewing machines to stitch surgical masks for civilians to protect them from the virus. This is being done in the context of ever-tightening sanctions on Venezuela by the US, blockading Venezuela at a cost of over 100,000 lives.

China, having contained its own outbreak in an effort the World Health Organization (WHO) praised as unprecedented, sent critically needed respirators and other medical equipment to 35 other countries and regions. Responding to shortages in the US, China flew in tons of medical equipment to New York,  Illinois, Ohio, and other US states. Russia airlifted 60 tons of needed ventilators, masks, and respirators to the US and has aided other countries in the global effort to contain the pandemic.

In the same spirit, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a global ceasefire: “There should be only one fight in our world today, our shared battle against COVID-19…[to] end the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world.” Over 70 nations have endorsed the ceasefire, as did Pope Francis and religious leaders of diverse faiths, but not the US.

“The war on this virus can only be successful if all nations can win this war together, and no affected nation is left behind,” wrote Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in an open letter to the American people. “This is the other side of the globalization coin; a signal that happiness and calamity are both globalized.”

Washington has seen the pandemic as an opportunity

The virus does not discriminate, attacking oppressed and oppressor alike. Unfortunately, the US government does more than discriminate. Washington has seen the pandemic as an opportunity.

The US government is exploiting the pandemic as an opportunity to increase misery in Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Syria and other countries the world’s hegemon doesn’t care for. And these besieged states are not alone. One-third of humanity is under ever increasing US sanctions. These unilateral coercive measures, illegal under international and domestic law, are explicitly designed to cause the targeted people to suffer so much they will reject their leaders for those chosen for them by the US.

Filmmaker Oliver Stone and human rights law professor Dan Kovalik describe the US conduct as “weaponizing the virus” against targeted countries. As the US Peace Council reports, the countries targeted by the US “are finding it prohibitively difficult to protect and save the lives of their citizens in the face of the ongoing global emergency. These sanctions constitute crimes against humanity.” In short, sanctions kill.

The US has blocked medical aid to targeted countries. A shipment of test kits, masks, and respirators donated by the Chinese Alibaba group to Cuba had to be aborted, when the US transport company refused to deliver, fearing breaking the US blockade. Correspondingly the US has waged a campaign to force recipient countries to refuse Cuban medical assistance.

Venezuela, with COVID-19 already threatening, applied for an emergency $5 billion loan to combat the virus from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Under US pressure, the IMF denied the request.

Trump threatened to suspend the US contribution to the WHO, the main international body fighting the pandemic. WHO had appealed to the US to lift its sanctions preventing Iran from purchasing drugs and medical equipment. But the US had already rejected the binding but unenforceable ruling of the International Court of Justice (aka World Court) to lift sanctions on medical and humanitarian aid to Iran.

Likewise, the appeal by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet for the US to suspend sanctions amidst the pandemic, because the “impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us,” fell on deaf ears.

The punitive policies of the US government are having the effect of spreading the coronavirus. In response, even close US allies such as the UK, France, and Germany have used the alternative trading tool, INSTEX, to circumvent the US sanctions and deliver humanitarian medical supplies.

At a time when resources are supposedly inadequate to respond to the health crisis in the US, the US Navy is being sent off the Venezuelan coast in the largest regional US military deployment in 30 years. Washington’s bogus claim, that Venezuela is conspiring to “flood the United States with cocaine,” is contradicted by the government’s own statistics that prove that the illicit drugs are coming overwhelmingly out of US client state Colombia, which has received over $10 billion of US aid.

The positioning of the US armada of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, among the world’s most expensive, is overkill for drug interdiction. But the warships, each armed with 56 Tomahawk cruise missiles, land-attack missiles, and anti-ship missiles, along with the deployment of ground Special Forces would be appropriate for threatening an invasion of Venezuela.

US officials claim that this spare-no-expense military exercise is necessary to “send a message” to Venezuelan President Maduro. But given Trump’s undeniable skills in the area, wouldn’t it be far more parsimonious to tweet him? Apparently not, because the US is also using the pandemic as a morbid backdrop for offensive actions in Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and Yemen, to name a few of the more prominent flashpoints engaging the US military. Besides tweeting might not work so well. Twitter, in service of the empire, has suspended the accounts of the minister of health and other top Venezuelan officials.

Gone viral is now a description of the human condition

The critical difference between an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and a ventilator used to treat COVID-19 is that there is no shortage of warships. This will remain the case so long as our bi-partisan foreign policy persists. Working people will be neglected, come pandemics, economic collapse, or both.

The larger question for our times, when “gone viral” is more than a figure of speech but is a description of the human condition, is posed by the New York Times: “Everything is awful. So why is the stock market booming?” The wealthiest member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and its chair, Jerome Powell, is similarly bullish: “There is nothing fundamentally wrong.”

Heidi Shierholz with the Economic Policy Institute looked at precisely the same indicators as did Powell, but from the perspective of the other 99% of humanity, and exclaimed: “I don’t usually look at data releases and just start shaking…This is a portrait of disaster…It represents just incredible amounts of grief and suffering.”

The answer to the Times’ query is that the US empire, as leader of the capitalist world, finds ways to exploit disasters while failing to meet human needs.

Open Letter to Condemn Trump Administration’s Hypocritical Indictment on Drug Charges of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and High-Ranking Venezuelan Officials

We, the undersigned organizations and prominent individuals, condemn the false claims of criminal charges by the US government against the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and other high-ranking officials with the pretext of their alleged involvement in international drug trafficking.

The US government is offering a $15 million bounty for information that would lead to the arrest of Venezuelan President Maduro. Bounties of $10 million are offered for the National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, retired generals Hugo Carvajal and Clive Alcala, Minister for Industry and National Production Tareck El Aissami, and other Venezuelans. The US government indictments accuse the Venezuelan officials of participating in a “narco-terrorism conspiracy” with the Colombian guerrilla group FARC to “flood the United States with cocaine.”

The US has refused to recognize the democratically elected Venezuelan President Maduro and has been seeking to install one to its liking, currently Juan Guaido. What the US is doing is ordering the arrest of world leaders it does not approve of, putting a bounty on their heads.

This decision of the US constitutes a further escalation in coercive measures against a sovereign country, which has included sanctions so extreme as to create a blockade, costing Venezuela 40,000 lives in a period of just over a year and $116 billion in lost revenue.

It is well-documented that two close and long-time US allies in Latin America, the governments of Colombia and Honduras, have been heavily involved in narco trafficking. The last Latin American leader the US charged with drug trafficking was Panama’s Manuel Noriega (who was running drugs with the CIA). The US then invaded his country and later imprisoned him in Miami.

Actual evidence of Venezuela involvement in drug trafficking

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), which is unfriendly to the Venezuelan government, finds: “CCDB [US interagency Consolidated Counterdrug Database] data does not justify many of the claims made by those who advance the ‘narcostate’ narrative to describe organized crime in Venezuela today and to argue against efforts to achieve a negotiated path to democratic governance in Venezuela. As noted, US authorities estimate that 93 percent of US-bound cocaine is trafficked through Western Caribbean and Eastern Pacific routes, not through Venezuela’s Eastern Caribbean coast.”

The WOLA study found that the US government data suggests that, despite these challenges, Venezuela is not a primary transit country for US-bound cocaine. The State Department reports that over six times as much cocaine passed through Guatemala in 2018 than through Venezuela. Around 90 percent of all US-bound cocaine is trafficked through western Caribbean and eastern Pacific routes⁠, not through Venezuela’s eastern Caribbean seas.

The US Department of Justice has not presented evidence to substantiate their narco-trafficking indictment. Washington’s case looks politically motivated. In the wake of over six years of US sanctions and over a year of failed attempted coups, the majority support of the Venezuelan people for their democratically elected government has not been shaken.

We, the undersigned, demand that the US government:

  • Drop the groundless indictments against President Maduro and others.
  • Lift the sanctions so that Venezuela can purchase life-giving medicines and medical equipment to fight the coronavirus pandemic that is threatening the entire world.
  • Restore normal relations with Venezuela based on peace and respect for national sovereignty.

Sincerely,

Susan Sarandon
John Pilger
Noam Chomsky (and 3000 other organizations and individuals)

• A project of Code Pink and Alliance for Global Justice

The Decade of Transformation: Remaking International Relations

The coronavirus pandemic is magnifying the cruelty of US foreign policy. The economic collapse is showing the failure of neoliberalism and how the empire-economy is not working for the people of the world, including the United States.

The US is losing its global dominance as it demonstrates its own incompetence in response to the pandemic and its viciousness in the midst of this crisis. Other countries are showing leadership and solidarity while the US is escalating its attacks.

This is an opportunity to change direction. What seemed impossible in the recent past is now possible. We must seize the opportunity to create change that ensures the necessities of the people are met and the planet is protected. COVID-19 is one immediate crisis, but the climate crisis, nuclear war and economic insecurity all require solidarity between the people of the world.

End Venezuela Sanctions sign on the Venezuela Embassy, from Venezuela Embassy Protectors Collective.

The World Is Turning Against Washington For Undermining Solidarity During The Crisis

No country can fully recover from COVID-19 or the economic collapse unless these crises are resolved for the whole world. Both the economy and pandemic are global and interconnected as are the looming crises of climate chaos and nuclear war. Rather than showing solidarity with other nations in the midst of the crises, the US is escalating economic sanctions and threatening war while undermining a global response to climate and increasing the risks of nuclear war.

Black Alliance for Peace points out: “The brutality and criminality of the colonial/capitalist system of state violence is reflected most graphically by the illegal and immoral policy of sanctions imposed on 39 nations by the U.S. and its Western allies.” Venezuela, Iran and other nations are being denied the ability to import medicines and medical equipment to protect their populations from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 23, the UN General Secretary António Guterres called for “an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world” saying nations should “focus together on the true fight of our lives – the #COVID19 pandemic.” Fifty-three countries immediately agreed. Instead of heeding this call, the US has threatened Iran and Venezuela with military attacks and continued the war with Yemen while eliminating the majority of humanitarian assistance to Yemen. These actions were wrong before the pandemic, but in the midst of the pandemic, they are obscene.

