Category Archives: Iraq

The End of Irony: an Irony Opener

Given all the hysterical saber-rattling over Iran recently, one wonders if old Uncle Sam’s simply having another spastic episode with his Pent’agonal cane?  Mixed into the usual cacophony of paranoid ramblings, one hears ominous mumblings linking Iran, al-Quaeda, and the Nine-One-One…

Never Forget!—to re-package and re-purpose 9/11, as that original franchise continues to spawn spin-offs, recycling moth-balled characters like the angry war muppet John Bolton, and the Grinch-esque Elliot Abrams, to hawk the latest possible installments in the series.  As the most recent “pilot” in Venezuela continues to “bomb”, so to speak, one further wonders if the Iranian saber-rattle is not a kind of death-rattle, instead?  Is Uncle Sam OK?  Did he spring one leak too many, or accidentally “Stuxnet” himself?  Probably not, given the ongoing lethality of his War Machine, and the fiat money press that keeps old Uncle Sam’s cane a tap-tap-tapping.

However, before the “shock and awe” of the 9/11 event, things looked significantly different.  Afghanistan was remote and irrelevant; Iraq had become an occasional blip on a “no-fly zone” radar screen; while Libya and Syria, like Yemen and Somalia, were rarely to be seen.  But 9/11 changed everything.  Suddenly, the Death Star was in business again—and the Empire struck back.  Indeed, all bets were off by the time that Saddam Hussein’s statue fell, and that son-of-a-Skull-and-Bones Bush landed on an aircraft carrier (the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, coincidentally) to show pony an uncertain “Mission Accomplished”.  That “accomplishment” bleeds on into the present day.  By the shores of Tripoli, or Guantanamo Bay, all roads to Kabul, Baghdad, Damascus, and Tehran lead, inexorably, back to the fateful 9/11.

You know what they say:  if you’ve seen the South Tower strike once, then you’ve probably seen it a thousand times.  By day’s end, the “Mission Impossible” that 9/11 certainly was had become a cliche, like the soon-to-be minted “War on Terror” that the new brand image was used to sell.  Most major media opinion-shapers quickly fell in line with the new ad campaign, and its unequivocal claim that “9/11=War on Terror”.

One of the more peculiar fellers-in-line at that time was PBS and Time magazine essayist Roger Rosenblatt.  Fresh off the catastrophe, Herr Rosenblatt penned an essay entitled “The Age of Irony Comes to an End”, published in the September 24, 2001 issue of Time.

In this piece, Rosenblatt radically personalizes 9/11.  According to our credulous essayist, an “oh-so-cool” tribe of “believe-in-nothing” ironists—a tribe that had made Rosenblatt feel like a “slobbering bumpkin” for as long as the Trade Towers had stood—got fed their unfree lunch by the overwhelming “reality” of the 9/11 attacks.  The intellectuals, the hipsters, the “wise guys quoting Marx”:  all of these nefarious ironist-types were finally exposed for the shady frauds that Rosenblatt had always felt them to be.  Indeed, from Mr Rosenblatt’s 9/11-vindicated perch, you would have thought that those jumbo jets had slammed into the Irony—I mean, Ivory—Towers, instead…

However, beyond Roger Rosenblatt’s personal vendetta against irony and ironists, his odd coupling of irony and 9/11 provides an ironic key for opening an uncanny door into the American Psyche and its “War on Terror” thing.  Specifically, take the term “ground zero”, the signature metaphor to arise from the wreck of the World Trade Center Towers.

The first mention of “ground zero” in relation to the 9/11 event occurred at 11:55 a.m. (EST), by a Fox News affiliated correspondent.  The use of this label quickly spread to other major media outlets, and has persisted to this day.  The term itself, “ground zero”, originally refers to the blast points, or hypocenters, of the nuclear bomb detonations over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945.

Now, taking their cues from today’s cultural obsession with “Terrorism”, future historians will likely view these twin atomic bombings as terrorist attacks of the first—and worst—order of magnitude.  The reason is obvious.  Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain the two “greatest” single event mass murders in the history of the human species.  Moreover, it was entirely well-known to the small cabal of U.S. policymakers who authorized the atomic strikes that the effect would be an indiscriminate massacre of civilians, Japanese and Korean alike.

In the case of Hiroshima, it is also worth noting another telling, mordant irony.  Of the 70 to 80,000 thousand human beings who were more or less vaporized by the initial blast, 12 of those were American POWs holed up at the Chugoku Prison HQ, a little over a stone’s throw from the original Ground Zero.  The United States Government kept this particular fact a secret for over 30 years, not even notifying the families of the POWs of their fates—as if such an admission would have tarnished the image of the first atomic bombing as just, legitimate, or necessary. Perhaps our Leaders then were just a tribe of “believe-in-nothing” ironists?  Maybe they still are?

In a very real sense, the atomic bomb blasts over Hiroshima and Nagasaki initiated a new age of terror.  On the booster side, Uncle Sam emerged as an unparalleled superpower, wielding his loud mushroom cloud, in case there were any doubts.  The Soviet Union, of course, became a viable sidekick for several decades, until History got bored and kicked the “Rooskies” aside.  On the flip side, our use of “The Bomb” created an indelible image of our own potential annihilation, and this image accounts for the resonance of the “ground zero” metaphor in relation to the 9/11 attacks.  It is as if, in the back of the American Psyche, there is this fear that some nefarious “They” could do unto us what we once did unto Them.

Hiroshima remains the American template for the ultimate terrorist attack; 9/11, ironically or not, echoed this template.

In the early run-up to Iraq-Attack-Two, back in September of 2002, Condoleeza Rice, then National Security Adviser, made this point precisely (if unwittingly) when she said, concerning the dubiously re-discovered possibility of Saddam Hussein possessing the dreaded WMD:  “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”.

Aye, aye, Condi: Indeed we don’t!

The Western Media is Key to Syria Deception

By any reckoning, the claim made this week by al-Qaeda-linked fighters that they were targeted with chemical weapons by the Syrian government in Idlib province – their final holdout in Syria – should have been treated by the western media with a high degree of scepticism.

That the US and other western governments enthusiastically picked up those claims should not have made them any more credible.

Scepticism was all the more warranted from the media given that no physical evidence has yet been produced to corroborate the jihadists’ claims. And the media should have been warier still given that the Syrian government was already poised to defeat these al-Qaeda groups without resort to chemical weapons – and without provoking the predictable ire (yet again) of the west.