China is sending medical supplies and assistance to 89 countries so far as part of its Health Silk Road. It is ignoring US sanctions by sending drugs, test kits, and supplies to Iran and Venezuela. Hard-hit Italy noted that the other EU nations ignored their desperate plea for medical equipment while China responded. China is building positive relationships by providing essential equipment and expertise while the US is trying and failing to get other nations to sign on to a statement blaming COVID-19 on China.

Cuba has sent brigades of doctors and nurses to Italy, as well as Venezuela, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname, and Grenada. Russia has also sent medical supplies to hard-hit countries like Italy. Even Venezuela, suffering from a US economic blockade and threats of a military attack, is sending aid to its neighbors, including Ecuador and Colombia– even though Colombia has joined the US in threatening Venezuela. The US blocked a shipment of coronavirus aid for Cuba from China’s richest man, Jack Ma, including 100,000 face masks and 10 COVID-19 diagnostic kits, along with other supplies.

Europe is starting to break with the United States. The EU finally sent aid to Iran ignoring US sanctions. France, Germany, and Britain have sent medical goods to Iran through INSTEX — a workaround to export goods to Iran that bypasses US sanctions. This development could have major implications for the ability of the US to unilaterally sanction nations as it provides a way for countries to trade without the US’ financial system. Europe, led by Germany, also backed out of war games against Russia, which would have included a practice nuclear attack, due to the COVID-19 virus.

President Rouhani of Iran sent an open letter to the people of the United States saying, “the war on this virus can only be successful if all nations can win this war together, and no affected nation is left behind.” He urged us to change the direction of the US government, writing, “Future generations will judge the American people based on the actions of their government.”

The zig-zagging incompetence of US policy is evident. During the three months when the Trump administration did not take the virus seriously, the Intercept reports the United States allowed exports of medical supplies and equipment. After examining vessel manifests, the Intercept found “medical equipment needed to treat the coronavirus [was] being shipped abroad as recently as March 17.” This has led to a “persistent lack of medical supplies” in the US.

Now, the US has angered allies by diverting medical supplies to the US. The Washington Post reports that “Berlin expressed outrage over what they said was the diversion to the United States of 200,000 masks that were en route from China, while officials in Brazil and France complained that the United States was outbidding them in the global marketplace for critical medical supplies.” They report the US is also stopping the export of masks to Canada and Latin America.

Even worse, Trump took time from his daily press conference on COVID-19 to escalate threats against Venezuela by sending US naval vessels near Venezuela’s borders. AP reports “The deployment is one of the largest U.S. military operations in the region since the 1989 invasion of Panama … It involves assets like Navy warships, AWACS surveillance aircraft and on-ground special forces seldom seen before in the region.”

This followed a phony indictment of President Maduro and other Venezuelan leaders for alleged narcotrafficking that included a $15 million bounty on Maduro.  President Maduro wrote an open letter to the people of the world that decried the indictment as illegal and part of a US coup attempt writing, “the U.S. government, instead of focusing on policies of global cooperation in health and prevention, has increased unilateral coercive measures, has rejected requests from the international community to lift or make flexible the illegal sanctions that prevent Venezuela from accessing medicines, medical equipment, and food.” The indictment was announced after Venezuela prevented weapons financed by the US from being sent into Venezuela from Colombia for another coup attempt.

Venezuelans in the US who want to fly back to Venezuela to escape the economic and health crises here are not being allowed to charter flights from Florida. The escalation against Venezuela also included the US-controlled IMF blocking a COVID-19 emergency loan to Venezuela. Venezuela has taken aggressive actions to stop the spread of the virus and has been more effective than the US.

The US also shows disregard for its own people, including those in the military, by firing a US Navy Capt. Brett Crozier after he sought help for sailors on the USS Roosevelt aircraft carrier. Crozier wrote his superiors about hundreds of COVID-19 cases and when the letter was leaked, he was fired. As he left the ship, the crew cheered him for standing up for their health and risking his career.  The first government official fired over the virus was one trying to protect people from illness. The US has also directed that reports on COVID-19 in the military be kept secret.

The actions of the US are leading to the reshaping of global leadership.” Patrick Coburn describes COVID-19 as a “Chernobyl moment” and concludes “nobody is today looking to Washington for a solution to the crisis.”

National Security Redefined

The people of the United States have been sold a false definition of national security. The pandemic shows that mass military spending on bombs, weapons, bases, and troops does not provide security. The coronavirus is expected to kill between 100,000 to 240,000 people in the United States if our response goes well and could be more than one million if it is inadequate.  Deaths have already passed 9/11 and Pearl Harbor and could exceed the Vietnam War and World War 1.

We need to redefine national security. David Swanson calls for a real Department of Defense that would prioritize “the twin dangers of nuclear and climate apocalypse, and the accompanying spin-offs like coronavirus.” He points out it would be less expensive to provide financial security and top medical care to everyone on the globe than to fight wars.

Gareth Porter writes, “For decades, the military-industrial-congressional complex has force-fed the American public a warped conception of US national security-focused entirely around perpetuating warfare. The cynical conflation of national security with waging war on designated enemies around the globe effectively stifled public awareness of the clear and present danger posed to its survival by the global pandemic. As a result, Congress was simply not called upon to fund the vitally important equipment that doctors and nurses needed for the Covid-19 crisis.”

The Pentagon was well aware of the threat of a pandemic and anticipated the lack of ventilators, face masks, and hospital beds, according to a 2017 Pentagon plan. Intelligence agencies warned about the threat from influenza viruses for two decades at least and warned about coronaviruses for at least five years. Luciana Borio, director of medical and biodefense preparedness at the National Security Council in May 2018 warned that a flu pandemic was the country’s number one health security threat and that the US was unprepared.

In January 2017, Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there is “no doubt” Donald Trump will be confronted with a surprise infectious disease outbreak during his presidency. In 2019, HHS organized a month-long simulation involving multiple federal offices that demonstrated the US was seriously unprepared to cope with a pandemic. Despite all of this, the president claimed the virus “surprised the whole world,” and “nobody knew there’d be a pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion.”

The White House created a National Security Council office on pandemics, but in 2018 that was disbanded by Trump. The Trump administration also ignored a pandemic playbook that would have ensured a more effective response. The Strategic National Stockpile has not been maintained for years, as it competes with the military budget, which shoveled $15 trillion into wars. The unreplenished stockpile is one reason the US does not have sufficient ventilators and other necessary equipment. The US is also weakened by the shortcomings of the for-profit health system including the closing of hospitals.

What would actually protect US national security?

First and foremost, the US must cease its drive to be the dominant power in the world and recognize we are part of a community of nations that must cooperate to take on the many crises that will define the 2020s. This means ending military aggression and regime change efforts by respecting the sovereignty and integrity of other countries, large and small. It means ending our occupation of other nations in the form of hundreds of military bases and outposts and ending our support for other occupiers such as Israel until it stops its colonization of Palestine. Instead of international war “games”, we could hold international exercises on disaster responses to save lives. And it means respecting and obeying international law and joining the International Criminal Court. The US must stop behaving with impunity.

Second, the US must scale down the military to what is required for protection, an actual defensive approach rather than being offensive. This means cutting the military budget by at least 50% and converting all production of military equipment, supplies, and weapons into public entities to remove the profit motive that drives conflict around the world. These resources can be used for social uplift instead of causing death in a peace economy.

Third, the US must move quickly to eliminate threats to human extinction. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reset the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to “midnight,” putting the world closer to destruction than at any point since the clock was created in 1947. As Alice Slater writes, we have a virus of nuclear proliferation as nuclear arms control agreements collapse. The US is spending more than a trillion dollars to upgrade nuclear weapons while placing ‘low-yield’ nuclear weapons on submarines.

It’s not only superpowers that are engaged in a nuclear arms race, countries like North Korea, which is threatened by the US, and allies like Germany and Saudi Arabia believe they need their own nuclear weapons. The US must commit to the rapid disarmament of all nuclear weapons in cooperation with other nuclear nations and disband the Space Force, which violates the treaty that makes space a global commons.

While COVID-19 is almost certainly a zoonotic disease, David Swanson points out at least some diseases, such as Lyme Disease and Anthrax, have been spread by military labs. Germ warfare is a criminal enterprise and so labs disguised as being for our defense but that create bioweapons need to be closed.

Foreign policy includes trade, which has been designed for corporate profit since NAFTA. The coronavirus collapse shows corporate trade creates weak supply lines. It also hollowed out US manufacturing for cheap labor in Mexico, China, and other nations, creating economic insecurity and leaving us ill-prepared for a crisis. Trade must be remade into fair trade that serves the people and planet, supports industry at home, ends factory farming and creates a balance with nature that will help prevent future animal-based viruses.

A new foreign policy must also confront the climate crisis. This is a global challenge and nations of the world must work together to confront it. The US has been playing a counterproductive role by building fossil fuel infrastructure, becoming a leading oil and gas producer, and holding back global climate treaties. Next week, in our series on “The Decade of Transformation,” we will focus on the environment.

The Time Is Now to Remake US Foreign Policy

The global economic collapse and COVID-19 pandemic are causing widespread suffering and death but will result in change. What that change looks like, positive or negative, is up to us. We must create the new normal that provides for the necessities of the people and protection of the planet. The world must unite in solidarity to confront not only COVID-19 but other crises too.

We applaud countries that are beginning to stand up to US sanctions and work around the US financial system to help countries like Iran and Venezuela. These are positive steps to end US hegemony. We agree with President Rouhani of Iran, it is our responsibility to remake the government so it reflects the best of us.

An immediate step is to end US sanctions. Join us in the Sanctions Kill campaign where the coalition will be organizing webinars and other events to end illegal unilateral coercive measures. There will be an international week of action against imperialism and sanctions from May 25 to 31. We will need to be especially creative to build an effective campaign with tactics that work in this time of physical distancing.