But most of all scepticism was required because these latest claims arrive just as we have learnt that the last supposed major chemical attack – which took place in April 2018 and was, as ever, blamed by all western sources on Syria’s president, Bashar Assad – was very possibly staged, a false-flag operation by those very al-Qaeda groups now claiming the Syrian government has attacked them once again.

Addicted to incompetence

Most astounding in this week’s coverage of the claims made by al-Qaeda groups is the fact that the western media continues to refuse to learn any lessons, develop any critical distance from the sources it relies on, even as those sources are shown to have repeatedly deceived it.

This was true after the failure to find WMD in Iraq, and it is now even more true after the the international community’s monitoring body on chemical weapons, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), was exposed this month as deeply dishonest.

It is bad enough that our governments and our expert institutions deceive and lie to us. But it is even worse that we have a corporate media addicted – at the most charitable interpretation – to its own incompetence. The evidence demonstrating that grows stronger by the day.

Unprovoked attack

In March the OPCW produced a report into a chemical weapons attack the Syrian government allegedly carried out in Douma in April last year. Several dozen civilians, many of them children, died apparently as a result of that attack.

The OPCW report concluded that there were “reasonable grounds” for believing a toxic form of chlorine had been used as a chemical weapon in Douma, and that the most likely method of delivery were two cylinders dropped from the air.

This as good as confirmed claims made by al-Qaeda groups, backed by western states, that the cylinders had been dropped by the Syrian military. Using dry technical language, the OPCW joined the US and Europe in pointing the finger squarely at Assad.

It was vitally important that the OPCW reached that conclusion not only because of the west’s overarching regime-change ambitions in Syria.

In response to the alleged Douma attack a year ago, the US fired a volley of Cruise missiles at Syrian army and government positions before there had been any investigation of who was responsible.

Those missiles were already a war crime – an unprovoked attack on another sovereign country. But without the OPCW’s implicit blessing, the US would have been deprived of even its flimsy, humanitarian pretext for launching the missiles.

Leaked document

Undoubtedly the OPCW was under huge political pressure to arrive at the “right” conclusion. But as a scientific body carrying out a forensic investigation surely it would not simply doctor the data.

Nonetheless, it seems that may well be precisely what it did. This month the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media – a group of academics who have grown increasingly sceptical of the western narratives told about Syria – published an internal, leaked OPCW document.

A few days later the OPCW reluctantly confirmed that the document was genuine, and that it would identify and deal with those responsible for the leak.

The document was an assessment overseen by Ian Henderson, a senior OPCW expert, of the engineering data gathered by the OPCW’s fact-finding mission that attended the scene of the Douma attack. Its findings fly in the face of the OPCW’s published report.

Erased from the record

The leaked document is deeply troubling for two reasons.

First, the assessment, based on the available technical data, contradicts the conclusion of the final OPCW report that the two chemical cylinders were dropped from the air and crashed through building roofs. It argues instead that the cylinders were more likely placed at the locations they were found.

If that is right, the most probable explanation is that the cylinders were put there by al-Qaeda groups – presumably in a last desperate effort to persuade the west to intervene and to prevent the jihadists being driven out of Douma.

But even more shocking is the fact that the expert assessment based on the data collected by the OPCW team is entirely unaddressed in the OPCW’s final report.

It is not that the final report discounts or rebuts the findings of its own experts. It simply ignores those findings; it pretends they don’t exist. The report blacks them out, erases them from the official record. In short, it perpetrates a massive deception.

Experts ignored

All of this would be headline news if we had a responsible media that cared about the truth and about keeping its readers informed.

We now know both that the US attacked Syria on entirely bogus grounds, and that the OPCW – one of the international community’s most respected and authoritative bodies – has been caught redhanded in an outrageous deception with grave geopolitical implications. (In fact, it is not the first time the OPCW has been caught doing this, as I have previously explained here.)

The fact that the OPCW ignored its own expert and its own team’s technical findings when they proved politically indigestible casts a dark shadow over all the OPCW’s work in Syria, and beyond. If it was prepared to perpetrate a deception on this occasion, why should we assume it did not do so on other occasions when it proved politically expedient?

Active combatants

The OPCW’s reports into other possible chemical attacks – assisting western efforts to implicate Assad – are now equally tainted. That is especially so given that in those other cases the OPCW violated its own procedures by drawing prejudicial conclusions without its experts being on the ground, at the site of the alleged attacks. Instead it received samples and photos via al-Qaeda groups, who could easily have tampered with the evidence.

And yet there has been not a peep from the corporate media about this exposure of the OPCW’s dishonesty, apart from commentary pieces from the only two maverick mainstream journalists in the UK – Peter Hitchens, a conservative but independent-minded columnist for the Mail on Sunday, and veteran war correspondent Robert Fisk, of the little-read Independent newspaper (more on his special involvement in Douma in a moment).

Just as the OPCW blanked the findings of its technical experts to avoid political discomfort, the media have chosen to stay silent on this new, politically sensitive information.

They have preferred to prop up the discredited narrative that our governments have been acting to protect the human rights of ordinary Syrians rather than the reality that they have been active combatants in the war, helping to destabilise a country in ways that have caused huge suffering and death in Syria.

Systematic failure

This isn’t a one-off failure. It’s part of a series of failures by the corporate media in its coverage of Douma.

They ignored very obvious grounds for caution at the time of the alleged attack. Award-winning reporter Robert Fisk was among the first journalists to enter Douma shortly after those events. He and a few independent reporters communicated eye-witness testimony that flatly contradicted the joint narrative promoted by al-Qaeda groups and western governments that Assad had bombed Douma with chemical weapons.

The corporate media also mocked a subsequent press conference at which many of the supposed victims of that alleged chemical attack made appearances to show that they were unharmed and spoke of how they had been coerced into play-acting their roles.

And now the western media has compounded that failure – revealing its systematic nature – by ignoring the leaked OPCW document too.

But it gets worse, far worse.

Al-Qaeda propaganda

This week the same al-Qaeda groups that were present in Douma – and may have staged that lethal attack – claimed that the Syrian government had again launched chemical weapons against them, this time on their final holdout in Idlib.

A responsible media, a media interested in the facts, in evidence, in truth-telling, in holding the powerful to account, would be duty bound to frame this latest, unsubstantiated claim in the context of the new doubts raised about the OPCW report into last year’s chemical attack blamed on Assad.