We must also take action now to stop the war on Venezuela. Join the webinar with Carlos Ron, vice foreign minister of Venezuela on Monday night at 6:00 pm Eastern.  Click here for information. Sign onto this demand that the US drop its charges against President Maduro and other Venezuelan officials who have been falsely charged with narco-trafficking. We must be ready to mobilize quickly if the US moves to attack Venezuela, or Iran or any country for that matter while the government believes we are distracted by the pandemic.

We are living in a time of crisis and that can be unnerving. But we have the power to get through this if we mobilize together with a clear vision of the world we wish to create and show our solidarity with each other through our actions. We are one human community  and we need each other to get through the rough times ahead.

Beyond Chutzpah: US Charges Venezuela with Nacro-Terrorism

According to the parable, the ungrateful son takes out a life insurance policy on his parents, murders them to collect, and is caught and found guilty. At his sentencing, the judge asks if he has anything to say on his behalf. The son replies: “Have mercy upon me because I am an orphan.” That’s chutzpah.

US Attorney General Barr’s indictments on March 26 against the government of Venezuela for narco-terrorism go beyond chutzpah. For starters, William P. Barr was chief counsel for the CIA airline Southern Air Transport implicated in the 1980s for running illicit drugs and related narco-terrorism during Iran-Contra.

The US charges of drug trafficking against Venezuela are the height of hypocrisy. The world’s leading source of heroin is US-occupied Afghanistan; the US is the world’s largest cocaine market.

The president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH), is the latest in a line of corrupt presidents since the 2009 US-backed coup there. JOH was identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in October by a US federal court for smuggling multi-million dollars’ worth of cocaine into the US.

Colombia is the chief regional US client state, distinguished by being the largest recipient of US military aid in the hemisphere. Hillary Clinton called Plan Colombia a model for Latin America. Yet this model is the planet’s largest supplier of illicit cocaine. And that’s only scratching the surface of the US’s history of complicity in international narcotrafficking.

The false criminal charges by the US government against fourteen high-ranking Venezuelan officials are for alleged involvement in international drug trafficking. The US government has, in effect, put a $15 million bounty on Venezuelan President Maduro and bounties of $10 million each for the head of the National Constituent Assembly and other leading officials and former officials.

Thirty years ago, the US posted a $1 million reward on the head of Manuel Noriega, then president of Panama, on charges of narcotrafficking. Noriega had long been a US security asset assisting in the US’s dirty Contra war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Noriega had also used his US patronage to consolidate his rule in Panama as well as his ties with Colombian drug cartels. However, toward the end of his tenure, Noriega did not demonstrate a sufficient level of servility to his US handlers and was deposed in the US invasion of Panama in 1989, taking the lives of many uncounted civilians.

As RT warns: “The US indictment of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his subordinates on narcotrafficking charges echoes the rationale used to invade Panama and kidnap its leader.” Unlike the Noriega case, where the Panamanian president was convicted of massive drug trafficking with the knowledge and full protection of the CIA and other US security agencies, the US lacks evidence against the Venezuelans.

The US claims that Venezuelan officials are conspiring to “flood the United States with cocaine” are thoroughly groundless. Even the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a Washington-based think tank that supports regime change for Venezuela, found in a recent detailed report using the US government’s own data that the facts do not support such bogus claims.

The authoritative US interagency Consolidated Counterdrug Database reports, in fact, that 93% of US-bound cocaine is trafficked through western Caribbean and eastern Pacific routes, not through Venezuela’s eastern Caribbean coast. Over six times as much cocaine flowed through the US-allied Guatemala than Venezuela in 2018.

Yes, some illicit drugs flow through Venezuela – a minor amount compared to those emanating from US client states – but the culprits are criminal gangs that the very indicted officials are fighting. The coca is grown and manufactured into cocaine in neighboring Colombia, not Venezuela. While supporting US government actions to undermine Venezuelan state institutions, WOLA recognizes: “Venezuela’s state institutions have deteriorated…In this environment, armed groups and organized criminal structures, including drug trafficking groups, have thrived.”

Yet WOLA’s conclusion is: “US government data suggests that, despite these challenges, Venezuela is not a primary transit country for US-bound cocaine. US policy toward Venezuela should be predicated on a realistic understanding of the transnational drug trade.”

The US indictments against the government of Venezuela are a ramping up of a policy of regime change. Ever since Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela in 1998 and launched the Bolivarian Revolution, the hostile US government has floated consistently unsubstantiated accusations of narcotrafficking.

More recently the Trump administration has sought to replace the democratically elected president of Venezuela with a US-chosen and groomed security asset. Juan Guaidó, the man anointed by Trump to be president of Venezuela, had never run for the presidency nor served as president and was unknown to 81% of the Venezuelan population at the time of his self-declaration as president. Besides these dubious qualifications, Guaidó collaborated with the right-wing Colombian drug cartel and paramilitary group known as Los Rastrojos and even posed for pictures with some of their operatives, which were posted on Twitter. 

The ever-tightening unilateral coercive measures on Venezuela by the US have created a blockade, costing Venezuela over 100,000 lives. Sanctions are not an alternative to war but an economic form of warfare and just as deadly. As such, unilateral economic sanctions are an explicit violation of international law under the charters of the United Nations and the Organization of American States and even under US law.

Unfortunately, Venezuela is not alone. The rogue empire’s sanctions now blight a third of the world’s population in 39 countries.

This latest escalation of the US hybrid war against Venezuela takes place within the context of the global coronavirus pandemic, which the US empire sees as an opportunity to further attack the Venezuelan people made more vulnerable by the health crisis. Indeed, the US State Department has declared “Maximum-pressure March” against Venezuela. In service of the empire, Twitter has closed the accounts of the Venezuelan ministries of health, science, education, and housing.

Meanwhile, Cuba, Russia, and China are all materially supporting the Maduro government’s successful efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Venezuela. In contrast to this internationalist solidarity, the US is in the midst to the largest war games in 25 years, Defend Europe 20, in contravention of World Health Organization quarantine protocols.

Words cannot sufficiently describe the inhumane perfidy of the US empire’s response to the pandemic. This should be a time for the US government to:

  • Drop the unsupported indictments against President Maduro and other Venezuelan officials.
  • Lift the inhumane and illegal sanctions on Venezuela so that Venezuela can purchase medicines and equipment to better fight the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Restore normal relations with Venezuela based on respect for national sovereignty.

12 Ways the U.S. Invasion of Iraq Lives On In Infamy

While the world is consumed with the terrifying coronavirus pandemic, on March 19 the Trump administration will be marking the 17th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq by ramping up the conflict there. After an Iran-aligned militia allegedly struck a U.S. base near Baghdad on March 11, the U.S. military carried out retaliatory strikes against five of the militia’s weapons factories and announced it is sending two more aircraft carriers to the region, as well as new Patriot missile systems and hundreds more troops to operate them. This contradicts the January vote of the Iraqi Parliament that called for U.S. troops to leave the country. It also goes against the sentiment of most Americans, who think the Iraq war was not worth fighting, and against the campaign promise of Donald Trump to end the endless wars.

Seventeen years ago, the U.S. armed forces attacked and invaded Iraq with a force of over 460,000 troops from all its armed services, supported by 46,000 UK troops, 2,000 from Australia and a few hundred from Poland, Spain, Portugal and Denmark. The “shock and awe” aerial bombardment unleashed 29,200 bombs and missiles on Iraq in the first five weeks of the war.

The U.S. invasion was a crime of aggression under international law, and was actively opposed by people and countries all over the world, including 30 million people who took to the streets in 60 countries on February 15, 2003, to express their horror that this could really be happening at the dawn of the 21st century. American historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who was a speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, compared the U.S. invasion of Iraq to Japan’s preemptive attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and wrote, “Today, it is we Americans who live in infamy.”

Seventeen years later, the consequences of the invasion have lived up to the fears of all who opposed it. Wars and hostilities rage across the region, and divisions over war and peace in the U.S. and Western countries challenge our highly selective view of ourselves as advanced, civilized societies. Here is a look at 12 of the most serious consequences of the U.S. war in Iraq.

1. Millions of Iraqis Killed and Wounded

Estimates on the number of people killed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq vary widely, but even the most conservative estimates based on fragmentary reporting of minimum confirmed deaths are in the hundreds of thousands. Serious scientific studies estimated that 655,000 Iraqis had died in the first three years of war, and about a million by September 2007. The violence of the U.S. escalation or “surge” continued into 2008, and sporadic conflict continued from 2009 until 2014. Then in its new campaign against Islamic State, the U.S. and its allies bombarded major cities in Iraq and Syria with more than 118,000 bombs and the heaviest artillery bombardments since the Vietnam War. They reduced much of Mosul and other Iraqi cities to rubble, and a preliminary Iraqi Kurdish intelligence report found that more than 40,000 civilians were killed in Mosul alone. There are no comprehensive mortality studies for this latest deadly phase of the war. In addition to all the lives lost, even more people have been wounded. The Iraqi government’s Central Statistical Organization says that 2 million Iraqis have been left disabled.

2. Millions More Iraqis Displaced

By 2007, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that nearly 2 million Iraqis had fled the violence and chaos of occupied Iraq, mostly to Jordan and Syria, while another 1.7 million were displaced within the country. The U.S. war on the Islamic State relied even more on bombing and artillery bombardment, destroying even more homes and displacing an astounding 6 million Iraqis from 2014 to 2017. According to the UNHCR, 4.35 million people have returned to their homes as the war on IS has wound down, but many face “destroyed properties, damaged or non-existent infrastructure and the lack of livelihood opportunities and financial resources, which at times [has] led to secondary displacement.” Iraq’s internally displaced children represent “a generation traumatized by violence, deprived of education and opportunities,” according to UN Special Rapporteur Cecilia Jimenez-Damary.