Given that the technical data suggest that al-Qaeda groups, and the White Helmets who work closely with them, were responsible for staging the attack – even possibly of murdering civilians to make the attack look more persuasive – the corporate media had a professional and moral obligation to raise the matter of the leaked document.

It is vital context as anyone tries to weigh up whether the latest al-Qaeda claims are likely to be true. To deprive readers of this information, this essential context would be to take a side, to propagandise on behalf not only of western governments but of al-Qaeda too.

And that is exactly what the corporate media have just done. All of them.

Media worthy of Stalin

It is clear how grave their dereliction of the most basic journalistic duty is if we consider the Guardian’s uncritical coverage of jihadist claims about the latest alleged chemical attack.

Like most other media, the Guardian article included two strange allusions – one by France, the other by the US – to the deception perpetrated by the OPCW in its recent Douma report. The Guardian reported these allusions even though it has never before uttered a word anywhere in its pages about that deception.

In other words, the corporate media are so committed to propagandising on behalf of the western powers that they have reported the denials of official wrongdoing even though they have never reported the actual wrongdoing. It is hard to imagine the Soviet media under Stalin behaving in such a craven and dishonest fashion.

The corporate media have given France and the US a platform to reject accusations against the OPCW that the media themselves have never publicly raised.

Doubts about OPCW

The following is a brief statement (unintelligible without the forgoing context) from France, reported by the Guardian in relation to the latest claim that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons this week: “We have full confidence in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”

But no one, except bloggers and academics ignored by the media and state authorities, has ever raised doubts about the OPCW. Why would the Guardian think these French comments worthy of reporting unless there were reasons to doubt the OPCW? And if there are such reasons for doubt, why has the Guardian not thought to make them public, to report them to its readers?

The US state department similarly came to the aid of the OPCW. In the same Guardian report, a US official was quoted saying that the OPCW was facing “a continuing disinformation campaign” from Syria and Russia, and that the campaign was designed “to create the false narrative that others [rather than Assad] are to blame for chemical weapons attacks”.

So Washington too was rejecting accusations against the OPCW that have never been reported by the state-corporate media.

Interestingly, in the case of US officials, they claim that Syria and Russia are behind the “disinformation campaign” against the OPCW, even though the OPCW has admitted that the leaked document discrediting its work is genuine and written by one of its experts.

The OPCW is discredited, of course, only because it sought to conceal evidence contained in the leaked document that might have exonerated Assad of last year’s chemical attack. It is hard to see how Syria or Russia can be blamed for this.

Colluding in deception

But more astounding still, while US and French officials have at least acknowledged that there are doubts about the OPCW’s role in Syria, even if they unjustifiably reject such doubts, the corporate media have simply ignored those doubts as though they don’t exist.

The continuing media blackout on the leaked OPCW document cannot be viewed as accidental. It has been systematic across the media.

That blackout has remained resolutely in place even after the OPCW admitted the leaked document discrediting it was genuine and even after western countries began alluding to the leaked document themselves.

The corporate media is actively colluding both in the original deception perpetrated by al-Qaeda groups and the western powers, and in the subsequent dishonesty of the OPCW. They have worked together to deceive western publics.

The question is, why are the media so obviously incompetent? Why are they so eager to keep themselves and their readers in the dark? Why are they so willing to advance credulous narratives on behalf of western governments that have been repeatedly shown to have lied to them?

Iran the real target

The reason is that the corporate media are not what they claim. They are not a watchdog on power, or a fourth estate.

The media are actually the public relations wing of a handful of giant corporations – and states – that are pursuing two key goals in the Middle East.

First, they want to control its oil. Helping al-Qaeda in Syria – including in its propaganda war – against the Assad government serves a broader western agenda. The US and NATO bloc are ultimately gunning for the leadership of Iran, the one major oil producer in the region not under the US imperial thumb.

Powerful Shia groups in the region – Assad in Syria, Hezbullah in Lebanon, and Iraqi leaders elevated by our invasion of that country in 2003 – are allies or potential allies of Iran. If they are in play, the US empire’s room for manoeuvre in taking on Iran is limited. Remove these smaller players and Iran stands isolated and vulnerable.

That is why Russia stepped in several years ago to save Assad, in a bid to stop the dominoes falling and the US engineering a third world war centred on the Middle East.

Second, with the Middle East awash with oil money, western corporations have a chance to sell more of the lucrative weapons that get used in overt and covert wars like the one raging in Syria for the past eight years.

What better profit-generator for these corporations than wasteful and pointless wars against manufactured bogeymen like Assad?

Like a death cult

From the outside, this looks and sounds like a conspiracy. But actually it is something worse – and far more difficult to overcome.

The corporations that run our media and our governments have simply conflated in their own minds – and ours – the idea that their narrow corporate interests are synonymous with “western interests”.

The false narratives they generate are there to serve a system of power, as I have explained in previous blogs. That system’s worldview and values are enforced by a charmed circle that includes politicians, military generals, scientists, journalists and others operating as if brainwashed by some kind of death cult. They see the world through a single prism: the system’s need to hold on to power. Everything else – truth, evidence, justice, human rights, love, compassion – must take a back seat.

It is this same system that paradoxically is determined to preserve itself even if it means destroying the planet, ravaging our economies, and starting and maintaining endlessly destructive wars. It is a system that will drag us all into the abyss, unless we stop it.

The New Politics of Starvation

President Donald Trump’s use of the most vicious aspects of economic warfare prompt another examination of the politics of starvation.

After George W. Bush’s administration, Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump lessened Bush’s aggressive war policies and leaned to economic warfare. Sounds harmless when compared to exploding bombs, but it is not — economic warfare can crush an adversary without firing a shot. Gone to its extreme, economic warfare has the force of a neutron bomb; it disables the nation’s infrastructure and debilitates its population. Isolation from the international financial system, material embargos, and other sanctions reduce living standards and bring populations close to starvation The most serious aspects of economic warfare are major crimes and a form of terrorism.

Iran, Cuba, North Korea, and Iraq endured the most punishing sanctions from the United States. Results of sanctions against these countries, models for the effects of sanctions, show that sanctions have rarely accomplished their stated purposes and their intentions may be for other reasons — stalling economic progress, weakening challenges to antagonistic actions, advancing dominance, and promoting regime change.

Iran

Disturbed with the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and infuriated by the hostage taking of 52 of U.S. embassy personnel by extreme Islamic students and militants, President Jimmy Carter froze several billions of dollars in Iranian bank deposits, gold and other properties, and followed with a 1980 embargo on trade with and travel to Iran. These punitive actions accomplished nothing for the United States, strengthened the Ayatollah’s Authority and hardened the student demands for releasing the captured embassy officials.

President Reagan, who partially owed his climb into the executive office to the hostage crisis, showed contempt for Iran’s resolution of the problem. Driven by the unproven assertion that Iran was involved in the 1983 bombing of a marine barracks in Beirut, and favoring Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war, the U.S. president imposed additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic. and, in 1987, banned all imports from Iran.

Duriing the Clinton administration, the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) penalized all foreign companies that provided investments over $20 million for the development of petroleum resources.

Iran’s entrance into the atomic age provoked a series of new sanctions. Economic warfare soon reached full scale by subduing Iran’s earnings from its most precious resource and export – oil. The U.S. Congress passed unilateral sanctions that targeted Iran’s energy and banking sectors. Sanctions did not halt Iran’s nuclear activities, or prevent it from signing contracts with foreign firms to develop its energy resources. Exports slowly grew to an estimated $82 billion in 2012, with liberated Iraq and independent China filling the gap as trading partners.

Nevertheless, economic warfare affected Iran’s industries and welfare. In October 2012, Iran’s currency, the rial, fell to a record low against the US dollar, losing about 80 per cent of its value in one year. Lack of spare parts and inability to replace planes affected aviation safety. Real growth rate in GDP, at a steady six per cent a year during the first decade of the twenty first century, fell to two per cent in 2011-2012. One report, citing officials from the U.S. Departments of State and Energy, concluded that gasoline imports in the Shah’s former kingdom declined from 130,000 barrels a day in 2009 to 50,000 barrels a day in 2011. Machinery wears, and the  costs and time for repairs rapidly increased. A nation of educated professionals, who depended upon access to foreign technology and scientific cooperation, had their access to knowledge severely curtailed.

In a October 5, 2012 report to the UN General Assembly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon summarized effects of sanctions on Iran’s population.

The sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran have had significant effects on the general population, including an escalation in inflation, a rise in commodities and energy costs, an increase in the rate of unemployment and a shortage of necessary items, including medicine,

The embargoes have also hampered humanitarian operations, as the imposed restrictions on Iran’s banking system have halted the imports of medicines needed for treating diseases like cancer and heart and respiratory conditions.

The Obama administration eventually eased restrictions on the sale of medicines to Iran, and, after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in which Iran halted and downsized its uranium enrichment, the UN lifted sanctions. In a following year, Iran GDP increased 15 percent.

On May 8, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. and U.S. sanctions came into effect again in November 2018. President Trump articulated his plan for renewed sanctions as, “to bring Iran’s oil exports to ‘zero’ and remove a main source of revenue for the regime.” Trump imposed the ultimate harm afforded by economic warfare — starve the people and have them revolt against the regime.

That has not happened nor is predicted to occur. World Bank statistics indicate a severe slowing of the economy and steady rise of inflation.

As shown in the charts, oil production, and GDP growth dropped monotonically and severely. Currency value suffered an initial shock and had some recovery. Inflation was up 40%, especially in food (up 60%) — a suffering economy, a suffering people, and no political gain for the U.S.

Cuba

Immediately after the 1960 Cuban revolution, the United States imposed an embargo against Cuba. Fifty plus years of sanctions have not succeeded in accomplishing the purposes for which the United States proposed the sanctions — compensation to U.S. firms nationalized by Cuba and the overthrow of the Castro regime. The only result of the embargo has been deprivation of the Cuban people.

Although the United Nations General Assembly on November 2, 1995, voted 117 to 3 to recommend an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba, President Clinton, on March 12, 1996, signed into law the misnamed Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. This Act imposed penalties on foreign companies doing business in Cuba, permitted U.S. citizens to sue foreign investors who make use of American-owned property seized by the Cuban government, and denied foreign investors in Cuba’s industry to enter the U.S.

The World Health Organization (WHO) complimented pre-90’s Cuba for its public health system, which had been credited with eliminating hunger and malnutrition and wiping out infectious diseases. A tightened embargo reinforced Cuba’s suffering after Russia withdrew subsidies. and, soon, Cuba of the mid-90’s portrayed another image. The American Association for World Health and the American Public Health Association ascertained that the embargo caused significant deterioration in Cuba’s food production and health care:

  • Cuba was banned from purchasing nearly 1/2 of new drugs on the market.
  • Physicians had access to only 890 medications, down from 1,300 in 1989.
  • Deterioration of water supply increased water borne diseases.
  • Daily caloric intake dropped by 33% between 1989 and 1993.

In 2000, the Clinton administration finally allowed Cuba to have some relief from an aggressive economic warfare. The administration allowed the sale of agriculture and medicine to Cuba for humanitarian purposes. According to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba reached $380 million in 2004. However, after hitting a peak of $710 million in 2008, U.S. food sales to Cuba declined over 50 percent by the year 2011. Reasons for the decline were largely economic – lack of foreign currency and better financial terms being offered by other countries.

Representatives of a dozen leading U.S. business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, signed a letter in December urging Barack Obama to scrap the embargo. The letter pegs the cost to the U.S. economy at $1.2 billion per year. The CPF’s estimates are much higher: up to $4.84 billion annually in lost sales and exports. The Cuban government estimates the loss to Cuba at about $685 million annually. Thus the blockade costs the United States up to $4.155 billion more a year than it costs Cuba.1

After a period of harsh policy toward Cuba under President George W. Bush, President Obama announced in late 2014 that Washington and Havana would begin normalizing relations. To that end, the Obama administration achieved three pillars of normalization: 1) the removal of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, which allowed Cuba to access international finance; 2) the reestablishment of diplomatic relations; and 3) relaxed restrictions on travel and trade through executive action. The embargo remained in place.

In 2017, the Trump administration reversed some of the changes made under President Obama, but the vast majority remained U.S. policy. Despite some tighter trade sanctions and limitations on authorized travel, there are still legal pathways for Americans to export and travel to Cuba. On the list of  new sanctions is allowing Americans to sue foreign companies in Cuba that are profiting from or using properties that were seized during the Cuban revolution.