3. Thousands of American, British and Other Foreign Troops Killed and Wounded

While the U.S. military downplays Iraqi casualties, it precisely tracks and publishes its own. As of February 2020, 4,576 U.S. troops and 181 British troops have been killed in Iraq, as well as 142 other foreign occupation troops. Over 93 percent of the foreign occupation troops killed in Iraq have been Americans. In Afghanistan, where the U.S. has had more support from NATO and other allies, only 68 percent of occupation troops killed have been Americans. The greater share of U.S. casualties in Iraq is one of the prices Americans have paid for the unilateral, illegal nature of the U.S. invasion. By the time U.S. forces temporarily withdrew from Iraq in 2011, 32,200 U.S. troops had been wounded. As the U.S. tried to outsource and privatize its occupation, at least 917 civilian contractors and mercenaries were also killed and 10,569 wounded in Iraq, but not all of them were U.S. nationals.

4. Even More Veterans Have Committed Suicide

More than 20 U.S. veterans kill themselves every day—that’s more deaths each year than the total U.S. military deaths in Iraq. Those with the highest rates of suicide are young veterans with combat exposure, who commit suicide at rates “4-10 times higher than their civilian peers.” Why? As Matthew Hoh of Veterans for Peace explains, many veterans “struggle to reintegrate into society,” are ashamed to ask for help, are burdened by what they saw and did in the military, are trained in shooting and own guns, and carry mental and physical wounds that make their lives difficult.

5. Trillions of Dollars Wasted

On March 16, 2003, just days before the U.S. invasion, Vice President Dick Cheney projected that the war would cost the U.S. about $100 billion and that the U.S. involvement would last for two years. Seventeen years on, the costs are still mounting. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated a cost of $2.4 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University’s Linda Bilmes estimated the cost of the Iraq war at more than $3 trillion, “based on conservative assumptions,” in 2008. The UK government spent at least 9 billion pounds in direct costs through 2010. What the U.S. did not spend money on, contrary to what many Americans believe, was to rebuild Iraq, the country our war destroyed.

6. Dysfunctional and Corrupt Iraqi Government

Most of the men (no women!) running Iraq today are still former exiles who flew into Baghdad in 2003 on the heels of the U.S. and British invasion forces. Iraq is finally once again exporting 3.8 million barrels of oil per day and earning $80 billion a year in oil exports, but little of this money trickles down to rebuild destroyed and damaged homes or provide jobs, health care or education for Iraqis, only 36 percent of whom even have jobs. Iraq’s young people have taken to the streets to demand an end to the corrupt post-2003 Iraqi political regime and U.S. and Iranian influence over Iraqi politics. More than 600 protesters were killed by government forces, but the protests forced Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign. Another former Western-based exile, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, the cousin of former U.S.-appointed interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, was chosen to replace him, but he resigned within weeks after the National Assembly failed to approve his cabinet choices. The popular protest movement celebrated Allawi’s resignation, and Abdul Mahdi agreed to remain as prime minister, but only as a “caretaker” to carry out essential functions until new elections can be held. He has called for new elections in December. Until then, Iraq remains in political limbo, still occupied by about 5,000 U.S. troops.

7. Illegal War on Iraq Has Undermined the Rule of International Law

When the U.S. invaded Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council, the first victim was the United Nations Charter, the foundation of peace and international law since World War II, which prohibits the threat or use of force by any country against another. International law only permits military action as a necessary and proportionate defense against an attack or imminent threat. The illegal 2002 Bush doctrine of preemption was universally rejected because it went beyond this narrow principle and claimed an exceptional U.S. right to use unilateral military force “to preempt emerging threats,” undermining the authority of the UN Security Council to decide whether a specific threat requires a military response or not. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general at the time, said the invasion was illegal and would lead to a breakdown in international order, and that is exactly what has happened. When the U.S. trampled the UN Charter, others were bound to follow. Today we are watching Turkey and Israel follow in the U.S.’s footsteps, attacking and invading Syria at will as if it were not even a sovereign country, using the people of Syria as pawns in their political games.

8. Iraq War Lies Corrupted U.S. Democracy

The second victim of the invasion was American democracy. Congress voted for war based on a so-called “summary” of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was nothing of the kind. The Washington Post reported that only six out of 100 senators and a few House members read the actual NIE. The 25-page “summary” that other members of Congress based their votes on was a document produced months earlier “to make the public case for war,” as one of its authors, the CIA’s Paul Pillar, later confessed to PBS Frontline. It contained astounding claims that were nowhere to be found in the real NIE, such as that the CIA knew of 550 sites where Iraq was storing chemical and biological weapons. Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated many of these lies in his shameful performance at the UN Security Council in February 2003, while Bush and Cheney used them in major speeches, including Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address. How is democracy—the rule of the people—even possible if the people we elect to represent us in Congress can be manipulated into voting for a catastrophic war by such a web of lies?

9. Impunity for Systematic War Crimes

Another victim of the invasion of Iraq was the presumption that U.S. presidents and policy are subject to the rule of law.  Seventeen years later, most Americans assume that the president can conduct war and assassinate foreign leaders and terrorism suspects as he pleases, with no accountability whatsoever—like a dictator. When President Obama said he wanted to look forward instead of backward, and held no one from the Bush administration accountable for their crimes, it was as if they ceased to be crimes and became normalized as U.S. policy. That includes crimes of aggression against other countries; the mass killing of civilians in U.S. airstrikes and drone strikes; and the unrestricted surveillance of every American’s phone calls, emails, browsing history and opinions. But these are crimes and violations of the U.S. Constitution, and refusing to hold accountable those who committed these crimes has made it easier for them to be repeated.

10. Destruction of the Environment

During the first Gulf War, the U.S. fired 340 tons of warheads and explosives made with depleted uranium, which poisoned the soil and water and led to skyrocketing levels of cancer. In the following decades of “ecocide,” Iraq has been plagued by the burning of dozens of oil wells; the pollution of water sources from the dumping of oil, sewage and chemicals; millions of tons of rubble from destroyed cities and towns; and the burning of huge volumes of military waste in open air “burn pits” during the war. The pollution caused by war is linked to the high levels of congenital birth defects, premature births, miscarriages and cancer (including leukemia) in Iraq. The pollution has also affected U.S. soldiers. “More than 85,000 U.S. Iraq war veterans… have been diagnosed with respiratory and breathing problems, cancers, neurological diseases, depression and emphysema since returning from Iraq,” as the Guardian reports. And parts of Iraq may never recover from the environmental devastation.

11. The U.S.’s Sectarian “Divide and Rule” Policy in Iraq Spawned Havoc Across the Region

In secular 20th-century Iraq, the Sunni minority was more powerful than the Shia majority, but for the most part, the different ethnic groups lived side-by-side in mixed neighborhoods and even intermarried. Friends with mixed Shia/Sunni parents tell us that before the U.S. invasion, they didn’t even know which parent was Shia and which was Sunni. After the invasion, the U.S. empowered a new Shiite ruling class led by former exiles allied with the U.S. and Iran, as well as the Kurds in their semi-autonomous region in the north. The upending of the balance of power and deliberate U.S. “divide and rule” policies led to waves of horrific sectarian violence, including the ethnic cleansing of communities by Interior Ministry death squads under U.S. command. The sectarian divisions the U.S. unleashed in Iraq led to the resurgence of Al Qaeda and the emergence of ISIS, which have wreaked havoc throughout the entire region.

12. The New Cold War Between the U.S. and the Emerging Multilateral World

When President Bush declared his “doctrine of preemption” in 2002, Senator Edward Kennedy called it “a call for 21st century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept.” But the world has so far failed to either persuade the U.S. to change course or to unite in diplomatic opposition to its militarism and imperialism. France and Germany bravely stood with Russia and most of the Global South to oppose the invasion of Iraq in the UN Security Council in 2003. But Western governments embraced Obama’s superficial charm offensive as cover for reinforcing their traditional ties with the U.S. China was busy expanding its peaceful economic development and its role as the economic hub of Asia, while Russia was still rebuilding its economy from the neoliberal chaos and poverty of the 1990s. Neither was ready to actively challenge U.S. aggression until the U.S., NATO and their Arab monarchist allies launched proxy wars against Libya and Syria in 2011. After the fall of Libya, Russia appears to have decided it must either stand up to U.S. regime change operations or eventually fall victim itself.

The economic tides have shifted, a multipolar world is emerging, and the world is hoping against hope that the American people and new American leaders will act to rein in this 21st-century American imperialism before it leads to an even more catastrophic U.S. war with Iran, Russia or China. As Americans, we must hope that the world’s faith in the possibility that we can democratically bring sanity and peace to U.S. policy is not misplaced. A good place to start would be to join the call by the Iraqi Parliament for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

• This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

West attacks the World:  The World levitates towards Russia and China  

Frankly and in summary: recently The United States of America has crossed several lines, committing atrocities, in many parts of the world. In the past, no country could get away with this; such situations would inevitably lead to war.

Presently, war is “avoided” only because the world is too frightened of Washington and its mafia-style deeds. Countries on all continents are accepting the lawlessness and thuggery of Washington and the allies; bitterly, but accepting. If ordered, many of them have been falling on their knees, begging for mercy. If hit hard, they have lost the courage and strength to hit back.

There are no sanctions, no embargos imposed on the US, which is the biggest violator of international law. There are no retaliatory actions taken against its bullying, attacks, covert and overt operations. The U.N. has become a laughing stock, toothless and irrelevant, synonymous with Western interests.

The fact is – the world is scared. It is petrified. Just as a little creature is petrified and immobilized, when faced by a cobra.

It has gotten to this level. To a primitive, never before witnessed level. In the past, colonies fought back, aiming at independence. Indochina fought against the Western Empire, losing millions, but fought.

Now, Washington and its allies commit crimes, and they laugh straight in the faces of victims: “Now what? What are you going to do? Hit me back? Just try; I will burn your family members alive, break all your bones.”

You think I am exaggerating? Oh no, I am not; not at all! This is the level the West really has sank to. And almost no one dares to talk about it! Except… Well, of course, except Russia, China, Iran and few other brave nations.