Havana — The Cuban government announced Friday it is launching widespread rationing of chicken, eggs, rice, beans, soap and other basic products in the face of a grave economic crisis. Commerce Minister Betsy Díaz Velazquez told the state-run Cuban News Agency that various forms of rationing would be employed in order to deal with shortages of staple foods.

Díaz blamed the hardening of the U.S. trade embargo by the Trump administration. Economists give equal or greater blame to a plunge in aid from Venezuela, where the collapse of the state-run oil company has led to a nearly two-thirds cut in shipments of subsidized fuel that Cuba used for power and to earn hard currency on the open market.2

Another suffering economy, suffering people, and no political gain for the U.S.

North Korea

The proud and impoverished nation of North Korea has been continually subjected to sanctions, threats of economic sanctions, and hastily withdrawn sanctions. The media is peppered with the words: “U.S. Lifts sanctions,” “U.S. recommends sanctions,” “South Korea wary of sanctions.” It’s difficult to know if North Korea is being sanctioned or being forced into being sanctioned. After its 2006 claim of conducting a nuclear test, the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic Korea) leaders responded to intended sanctions by labeling them as “a declaration of war.”

The DPRK has,suffered from economic warfare, which includes restrictions on trade and financial transactions. Export of sensitive dual-use items (items that have both military and non-military uses) have, at times, been prohibited.  During March 2012, the politics of starvation entered the situation; angered by an intended North Korea missile test, the U.S. suspended food aid to the “hermit kingdom.”

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has suspended planned food aid to North Korea as Pyongyang vows to push ahead with a plan to launch a long-range missile in defiance of international warnings, U.S. military officials said on Wednesday.

Under President Obama, sanctions increased as a policy of “strategic patience;” the US waited for North Korea to change its bad behavior before engaging with the state. As a result, trade between North Korea and China increased and sanctions did not encourage Kim Jong-An to discuss de-nuclearization.

On September 21, 2017, President Donald Trump, as part of his administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, allowed severing from its financial system and/or freezing assets of companies, businesses, organizations, and individuals who traded in goods, services, or technology with North Korea.

U.S. negotiations with North Korea have a built-in error; they request de-nuclearization in exchange for improved relations and reduction in sanctions. Not considered is that North Korea’s development of a nuclear arsenal was a response to its regard of U.S. actions in the Korean peninsula as a direct threat to its regime and the developments had no relation to sanctions. Therefore, the DPRK will not trade de-nuclearization for relief of sanctions, and that approach is a non-starter.

Sanctions, intended to collapse the North Korea regime, have not halted its development of nuclear weapons and guided missile delivery systems. They have collapsed the economy and harmed the North Korean people; starvation during droughts have occurred. Although some international assistance has been provided to North Korea, the intensive economic warfare waged against the “hermit kingdom” has exacerbated its problems, without any apparent benefit to its principal antagonist, the United States.

Iraq

If Iraq were Pompeii, then the US would be Mt. Vesuvius.

The sanctions against Iraq began August 6, 1990, four days after Hussein invaded Kuwait, and featured a near-total financial and trade embargo. Resultant suffering has been outlined in a UN Report on the Current Humanitarian Situation in Iraq, submitted to the Security Council, March 1999.  Due to the length of the report, only significant features are mentioned.

Before the Iraq War

  • before 1991 Iraq’s social and economic indicators were generally above the regional and developing country averages.
  • Up to 1990, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) cited Iraq as having one of the highest per capita food availability indicators in the region.
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), prior to 1991, health care reached approximately 97% of the urban population and 78% of rural residents. A major reduction of young child mortality took place from 1960 to 1990; with the infant mortality rate at 65 per 1,000 live births in 1989 (1991 Human Development Report average for developing countries was 76 per 1,000 live births). UNICEF indicates that a national welfare system assisted orphans and children with disabilities and supported the poorest families.
  • Before 1991, southern and central Iraq had well developed water and sanitation systems, composed with two hundred water treatment plants (“wtp’s”) for urban areas and 1200 compact wtp’s to serve rural areas, as well as an extensive distribution network. WHO estimates that 90% of the population had access to an abundant quantity of safe drinking water.

From Sanctions After the Gulf War

  • Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that Iraqi GDP may have fallen by nearly 67% in 1991, and the nation had “experienced a shift from relative affluence to massive poverty” and had infant mortality rates that were “among the highest in the world.”
  • The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated the maternal mortality rate increased from 50/100,000 live births in 1989 to 117/100,000 in 1997. The under-five child mortality rate increased from 30.2/1000 live births to 97.2/1000 during the same period. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) calculates that the infant mortality rate rose from 64/1000 births in 1990 to 129/1000 in 1995 (the Human Development Report set the average infant mortality rate for Least Developed Countries at 109/1000). Low birth weight babies (less than 2.5 kg) rose from 4% in 1990 to around a quarter of registered births in 1997, due mainly to maternal malnutrition.
  • Calorie intake fell from a pre-war 3120 to 1093 calories per capita/per day in 1994-95. The prevalence of malnutrition in Iraqi children under five almost doubled from 1991 to 1996 (from 12% to 23%). Acute malnutrition in Center/South rose from 3% to 11% for the same age bracket.
  • The World Food Program (WFP) estimated that access to potable water decreased to 50% of the 1990 level in urban areas and 33% in rural areas.
  • School enrollment for all ages (6-23) declined to 53%. According to a field survey conducted in 1993, as quoted by UNESCO, in Central and Southern governorates, 83% of school buildings needed rehabilitation, with 8613 out of 10,334 schools having suffered serious damages. The same source indicated that some schools with a planned capacity of 700 pupils actually have 4500 enrolled in them. Substantive progress in reducing adult and female illiteracy ceased and regressed to mid-1980 levels. More families are forced to rely on children to secure household incomes. Figures provided by UNESCO indicate that drop-outs in elementary schools increased from 95,692 in 1990 to 131,658 in 1999.

Sanctions, and its toll on the Iraqi people, continued until the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Excerpts from Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions, Joy Gordon. Harvard University Press, 2010, describe the extent of irrational economic warfare conducted by the United states against a defenseless Iraq.

While the United States consistently justified its policies in terms of preventing Iraq from developing weapons or threatening its neighbors, the U.S. policy went well beyond any rational concern with security. There was an elaborate architecture of policies that found a dozen other ways to simply do gratuitous harm that had not the least relation to the threat Iraq might have posed to its neighbors or to anyone else.

For thirteen years the United States unilaterally prevented Iraq from importing nearly everything related to electricity, telecommunications, and transportation, blocked much of what was needed for agriculture and housing construction, and even prohibited some equipment and materials necessary for health care and food preparation.

As the criticism grew, there is no sign that anyone in the U.S. administration, and only a tiny handful within Congress, actually took it to heart– actually questioned the sanity and legality of reducing an entire civilization to a preindustrial state, of bankrupting an entire nation for the purpose of containing one tyrannical man.

On May 12, 1996, Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, appeared on the CBS program 60 Minutes. Commentator Lesley Stahl asked, “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. Is the price worth it?” Madeleine Albright replied, “we think the price is worth it.”  Is that an expected response from a normal human being?

The U.S. 2003 invasion of Iraq accomplished what sanctions failed to accomplish —  push Iraq to total ruin. A question, “Why war, if had sanctions, or why sanctions if need to go to war?”

Conclusion

As shown, sanctions never accomplished their stated purposes and gravely harmed populations. The economic warfare had equivalents to military war. The country that took the offensive became the aggressor, as in any war, and the destruction to the defending state was equally brutal. In the one-sided engagement, the civilian population of the defending nation suffered greatly and the aggressor country suffered few losses. The economic wars never achieved the results that the offended party desired, and no peace treaties were signed. The struggles remained an open issue.

A limited form of economic warfare may, at times, have a legitimate purpose. A complete economic war, that invades all aspects of a country’s life and continues until it debilitates the population, cannot be accepted. In a military campaign, atrocities and human rights violations are often committed. Although no shots are fired and battlefields are not identifiable, economic warfare cannot camouflage its atrocities and disguise its human rights violations.

  1. Dollars and Sense, 2009, The Costs of the Embargo, by Margot Pepper
  2. From CBS News, May 11, 2019.

The Treasury Department and Moves Towards War on Iran

As Patrick Cockburn has observed in a recent Counterpunch column, “At the end of the day, the US Treasury is a more powerful instrument of foreign policy than the Pentagon for all its aircraft carriers and drones.” He refers, of course, to the success of U.S. sanctions on Iran and secondary sanctions on any corporations conducting trade with Iran. These have cut Iranian oil exports in half. They are, in fact, a form of undeclared warfare designed to inflict pain on the Iranian people, such that they rise up against the mullahs and topple the regime.

Cockburn notes that the European Union, while earnestly striving to sustain the Iran Deal by developing normal trade relations with Japan, has been thwarted by the U.S. Treasury Department.  The U.S. is demanding in effect that all nations including China and Russia join with it in torturing Iran until it capitulates to U.S. demands and U.S.-Israeli-Saudi plans for a reconfigured Middle East.

The arrogance of Trump, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton as they bark their demands, not only to the Iranians but to everyone, disgusts the world. It invites angry protests, from the European Commission to the Chinese foreign ministry. It is a clear violation of the principles of free trade and the sovereign rights of nations. It is the ultimate U.S. attack, because its target is the entire world.

If you are a foe and you trade with Iran, we punish you.

If you are a friend and you trade with Iran, we punish you.

All must obey the U.S.A. as it strives to hurt Iran. All must become complicit in the deliberate destruction of the Iranian economy, while the U.S. openly advertises plans to send 120,000 troops to the region to intimidate Iran.

Trump’s almost equally moronic presidential predecessor George W. Bush once declared, “You’re either for us, or against us.” He referred to the original War on Terror as waged mostly in Afghanistan, which received general approval from governments world-wide. (The Iraq War was another matter; even key allies were not “for” the U.S. and were briefly vilified as “enemies.”)

The current administration says, “You’re either on board our project of regime change in Iran, and willing to forgo lucrative investment opportunities in that country, or you’re against us. And if you’re against us, we will not allow you to operate in the U.S. marketplace or finance your operations using U.S. banks.”

In the history of U.S. arrogance, this is a peak. I struggle to find any historical parallel, in which a country not only announced its intention to destroy a regime—by organizing an international economic boycott enforced through its banks—but demanded universal compliance in its efforts.

It is not only damaging economically. It is insulting. As the world becomes increasingly multipolar, and the U.S. position in it steadily declines, it throws down the gauntlet. Pompeo’s gate-crashing appearance at the last EU meet (on Iran) says it all. The uninvited and un-respected U.S. Secretary of State barged uninvited into a meeting to demand from an unsympathetic audience cooperation in its regime-change effort. All he achieved apparently was to convince the Europeans that the U.S. is pushing to another Iraq-style war based on lies. (Surely any European diplomat is aware of the character of John Bolton, and is appalled that the moron-president would choose such a thug as his national security advisor.)

The mustachioed monster lusts for war on Iran, with probable backing from Apocalypse Mike, the bible-toting secretary of state, and Boeing exec turned acting war secretary Patrick Shanahan. Can Trump, despite his declared opposition to overseas military adventures, resist their arguments for war?

The media is widely reporting that statements from top-ranking British officers in Iraq and elsewhere that there has been no acceleration of a threat from Iran, contradicting Bolton’s sensationalistic claims. Their “unusual” statements contradicting U.S. State Department bullshit indicate a high level of tension even between the U.S. and U.K. on the Iran question. This suggests the threat of a U.S. strike is receding; you wouldn’t think they’d proceed without even London’s support. But on the other hand the U.S. is evacuating non-essential personnel from Iraq, suggesting it wants to whisk them out of harm’s way before some immanent action in that country.

There is a madman in power, who controls both the Pentagon and the Treasury Department. He is pressing less for war than for capitulation under economic torture. But he does not understand the Shiite passion for self-sacrifice. The Iranian people are not so stupid as to think that, whatever pocketbook misery the U.S. inflicts on their country, they are better off submitting (again) to U.S. imperialism. The Iranian people have positive feelings for the people of this country, in part due to the history of academic exchanges: the Iranian Foreign Minister studied at San Francisco State University and University of Denver. But they view the U.S. government with contempt (as we all should).

So as Trump tightens the screws, and the Europeans prove incapable of holding up their end of the deal due to U.S. sabotage, the Iranians will stubbornly hold out, praying for regime change in the U.S. while the murderous Netanyahu and Prince MsB trade high-fives about how swimmingly this is all going.