*****

But look at what has happened to Iran. It is just an example of how thuggish, how insane Washington’s foreign policy is (if one could really call it a foreign policy):

Iran has done nothing bad to anyone; at least not in recent modern history. In 1953, the West arranged and implemented a horrific coup against the democratic, left-leaning Prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. Washington and London put on the throne a real monster – Shah Reza Pahlavi. Millions of lives were ruined. People were tortured, raped, and murdered. Then, in 1980, Iraq was armed and unleashed against Iran, again by the West. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of people died.

But, no, that was not enough! Modern, socialist and internationalist Iran helped to defend the entire Middle East against terrorism which has been released by the West and its allies in the Gulf. Teheran also joined forces with several left-wing countries in Latin America, including Venezuela, helping them, among other things, to build social housing, media outlets, and the oil industry.

Therefore, Iran became the target of the U.S. and Israel. President Trump cancelled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a win-win agreement. For absolutely no reason, sanctions against Iran were re-introduced. Iran’s allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere, were attacked by Israeli drones and by war planes, and by relentless Saudi bombing.

Then, the United States murdered the most revered Iranian military figure, General Qasem Soleimani, and they did it on Iraqi soil. This was a double act of war, against Iran and Iraq, which had officially invited General Soleimani in order to negotiate the peace process with the Saudis.

Then, the real banditry of Washington got exposed:

Iran, outraged and in mourning, has declared that it will retaliate; avenge the murder of its heroic commander, as well as the others who were killed by the U.S. attack near Baghdad airport. Trump and his entourage replied immediately, threatening Iran, declaring that if it dares to retaliate, it would face terrible re-retaliation.

Basically, the U.S. claims that it can kill your people anywhere it wants, and if you fight back, it reserves right to obliterate you.

The world has done nothing. It is doing nothing. The United Nations is taking zero concrete actions to stop the biggest bully.

On 4th January, 2020, Donald Trump Tweeted in 3 separate messages, something that vaguely resembled the language of the German occupation forces during WWII:

Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently hundreds of Iranian protesters. He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations. Iran has been nothing but problems for many years. Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!

Outrageous lies, manipulations of a primitive businessman, elected by the American people to lead their country and the world. A man of no culture (one of the things that, perhaps, made him so popular among so many people in his country).

What he is really saying is this: “We overthrew your government, we unleash a war against you, we impose sanctions, prevent you from selling your own oil, and then we murder the second most important man in your country. That is all fine. But, if you defend yourself, if you dare retaliate, we will basically bomb your country back to the stone age, as we have bombed so many other countries to the stone age, including Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.”  All this is because the United Sates and West in general believe that they mainly consist of chosen people. That they are different. That they are by definition correct.

And that is, my friends and comrades, the same ‘philosophy’ used by ISIS, and by al Qaida. It is deep, extremist, religious fanaticism. As the United States uses market fundamentalism in its trade wars, it also applies primitive fanaticism in the way it deals with the rest of the world.

In a way, the world order is now resembling order imposed in Mosul under the ISIS occupation.

*****

After the killing of General Soleimani, the planet has exploded in outrage, including some of Washington’s allies. Even Israel has refused to back the U.S. in this particular case.

UNESCO (which the United States left after it recognized Palestine and after it refused to follow Washington’s diktat), issued a statement, reported by RT:

Meanwhile, UNESCO also told the US to stay away from Iran’s cultural heritage, reminding Washington that it is party to treaties which explicitly prohibit the targeting of cultural sites during armed conflict.

But that is not all. It has not ended with Iran only.

Iraq, outraged that the murder of Iranian allies took place on its soil, and that some of its people were also killed in the attack, demanded the full withdrawal of U.S. military forces.

The reply from Trump:

If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it on a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before, ever. We have a very extraordinarily expensive airbase that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.

Now just think what has been happening: Iraq was starved and bombed, and hundreds of thousands have died as a result of the depleted uranium that was used in U.S. warheads. Then came the U.S. invasion of 2003. The country was thoroughly ruined. Once proud Iraq, with a very high human development index (UNDP) virtually collapsed, became a beggar. On top of that, terrorist groups were injected into its territory, as they were, into Syria.

And now the President of the occupying country is demanding that the victim, Iraq, actually pays for the military bases constructed on its territory?

This is, of course, thoroughly sick, grotesque, but nobody is laughing, just as no one is publicly throwing up.

And these mafia tactics have been paying off, until now. Iraq, which finally dared to stand up, shouting enough is enough, down with the occupation, began backing down. Abdul Mahdi’s office issued a communique:

The prime minister stressed the importance of mutual cooperation on implementing the withdrawal of foreign troops, in line with the Iraqi parliament’s resolution, and to set relations with the United States on a proper foundation.

Of course, U.S. threats and U.S. armor on the Iraq’s territory, have been frightening too many people in Baghdad.

United States occupation forces have never brought anything good to their victims.

The best example is Afghanistan, the once proud socialist country, where women and men enjoyed equal rights. Around two decades after the US/NATO occupation, the country is the poorest, and with the shortest life expectancy, on the Asian continent.

I worked there on several occasions and was shocked by the bestiality of the U.S. rule. Burqa-clad women begging with their infants, sitting on speed-bumps near U.S. military bases. These bases are surrounded by poppy seeds, used for the cultivation and production of drugs, under U.S. and U.K. sponsorship. And foreign contractors, as well as NATO soldiers, shared with me horrific stories of spite: how unused food is burned by the Americans, while people are starving. How, when some old base is abandoned, it is dynamited and bulldozed down. The logic is simple: “There was nothing when we came, and there will be nothing after we leave!”

But paying for occupation bases is something new; a new concept by the empire.

Syria. “We want oil” declared Trump, recently. No niceties, no hide-and-seek. The U.S. military is staying. Turkish military, which has been supporting terrorists for years, is staying. The U.S.– backed Uyghur terrorists are staying in Idlib area. While, as recently as on February 24, Israelis have been bombing the outskirts of Damascus.

And, all this is allowed to happen. In broad daylight. Committed by people who openly support, even promote, torture. Imperialists whom the BBC recently described as ‘noninterventionists!” In brief: U.S. regime.

*****

In just the few latest months, Washington created and financed riots in Hong Kong, intimidating China, trying to trick the most populous nation into a crackdown against the treasonous cadres that are demanding the return of British colonialist rule, as well as a U.S. invasion.

China is also facing brutal Western propaganda attacks, related to coronavirus.

Washington overthrew the socialist, democratic multi-ethnic government in Bolivia, and it is starving millions of people, while backing an illegitimate self-proclaimed right-wing puppet political figure in Venezuela.

*****

The things the West does to China and Russia would lead to a war, if they were happening some 30 years ago.

The more diplomacy is used by Russia and China, the more aggressive the United States becomes, the more reassured of its own exceptionalism it gets.

It is time to re-think the entire concept of engagement with the United States.

It is because the United States and its allies have already crossed all lines and are now holding the entire world hostage.

Perhaps what we are all experiencing now is not a war, at least not in the classic sense of the word, but it is an occupation – brutal and shameless. Almost the entire planet used to be occupied by Europe, some 100 years ago. Now it is occupied, directly and indirectly, by Europe’s offspring – the United States. It is not always a military occupation, but occupation it is. World is held hostage. It is petrified. It doesn’t dare to speak, to dream, often even to think.

This is the most undemocratic global arrangement imaginable.

The world has fallen on its knees. It has surrendered itself, as if in some extremist religious ritual.

It gets hit but does not hit back. It gets looted, but doesn’t dare to protect itself and its people.

All this makes no sense: countries that got occupied, or where governments have been overthrown, are now living in absolute misery, even in agony: Iraq and Libya, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Honduras, Brazil, to name just a few.

For how long will the entire world lick the boots of a country with only around 300 million inhabitants, which produces hardly anything, and governs over the world through brutality and fear? It only prints money. It only insults human logic. It vulgarizes everything on earth; everything that used to be sacred to humanity.

I have to remind those who prefer not to notice: millions are dying, annually, all over the world, because of this “arrangement of the world”. Surrender and submission do not save lives. The empire never stops; it never has enough.

And one more old wisdom: kneeling in front of terror never brought liberation, or progress!

In more and more countries that I am visiting, all over the world, people are admiring “Russian way”, and “Chinese way”. You would never read this in Western mass media outlets, but precisely this is taking place: injured, brutalized and humiliated countries are beginning to levitate towards those great countries which are proudly standing and refusing to surrender to Western terror.

First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook – a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Crimes in Afghanistan: Fatou Bensouda’s Investigative Mission

It seemed an unlikely prospect.  The International Criminal Court has tended to find itself accused of chasing up the inhumane rogues of Africa rather than those from any other continent.  It has also been accused of having an overly burdensome machinery and lethargy more caught up with procedure than substance.  Critics fearing a behemoth snatching soldiers from the armed forces of various states could rest easy, at least in part.

Law tends to be a manifestation of power and international law, in particular, tends to be a manifestation of consensus.  And the powerful rarely give their consent in matters of trying crimes against humanity when it comes to their own citizens.  Qualifications and exemptions abound, often cited with a certain sneer.

This explains the sheer fury and curiosity caused by the decision of the ICC’s Appeals Chamber on March 5 authorising Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to proceed with an investigation into alleged crimes committed in Afghanistan from 2003.  The interest was not merely in the commission of crimes by any one force: the Taliban and various “armed groups”, members of the Afghan armed forces and “alleged crimes by the US Forces and the CIA” featured.  But the actions of US and Afghan forces was bound to arouse much interest, given a UN report alleging more killings in the first three months of 2019 than attributed to the Taliban.  (The figures, respectively, were 227 civilians killed by insurgent groups and 305 deaths caused by Afghan and international forces.)

The initial decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber II (April 12 2019) had gone against the Prosecutor’s efforts that had commenced in November 2017.  While the pre-trial chamber accepted that the brief established a reasonable basis to consider crimes that fell within the jurisdiction of the ICC, time had elapsed since the preliminary examination in 2006 and the evolving political scene in Afghanistan.