Islamic State Celluloid

Nothing turns on the charlatan class of terrorism expertise than a video from an elusive, unknown destination, adjusted, modified and giving all the speculative trimmings.  In reading, E.B. White suggested the presence of two participants: the author as impregnator; the reader as respondent.  In the terrorism video, the maker consciously penetrates the shallow mind of the recipient, leaving its gurgling DNA to grow and mutate.

When Islamic State began its gruesome foray into the world of terrorist snuff videos, experts resembled overly keen cinephiles seeking the underlying message of a new wave.  The burning of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh in a cage in 2015 caused a certain rapture amongst members of a RAND panel.  Was this, perhaps, a celluloid standoff with rival al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, whose affiliates had just slaughtered the staff of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in their Parisian offices?

Senior Adviser to the RAND President, Brian Michael Jenkins, could not “recall a single incident in modern terrorism where terrorists deliberately killed a hostage with fire.”  There was “no religious basis for it this side of 17th century witch burning.”  Senior political scientist Johan Blank turned to scripture, finding “at least one specific prohibition of death by fire in the ahadith literature” on “the grounds that it resembled hellfire.”  The inspiration had to stem from somewhere, and Blank’s judicious offering was Ibn Taymiyyah, “fountainhead of much current jihadi reinterpretation of longstanding Islamic orthodoxy.”  Andrew Liepman, senior policy analyst, saw the video as a lucid moment of proof. “I wonder how much more evidence we need to confirm that ISIS is acting outside the norms of Islam.” Not modish, it would seem.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, has begun to resemble, in no small part, previous heads of franchise terrorist groups who have become reproductions and simulacra of themselves.  Terrorism is big business, stage sets and props, all tweeted for good measure; it is bestial theatre that draws out the voyeurs, the google-eyed analysts, and the lunatic converts.  Whether such heads are dead or not is of little consequence past a certain point: Baghdadi had supposedly been dead yet his corpse seems more than capable of putting together a presentation for audiences.  It is also incumbent on those seeking his capture or death to claim his general irrelevance.  Everyone did know one thing: the last time he gave a public performance was the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul in July 2014.

The video, aired on the Al Furqan network, is filmed in appropriately Spartan surrounds, but that is neither here nor there.  Iraq Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi thinks otherwise linking, erroneously, the making of the film with the current location of the protagonist.  “Regarding the location of Baghdadi, we can’t give intelligence information right now but it’s clear from the video that he’s in a remote area.”  As is the fashion, neither the date nor the authenticity of the recording is verifiable.  All else is a wonder, and even the Middle East Monitor is careful to suggest that the speaker was “a bearded man with Baghdadi’s appearance”.

Baghdadi lacks complexity in his message, never straying from the apocalyptic line.  “Our battle today is a battle of attrition, and we will prolong it for the enemy, and they must know that the jihad will continue until Judgment Day.” He is mindful of the fruitful carnage inflicted by the Easter Sunday bombers in Sri Lanka, and thanks them.  Such acts, he reasons, were retribution for the loss of Baghouz in Syria.

The speculations duly form a queue, and talking heads have been scrambled into studios and Skype portals.  This video may have been a retort, and reassurance, before the potential usurping moves of another ISIS figure of seniority, Abu Mohammed Husseini al-Hashimi.  Hashimi had staked a claim in stirring up discontent against Baghdadi’s more extreme tyrannical methods.  Not that he is averse to the application of hudud punishments (stoning for adultery excites him), and the quaint notion that the ruler of any Islamic State caliphate is bound to be a successor to the prophet Muhammed.  Modesty is a drawback in such line of work.

Colin P. Clarke, senior fellow at the Soufan Centre, aired his views that Baghdadi’s “sudden appearance will very likely serve as both a morale boost for ISIS supporters and remaining militants and as a catalyst for individuals or more groups to act.”  It was a reassurance that he remained the grand poohbah, atop “the command-and-control network of what remains of the group, not only in Iraq and Syria, but more broadly, in its far-flung franchises and affiliates.”

The teasing out and ponderings on minutiae are not far behind.  Resting upon a flowered mattress, and leaning against a cushion with an assault rifle by his side (nice touch for the old fox), it was bound to have an effect. The expansive beard caught the eye: The Washington Post noted that it “has greyed since his only other video appearance”. Previously, the paper noted, it had been “tinted with henna”.  Then there was the AK-74 prop, a rather popular Kalashnikov variant reprised from previous showings in the video work of Abu Musab Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden.

Such superficial renderings, the stuff of terrorism kitsch, lends itself to fundamental fact that Baghdadi might be somewhere, anywhere, or nowhere, a nonsense figure, to a degree, in a nonsense medium.  The modern terrorist franchise is fluid and far-reaching.  Followers need not feel estranged.  They can use social media, cosy-up and wait for eschatological endings.

The pioneer of this terror mania (global yet local) was al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, a figure who, along with his sparring counterpart US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, formed a perfect symmetry of simulative nonsense, the gobbledygook of post-2011 security.  Each time US forces and their allies sought to target the slippery Saudi, he vanished.  The raid and bombing of the Tora Bora complex in Afghanistan yielded no returns; the man was nowhere to be seen, having escaped, possibly, in female garb. Sightings, and rumoured killings, remained regular till the penultimate slaying in Abbottabad in May 2011.  The man, declared dead on numerous occasions, was Lazarus in reverse.

Rumsfeld, for his part, insisted on those known knowns, known unknowns and “things we do not know we don’t know”. Unwittingly, he had given the age its aptly absurd epitaph, and with that, much work and fare for the witch doctors of terrorism keen to gorge upon the next video offering from their beloved subjects.  Ignorance in this case, not knowledge, is power.

Notre Dame of Gaza: Our Mosques and Churches are Also Burning

As the 300-foot spire of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris tragically came tumbling down on live television, my thoughts ventured to Nuseirat Refugee Camp, my childhood home in the Gaza Strip.

Then, also on television, I watched as a small bulldozer hopelessly clawed through the rubble of my neighborhood mosque. I grew up around that mosque. I spent many hours there with my grandfather, Mohammed, a refugee from historic Palestine. Before grandpa became a refugee, he was a young Imam in a small mosque in his long-destroyed village of Beit Daras.

Mohammed and many in his generation took solace in erecting their own mosque in the refugee camp as soon as they arrived to the Gaza Strip in late 1948. The new mosque was first made of hardened mud, but was eventually remade with bricks, and later concrete. He spent much of his time there, and when he died, his old, frail body was taken to the same mosque for a final prayer, before being buried in the adjacent Martyrs Graveyard. When I was still a child, he used to hold my hand as we walked together to the mosque during prayer times. When he aged, and could barely walk, I, in turn, held his hand.