As ever, the jurisdiction of war crimes and crimes against humanity is a political thing: to authorise such an investigation, in the words of the 2019 media release, would have diverted “valuable resources prioritizing activities that would have better chances to succeed.”  Nor had cooperation with the Prosecutor been forthcoming in Afghanistan itself.  It was a decision that caused a fair share of consternation among human rights critics and activists.  One question kept being asked:  Had the ICC folded before pressure from the Trump administration?

The argument of pressure was a hard one to dispel.  In 2019, the Trump administration announced that it would revoke or deny visas to any members of the ICC connected with investigating alleged war crimes by US personnel in Afghanistan.  That body, charged US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was “attacking America’s rule of law,” an interesting formulation suggesting how partial that rule can be for a certain country.

Despite this backdrop of intimidation, the Appeals Chamber had a change of heart.  According to presiding judge Piotr Hofmański, “The prosecutor is authorised to commence an investigation into alleged crimes committed on the territory of Afghanistan since May 1, 2003, as well as other alleged crimes that have a nexus to the armed conflict in Afghanistan.”  The pre-trial chamber had erred in identifying “additional considerations” as to whether the prosecutor could proceed with the investigation.  It was not for the body to consider “the interests of justice” as part of that authorisation, merely whether there was “a reasonable factual basis to proceed with an investigation, in the sense of whether crimes have been committed, and whether potential cases(s) arising from such an investigation appear to fall within the Court’s jurisdiction.”

Pompeo was sufficiently incensed by the decision to call the ruling a “truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable, political institution masquerading as a legal body.”  He also had the prospects of peace on his mind, considering the ruling disruptive given that it came “just days after the United States signed a historic peace deal on Afghanistan.”

Resistance against the ICC from the United States is far from new.  Henry Kissinger feared it, and said so, suggesting it would preside in thuggish majesty and impunity citing universal jurisdiction as its basis of operation.  His views were rebuked by former Nuremberg war crimes prosecutor Benjamin B. Ferencz.  “The innocent,” he remarked pointedly, “need not fear the rule of law.”

But fear and loathing for the ICC has been a recurrent theme.  In 2018, then national security adviser John R. Bolton, famed for his opposition to international institutions, insisted that the US would not “cooperate with the ICC.  We will provide no assistance to the ICC.  And we certainly will not join the ICC.  We let the ICC die on its own.”

Such a view sits in that particularly odd canon of US political thinking that dismisses aspects of international law – notably those involving breaches of human rights – as matters of convenience and sentiment.  Such a view holds that Washington’s enemies deserve trial and punishment at the hands of international law; alleged offences by US forces should be a matter of US jurisdiction.

It also bucks the idea put forth by US prosecutor Robert H. Jackson at the Nuremberg war crimes trials in November 1945 that international tribunals are not products “of abstract speculations nor … created to vindicate legalistic theories.”  Jackson’s enunciated views would see US officials participate, extensively, in the creation of tribunals in the Balkans and Rwanda.  Indeed, as Ferencz observed in 2001, numerous former presidents of the American Society of International Law and the American Bar Association acknowledged that “it would be in the best interests of the United States and its military personnel of the United States to accept” such a body.

While it is hard to see the US surrendering any soldiers for trial before judges of the ICC, the very acceptance that it has jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes committed by such personnel enlarges its traditional and cautious scope.  International law has seen a turn up for the books.

Mistrial Is Another Blow To US Coup In Venezuela

Last week we, along with Adrienne Pine and David Paul, were unsuccessfully prosecuted by the Trump administration for our protection of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC from April 10 to May 16, 2019.  The jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision and so we remain innocent of the charge of interfering with the protective functions of the US Department of State. The judge declared a mistrial. It was a partial victory and we greatly appreciate the jurors who were able to see through the cloud of misinformation in the courtroom and vote to acquit us.

The day our trial started, Juan Guaido returned to Venezuela where he was harassed and physically assaulted by protesters. He is unable to muster support at home even from the opposition. Guaido’s presidential charade is fading but the United States has not given up on its regime change campaign in Venezuela. New sanctions are being imposed and there have been recent attacks of sabotage within the country that resemble ones backed by the US in other countries to cause disruption and discord. As Citizens of Empire, we must continue to oppose US intervention in other countries.

Note: The Trump prosecutors will announce on February 28 whether they will prosecute us again. The Embassy Protection Defense Committee, our lawyers and the four of us are preparing for a second prosecution. Please check DefendEmbassyProtectors.org for updates and what you can do to help prepare our defense.

Embassy protectors [left to right: David Paul, Margaret Flowers, Adrienne Pine, Kevin Zeese] outside of court on February 13, 2020, by Martha Allen.

Confusion In The Courtroom Where Lies Were Told And The Truth Could Not Be Heard

After the trial, half the jury stayed behind to answer questions from the lawyers and the judge. What stood out in their answers was confusion. The information they heard in court was incomplete, which made it difficult to understand what happened. A major source of confusion was that the testimony in the trial was limited to three days from May 13 when a trespass notice was delivered to May 16 when the arrests occurred. The jurors were not allowed to be told about the full 37 days we were in the embassy when at times more than 70 people stayed there. They asked — why were you there for those three days? Why did you go there in May when the new president, Juan Guaido, came to power in January? The prosecutor’s successful manipulation of Judge Howell to limit the testimony to those three days created juror confusion as the story did not make sense.

Of course, Juan Guaido never came to power. He has not been president for even a nanosecond. When this so-called ‘president’ returned to Venezuela, after a US-sponsored tour of Europe, the customs officer took his passport and explained he had violated the law by leaving the country. No real president could have a customs officer take his passport.

Guaido was not welcomed when he walked through the airport and out into the streets. He was surrounded by protesters calling him a traitor and an assassin and chasing him away from the airport.  They were angry in part because during his trip Guaido called for more sanctions, which have shortened the lives of over 40,000 Venezuelans, and in the past, he even called for a US military attack on his country. It is obvious he is hated by the people of Venezuela as even the opposition did not support his re-appointment as president of the National Assembly. Not only is he not the president, but he also is not even the leader of the political opposition to President Maduro.

In the courtroom, due to an anomaly of US law, the jury was told that Juan Guaido was the president. While many have criticized Judge Beryl Howell for that ruling, in reality, she was reflecting US law, which says the president determines whom the US recognizes as the leader of a foreign government. This is a political question that the courts cannot overturn. Judge Howell sought to keep politics out of the courtroom, but it was not possible. Taking judicial notice that Guaido is ‘president’ when in the real world he is not made this a political case based on falsehoods.

The judge explained that “elections have consequences” as they grant this and other powers to the president. Judge Howell’s comment was ironic for Venezuelans because they also have elections as they did in May of 2018 where President Maduro won 67 percent in a five-candidate field. That election had more than 300 international election observers who concluded it met all the requirements for democratic elections under international law. Kevin Zeese was in Venezuela for it and reported it was a well-run election far superior to many US elections – especially the Iowa Caucus!

In part because of the limits placed on what we could say in court, none of the embassy protectors testified. The judge’s pre-trial ruling meant we could not tell the whole truth and made it difficult to testify without being held in contempt of court, a situation that Alan Macleod described as “Kafkaesque.” Our lawyers, Michael Satin, John Zwerling, Bill Welch, and Heather Shaner, built our defense on their excellent cross-examination of the three government witnesses.  After the government presented its case, the defense rested without calling any witnesses.

While we hope the prosecutors will not prosecute us again because we are innocent of the charges against us, we are preparing for a second prosecution. It was a victory to have a hung jury in such a manipulated environment but we are not yet free. We hope the Trump administration sees that prosecuting us again will be viewed by the world as further proof of US injustice. Another prosecution raises the stakes for the US as an acquittal or second failed prosecution will be further evidence of the failed coup. As we have always hoped, our goal is for the US and Venezuela to develop positive relations that are based on mutual respect for sovereignty and international law.

Two placards placed outside the Venezuelan embassy by the Embassy Protectors Collective (From Popular Resistance)

Venezuela Continues to Resist US Regime Change

The US charade claiming Guaido is the president and the judge refusing to challenge that fiction has dangerous and deadly consequences. The United States violated international laws when it invaded the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC and handed it over to the leaders of a failed coup. The US signaled to other countries that centuries of practices that uphold the inviolability of embassies no longer matter. It also signaled that elections don’t matter. The US believes it can decide who is the leader of another country and hand over the assets of that country to whomever it chooses.

The Venezuelan National Assembly is currently investigating Juan Guaido, particularly his backing by the United States and the theft of Venezuela’s assets. Guaido has already been restricted from traveling out of Venezuela for taking money from foreign countries, a restriction he has defied multiple times. Guaido also violated the Venezuelan Constitution by claiming to be the president, a power that only exists when the elected president and vice president are unable to serve. In the case where the president of the national assembly is required to step in as president, there must be an election for a new president within thirty days.

Guaido is being accused of receiving financial support from Alejandro Betancourt, who is being prosecuted in the United States for laundering billions of dollars. Betancourt is the cousin of Leopoldo Lopez, the head of the right-wing Popular Will Party. Lopez was convicted of inciting violence and escaped last year to seek asylum in the Spanish Embassy. It was recently discovered that Rudy Giuliani met with Guaido’s father and others in Spain and then met with the US Department of Justice to request leniency for Betancourt.

Guaido is also implicated in a case being brought by Venezuela against the United States for “the theft of [Venezuela’s] foreign assets and bank deposits… The looting equals up to US$116 billion.”​​​​​​​ Venezuela recently filed a case in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The day may come when the United States is held accountable and is no longer allowed to act with impunity.

A major goal of the action to protect the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC was to raise awareness that the US was escalating its lawless actions. Interference in the elections of another country, threats of military invasion and the imposition of coercive economic measures (aka sanctions) are violations of the United Nations Charter. Failing to protect embassies violates the Vienna Convention. The Embassy Protection Collective, composed of hundreds of activists for peace and justice, did prevent the embassy in Washington, DC from being given to the coup-supporters. It is empty today.

The action in the embassy was also an act of solidarity with the people of Venezuela struggling for self-determination and a new society that puts people’s needs and protection of the planet above corporate profits. We have so much to learn from Venezuela about democracy, ending poverty and creating a world for everyone.

As Citizens of Empire, our work is not over. We must continue to oppose sanctions and US intervention in other countries. The San Francisco Labor Council recently passed a resolution opposing sanctions. You can do the same in your community. Urge your local groups, city or county council or other institutions to do the same. And listed below are a few more ways to get involved in the struggle for peace.

Register Now For The United National Antiwar Conference, “Rise Against Militarism, Racism And The Climate Crisis” In New York City From February 21 To 23.

Take Action: Join The International Days Of Action Against Sanctions And Economic War, March 13 – 15, 2020

Upcoming: The World Peace Council And The Coalition Against U.S. Foreign Military Bases,  International Conference, “Confronting Imperialism’s War Machine — The Global Struggle For Peace, Social Justice, National Sovereignty And The Environment,” On March 28-29, 2020, In Larnaca, Cyprus. Register Here.

Can the “World’s Second Superpower” Rise From the Ashes of Twenty Years of War?

UK protest against iraq war February 15, 2003. (Credit: Stop the War Coalition)

February 15 marks the day, 17 years ago, when global demonstrations against the pending Iraq invasion were so massive that the New York Times called world public opinion “the second superpower.” But the U.S. ignored it and invaded Iraq anyway. So what has become of the momentous hopes of that day?

The U.S. military has not won a war since 1945, unless you count recovering the tiny colonial outposts of Grenada, Panama and Kuwait, but there is one threat it has consistently outmanoeuvred without firing more than a few deadly rifle shots and some tear gas. Ironically, this existential threat is the very one that could peacefully cut it down to size and take away its most dangerous and expensive weapons: its own peace-loving citizens.

During the Vietnam war, young Americans facing a life-and-death draft lottery built a powerful anti-war movement. President Nixon proposed ending the draft as a way to undermine the peace movement, since he believed that young people would stop protesting the war once they were no longer obligated to fight. In 1973, the draft was ended, leaving a volunteer army that insulated the vast majority of Americans from the deadly impact of America’s wars.

Despite the lack of a draft, a new anti-war movement—this time with global reach—sprung up in the period between the crimes of 9/11 and the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The February 15th, 2003, protests were the largest demonstrations in human history, uniting people around the world in opposition to the unthinkable prospect that the U.S. would actually launch its threatened “shock and awe” assault on Iraq. Some 30 million people in 800 cities took part on every continent, including Antarctica. This massive repudiation of war, memorialized in the documentary We Are Many, led New York Times journalist Patrick E. Tyler to comment that there were now two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.

The U.S. war machine demonstrated total disdain for its upstart rival, and unleashed an illegal war based on lies that has now raged on through many phases of violence and chaos for 17 years. With no end in sight to U.S. and allied wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Yemen and West Africa, and Trump’s escalating diplomatic and economic warfare against Iran, Venezuela and North Korea threatening to explode into new wars, where is the second superpower now, when we need it more than ever?

Since the U.S. assassination of Iran’s General Soleimani in Iraq on January 2nd, the peace movement has reemerged onto the streets, including people who marched in February 2003 and new activists too young to remember a time when the U.S. was not at war. There have been three separate days of protest, one on January 4th, another on the 9th and a global day of action on the 25th. The rallies took place in hundreds of cities, but they did not attract nearly the numbers who came out to protest the pending war with Iraq in 2003, or even those of the smaller rallies and vigils that continued as the Iraq war spiralled out of control until at least 2007.

Our failure to stop the U.S. war on Iraq in 2003 was deeply discouraging. But the number of people active in the U.S. anti-war movement shrank even more after the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Many people did not want to protest the nation’s first black president, and many, including the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, really believed he would be a “peace president.”

While Obama reluctantly honored Bush’s agreement with the Iraqi government to withdraw US troops from Iraq and he signed the Iran nuclear deal, he was far from a peace president. He oversaw a new doctrine of covert and proxy war that substantially reduced U.S. military casualties, but unleashed an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, a campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria that destroyed entire cities, a ten-fold increase in CIA drone strikes on Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and bloody proxy wars in Libya and Syria that rage on today. In the end, Obama spent more on the military and dropped more bombs on more countries than Bush did. He also refused to hold Bush and his cronies responsible for their war crimes.

Obama’s wars were no more successful than Bush’s in restoring peace or stability to any of those countries or improving the lives of their people. But Obama’s “disguised, quiet, media-free approach” to war made the U.S. state of endless war much more politically sustainable. By reducing U.S. casualties and waging war with less fanfare, he moved America’s wars farther into the shadows and gave the American public an illusion of peace in the midst of endless war, effectively disarming and dividing the peace movement.

Obama’s secretive war policy was backed up by a vicious campaign against any brave whistleblowers who tried to drag it out into the light. Jeffrey Sterling, Thomas Drake, Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, Edward Snowden and now Julian Assange have been prosecuted and jailed under unprecedented new interpretations of the WWI-era Espionage Act.

With Donald Trump in the White House, we hear Republicans making the same excuses for Trump—who ran on an anti-war platform—that Democrats made for Obama. First, his supporters accept lip service about wanting to end wars and bring troops home as revealing what the president really wants to do, even as he keeps escalating the wars. Second, they ask us to be patient because, despite all the real world evidence, they are convinced he is working hard behind the scenes for peace. Third, in a final cop-out that undermines their other two arguments, they throw up their hands and say that he is “only” the president, and the Pentagon or “deep state” is too powerful for even him to tame.

Obama and Trump supporters alike have used this shaky tripod of political unaccountability to give the man behind the desk where the buck used to stop an entire deck of “get out of jail free” cards for endless war and war crimes.

Obama and Trump’s “disguised, quiet, media-free approach” to war has inoculated America’s wars and militarism against the virus of democracy, but new social movements have grown up to tackle problems closer to home. The financial crisis led to the rise of the Occupy Movement, and now the climate crisis and America’s entrenched race and immigration problems have all provoked new grassroots movements. Peace advocates have been encouraging these movements to join the call for major Pentagon cuts, insisting that the hundreds of billions saved could help fund everything from Medicare for All to the Green New Deal to free college tuition.

A few sectors of the peace movement have been showing how to use creative tactics and build diverse movements. The movement for Palestinians’ human and civil rights includes students, Muslim and Jewish groups, as well as black and indigenous groups fighting similar struggles here at home. Also inspirational are campaigns for peace on the Korean peninsula led by Korean Americans, such as Women Cross the DMZ, which has brought together women from North Korea, South Korea and the United States to show the Trump administration what real diplomacy looks like.

There have also been successful popular efforts pushing a reluctant Congress to take anti-war positions. For decades, Congress has been only too happy to leave warmaking to the president, abrogating its constitutional role as the only power authorized to declare war. Thanks to public pressure, there has been a remarkable shift. In 2019, both houses of Congress voted to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen and to ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen, although President Trump vetoed both bills.

Now Congress is working on bills to explicitly prohibit an unauthorized war on Iran. These bills prove that public pressure can move Congress, including a Republican-dominated Senate, to reclaim its constitutional powers over war and peace from the executive branch.

Another bright light in Congress is the pioneering work of first-term Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who recently laid out a series of bills called Pathway to PEACE that challenge our militaristic foreign policy. While her bills will be hard to get passed in Congress, they lay out a marker for where we should be headed. Omar’s office, unlike many others in Congress, actually works directly with grassroots organizations that can push this vision forward.

The presidential election offers an opportunity to push the anti-war agenda. The most effective and committed anti-war champion in the race is Bernie Sanders. The popularity of his call for getting the U.S. out of its imperial interventions and his votes against 84% of military spending bills since 2013 are reflected not only in his poll numbers but also in the way other Democratic candidates are rushing to take similar positions. All now say the U.S. should rejoin the Iran nuclear deal; all have criticized the “bloated” Pentagon budget, despite regularly voting for it; and most have promised to bring U.S. troops home from the greater Middle East.

So, as we look to the future in this election year, what are our chances of reviving the world’s second superpower and ending America’s wars?

Absent a major new war, we are unlikely to see big demonstrations in the streets. But two decades of endless war have created a strong anti-war sentiment among the public.  A 2019 Pew Research Center poll found that 62 percent of Americans said the war in Iraq was not worth fighting and 59 percent said the same for the war in Afghanistan.

On Iran, a September 2019 University of Maryland poll showed that a mere one-fifth of Americans said the U.S. “should be prepared to go to war” to achieve its goals in Iran, while three-quarters said that U.S. goals do not warrant military intervention. Along with the Pentagon’s assessment of how disastrous a war with Iran would be, this public sentiment fueled global protests and condemnation that have temporarily forced Trump to dial down his military escalation and threats against Iran.

So, while our government’s war propaganda has convinced many Americans that we are powerless to stop its catastrophic wars, it has failed to convince most Americans that we are wrong to want to. As on other issues, activism has two main hurdles to overcome: first to convince people that something is wrong; and secondly to show them that, by working together to build a popular movement, we can do something about it.

The peace movement’s small victories demonstrate that we have more power to challenge U.S. militarism than most Americans realize. As more peace-loving people in the U.S. and across the world discover the power they really have, the second superpower we glimpsed briefly on February 15th, 2003 has the potential to rise stronger, more committed and more determined from the ashes of two decades of war.

A new president like Bernie Sanders in the White House would create a new opening for peace. But as on many domestic issues, that opening will only bear fruit and overcome the opposition of powerful vested interests if there is a mass movement behind it every step of the way. If there is a lesson for peace-loving Americans in the Obama and Trump presidencies, it is that we cannot just walk out of the voting booth and leave it to a champion in the White House to end our wars and bring us peace. In the final analysis, it really is up to us. Please join us.

Three Extraordinary Australian Journalists: Burchett, Pilger, Assange

Australia has produced extraordinary journalists across three generations:  Wilfred Burchett (deceased in 1983), John Pilger (80 years old but still active) and Julian Assange (48 years old, currently in London’s Belmarsh prison).

Each of these journalists made unique contributions to our understanding of the world. Although Australia is part of the western world, each of these journalists exposed and criticized Western foreign policy.

Wilfred Burchett 

Wilfred Burchett lived from 1911 to 1983. He was a farm boy and his experience in the depression shaped his dislike of oligarchs and preference for the poor.  He went to Europe trying to volunteer for Republicans in the Spanish Civil War but that did not work out. Instead, he assisted Jews escaping Nazi Germany.

Burchett became a journalist by accident. Having seen the reality in Germany, he started writing many letters to newspaper editors. One of the editors took note of his fluid writing style and intensity. They contacted him to ask if he would like to report for them. Thus began a forty year writing career.

He covered WW2, first stationed with British troops in India then Burma. Then he covered the Pacific campaign stationed with U.S. troops.  He was the first international journalist to report on Hiroshima after the atomic bomb. He evaded US military restrictions to go to Hiroshima and see reality for himself. In his story “The Atomic Plague”, published in the London Daily Express, Burchett said,  “I write this as a warning to the world” and “Doctors fall as they work”. Immediately the US launched a campaign to smear his reputation and deny the validity of his story. The US military was intent on preventing people from knowing the long term effects of nuclear radiation.

Burchett’s report from Hiroshima was broadcast world wide and called the “scoop of the century”. It exemplified his career based on first hand observation and experience.

Over his 40 year career he reported the other side of the story from the Soviet Union, China, Korea and Vietnam. He wrote thousands of articles and over 35 books.  On China he wrote China’s Feet Unbound in 1952. Two decades later he wrote (with Rewi Alley) China: The Quality of Life.

Burchett wrote Vietnam: The Inside Story of a Guerrilla War (1965) My War with the CIA: The Memoirs of Prince Norodom Sihanouk (1974), Grasshoppers and Elephants: Why Vietnam Fell (1977) and then Catapult to Freedom: The Survival of the Vietnamese People (1978).

Burchett’s life, experiences and observations are brilliantly recorded in his autobiography At the Barricades: Forty Years on the Cutting Edge of History (1980). They reveal the hard scrabble youth and early years, the leftist sympathies, the decades of journalistic work based on first hand observations.

Burchett was vilified by establishment political leaders in Australia. His Australian passport was taken, the government refused to issue him a new one and he was barred from entering Australia. Even his children were denied their Australian citizenship. Finally, after 17 years, Wilfred Burchett’s citizenship and passport were restored when Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister in 1972.

With his unassuming and  affable manner, Wilfred Burchett became friends with leaders such as Ho Chi Minh, Norodom Sihanouk,  and Chou en Lai. Bertrand Russell said, “One man, Wilfred Burchett, alerted Western public opinion to the nature of this war and the struggle of the Vietnamese people.” 

This interview gives a glimpse into the character and personality of Wilfred Burchett.

John Pilger

John Pilger is another extraordinary Australian journalist.  After starting journalism in the early 60’s, he became a war correspondent covering Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Biafra. He worked 25 years at London’s Daily Mirror and then had a regular fortnightly column for 23 years at the New Statesman.

His first documentary, The Quiet Mutiny, depicted US soldiers in Vietnam resisting their officers and the war. In 1974, when Palestine was often unmentionable, he produced Palestine is Still the Issue. Nineteen years later, he wrote the second part and described how Palestine is still the issue.

John Pilger has written/edited over ten books and made over 50 films. He told the story of atrocities in Pol Pot’s Cambodia with Year Zero.  He exposed Indonesia’s strangle hold on East Timor in Death of a Nation: The Timor ConspiracyIn a four year investigation, he showed how working class victims of the drug thalidomide had been excluded from a settlement with the drug company.

John Pilger exposed uncomfortable truths about his home country and its treatment of aboriginal people. He did this through films including The Secret Country: First Australians Fight Back (1985), Welcome to Australia (1999), and Utopia: An Epic Story of Struggle and Resistance (2013).  He gives more history and detail in the book A Secret Country (1992).

In 2002 Pilger produced and movie and book titled The New Rulers of the World revealing the grotesque inequality in this “globalized” world where a few individuals and corporations have more power and wealth than entire countries.

In 2016 Pilger came out with the urgent and prescient video The Coming War with China.

More recently he produced The Dirty War on the NHS which  documents the stealth campaign to privatize the UK’s National Health System. Many of John Pilger’s films can be seen at his website johnpilger.com .

In the 1960’s and 70’s, Pilger’s brave and bold journalism received many awards and he was twice recognized as Journalist of the Year.  But in recent years, there has been less acceptance as media has become more homogenized and controlled. In 2018 Pilger said: My written journalism is no longer welcome – probably it’s last home was The Guardian, which three years ago got rid of people like me and others in pretty much a purge …”  

Harold Pinter, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, says:John Pilger unearths, with steely attention, the facts, the filthy truth. and tells it like it is.

Julian Assange

The third extraordinary Australian journalist is Julian Assange. He was born on 3 July 1971.  He became a skilled computer programmer and hacker as a teenager. Later he studied mathematics and physics at Melbourne University. According to one of his math teachers he was an exceptional student but he clearly had other tasks and priorities.

Assange has edited or co-authored at least four books. For three years he worked with Australian journalist and co-author Suelette Dreyfus to write Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession in the Electronic Frontier.  First published in 1997, the Sydney Morning Herald called it “astonishing”. Rolling Stone described it as “An entirely original focus on the bizarre lives and crimes of an extraordinary group of teenage hackers.” 

In 2012, Assange produced the TV series “The World Tomorrow“. Over 12 segments, he interviews Ecuador President Rafael Correa, the current President of Pakistan Imran Khan, the leader of Hezbollah Hasan Nasrallah, leaders in the Occupy movement, Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali and many more.

In 2013, Assange and WikiLeaks produced the movie Mediastan. It shows WikiLeaks global travels to meet publishers of the secret documents.  In 2014 OR Books published When WikiLeaks met Google. It consists of a discussion between Julian Assange and Google founder Eric Schmidt plus two companions. Assange writes a 51 page introduction which puts the discussion in context: how Google and other internet giants have become part of  US foreign policy establishment.

In 2015 Assange edited The WikiLeaks files: the world according to the US Empire and in 2016 the book Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet was published. Assange and  three other computer experts discuss the future of the internet and whether computers will emancipate or enslave us. One reviewer says, “These guys are really getting at the heart of some very big issues that practically no one (outside of Cypherpunk circles) is thinking about.”

But what makes Assange extraordinary is his work as editor-in-chief and publisher of WikiLeaks.  Following are a few examples of information they have conveyed to the public:

* Corruption by family and associates of Kenyan leader Daniel Arap Moi.

* Corruption at Kaupthing Bank in the Iceland financial crisis

* Dumping of toxic chemicals in Ivory Coast.

* Killing of Reuters journalists and over 10 Iraqi civilians by US Apache attack helicopter in Collateral Murder video.

* 92,000 documents on the war in Afghanistan (and civilian casualties previously hidden)

* 400,000 documents on the war in Iraq (including reports showing the US military ignoring torture by their Iraqi allies)

* Corruption in Tunisia (helping spark the Arab Spring)

* NSA spying on German leader Merkel, Brazilian leader Roussef, French presidents (Sarkozy, Hollande, Chirac) and more.

* Secret agreements in the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership

* Emails and files from the US Democratic National Committee

* CIA spying and other tools  (“Vault 7”).

Julian Assange has received much recognition: Sam Adams Award, Time’s Person of the Year, Le Monde Person of the Year,  Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal, Serena Shim Award and others.

But Assange has incurred the wrath and enmity of the US government. The Collateral Damage video and war logs exposed the brutal reality of US aggression and occupation.  Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, said the US invasion of Iraq violated international law. But there has been no accountability.

In response to WikiLeaks’ revelations, the United States has ignored the crimes and gone after the messenger who revealed the crimes. Thus Julian Assange was confined to the Ecuador Embassy for 7 years and is now in Belmarsh maximum security prison.  The US wants him extradited to the US where he has been charged with 18 counts of “Illegally Obtaining, Receiving and Disclosing Classified Information”. The extradition hearing is scheduled to begin on 24 February 2020.

Across Three Generations

Australia should be proud of these exceptional native sons. Each one has made huge contributions to educating the public about crucial events.

Wilfred Burchett reported from the “other side” when the West was waging war on Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and China. He was demonized and even called “Public Enemy Number One” during the Cold War.  But those who read his reports and many books found an accurate and objective writer. His many books stand the test of time.

From the 60’s to today, John Pilger has told stories that were never or rarely told.  He has exposed facts and drawn conclusions which shame or should shame powerful forces, whether in the U.K., U.S.A. or Australia. He has documented the real heroes who are otherwise ignored.

Julian Assange is from the new generation. He has reported and published secret information about military-political power on “this side”. He has revealed truths which powerful forces do not want the public to know, even when it is being done in their name.

Now Assange is in prison and in danger of being extradited to the United States. If this is allowed to  happen, it will mark a crushing setback and perhaps the death of independent investigative journalism.

John Pilger is a major supporter of Julian Assange. So is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer. In a blockbuster interview he says:

I have never seen a comparable case….The Swedish authorities … intentionally left him in limbo. Just imagine being accused of rape for nine-and-a-half years by an entire state apparatus and the media without ever being given the chance to defend yourself because no charges have ever been filed.

He goes to describe reading the original Swedish documents, saying:

I could hardly believe my eyes…. a rape had never taken place at all…. the woman’s testimony was later changed by the Stockholm police… I have all the documents in my possession, the emails, the text messages.

Melzer describes the refusal of governments to comply with his requests. He sums up what is happening and the significance.

A show trial is to be used to make an example of Julian Assange….. Four democratic countries joined forces – the U.S., Ecuador, Sweden, and the U.K. – to leverage their power to portray one man as a monster so that he could be later burned at the stake without any outcry. The case is a huge scandal and represents the failure of Western rule of law. If Julian Assange is convicted, it will be a death sentence for freedom of the press.

The three extraordinary Australian journalists were all rebels and all international. They all depended on freedom of the press which is now at stake.