But Al-Masjid al-Kabir – the Great Mosque, later renamed Al-Qassam Mosque – was completely pulverized by Israeli missiles during the summer war on Gaza, starting July 8, 2014.

Hundreds of Palestinian houses of worship were targeted by the Israeli military in previous wars, most notably in 2008-9 and 2012. But the 2014 war was the most brutal and most destructive yet. Thousands were killed and more injured. Nothing was immune to Israeli bombs. According to Palestine Liberation Organization records, 63 mosques were completely destroyed and 150 damaged in that war alone, oftentimes with people seeking shelter inside. In the case of my mosque, two bodies were recovered after a long, agonizing search. They had no chance of being rescued. If they survived the deadly explosives, they were crushed by the massive slabs of concrete.

In truth, concrete, cements, bricks and physical structures don’t carry much meaning on their own. We give them meaning. Our collective experiences, our pains, joys, hopes and faith make a house of worship what it is.

Many generations of French Catholics have assigned the Notre Dame Cathedral with its layered meanings and symbolism since the 12th century.

While the fire consumed the oak roof and much of the structure, French citizens and many around the world watched in awe. It is as if the memories, prayers and hopes of a nation that is rooted in time were suddenly revealed, rising, all at once, with the pillars of smoke and fire.

But the very media that covered the news of the Notre Dame fire seemed oblivious to the obliteration of everything we hold sacred in Palestine as, day after day, Israeli war machinery continues to blow up, bulldoze and desecrate.

It is as if our religions are not worthy of respect, despite the fact that Christianity was born in Palestine. It was there that Jesus roamed the hills and valleys of our historic homeland teaching people about peace, love and justice. Palestine is also central to Islam. Haram al-Sharif, where al-Aqsa Mosque and The Dome of the Rock are kept, is the third holiest site for Muslims everywhere. Yet Christian and Muslim holy sites are besieged, often raided and shut down per military diktats. Moreover, the Israeli army-protected messianic Jewish extremists who want to demolish Al-Aqsa and the Israeli government has been digging underneath its foundation for many years.

Although none of this is done in secret; international outrage remains muted. In fact, many find Israel’s actions justified. Some have bought into the ridiculous explanation offered by the Israeli military that bombing mosques is a necessary security measure. Others are motivated by dark religious prophecies of their own.

Palestine, though, is only a microcosm of the whole region. Many of us are familiar with the horrific destruction carried out by fringe militant groups against world cultural heritage in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Most memorable among these are the destruction of Palmyra in Syria, Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan and the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul.

Nothing, however, can possibly be compared to what the invading US army has done to Iraq. Not only did the invaders desecrate a sovereign country and brutalize her people, they also devastated her culture that goes back to the start of human civilization. Just the immediate aftermath of the invasion alone resulted in the looting of over 15,000 Iraqi antiquities, including the Lady of Warka, also known as the Mona Lisa of Mesopotamia, a Sumerian artifact whose history goes back to 3100 BC.

I had the privilege of seeing many of these artifacts in a visit to the Iraq Museum only a few years before it was looted by US soldiers. At the time, Iraqi curators had all precious pieces hidden in a fortified basement in anticipation of a US bombing campaign. But nothing could prepare the museum for the savagery unleashed by the ground invasion. Since then, Iraqi culture has largely been reduced to items on the black market of the very western invaders that have torn that country apart. The valiant work of Iraqi cultural warriors and their colleagues around the world has managed to restore some of that stolen dignity, but it will take many years for the cradle of human civilization to redeem its vanquished honor.

Every mosque, every church, every graveyard, every piece of art and every artifact is significant because it is laden with meaning, the meaning bestowed on them by those who have built or sought in them an escape, a moment of solace, hope, faith and peace.

On August 2, 2014 the Israeli army bombed the historic Al-Omari Mosque in northern Gaza. The ancient mosque dates back to the 7th century and has since served as a symbol of resilience and faith for the people of Gaza.

As Notre Dame burned, I thought of Al-Omari too. While the fire at the French cathedral was likely accidental, destroyed Palestinian houses of worship were intentionally targeted. The Israeli culprits are yet to be held accountable.

I also thought of my grandfather, Mohammed, the kindly Imam with the handsome, small white beard. His mosque served as his only escape from a difficult existence, an exile that only ended with his own death.

Assange and the Cowardice of Power

Donald Trump has never heard of WikiLeaks, the publishing organization whose work he repeatedly and unequivocally touted during the 2016 election campaign. “I know nothing about WikiLeaks,” he told reporters after Julian Assange was illegally arrested, after being illegally detained for seven years, in London. “It’s not my thing and I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange.”

Moving past the Trumpian paradox (he knows both “nothing” and “something” about WikiLeaks”), here’s a question for our dear leader: is your own Justice Department “your thing”? Because it was your Justice Department that filed the charges against a man who risked his liberty, and his life, to tell the truth about the most powerful criminal syndicate in the world—the American empire.

Is Trump’s cabinet “his thing”? Was he out golfing when his erstwhile attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, told the press that arresting Assange was “a priority”? How about when his secretary of state called WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service”? Trump’s regime appears to have a remarkable level of interest in an organization about which he knows nothing.

“The weakness of the US charge against Assange is shocking.” That was Edward Snowden’s reaction to the Justice Department’s indictment against Assange. He adds that one of the government’s principal allegations—that Assange attempted to help Manning crack a password in the interest of protecting her identity—has been public knowledge for nearly ten years. Also that Obama, no friend to whistle-blowers, refused to act on it, citing dangers to press freedom.

For those who haven’t read the indictment, please do. It won’t take ten minutes, and it will give you an idea of how far the US government is willing to go to punish those brave enough to expose its sins.

The case against Assange (for now) boils down to this: he allegedly took measures to protect the identity of his source and allegedly encouraged his source to find and pass along more information about American criminality in Iraq and Afghanistan. This, as various journalists have pointed out, is standard journalistic practice. Would Nixon have been nailed by Watergate if Woodward and Bernstein hadn’t repeatedly gone back to their source for further evidence of the president’s malfeasance?

Speaking of Woodward, Snowden reminds us that he (Woodward) “stated publicly he would have advised me to remain in place and act as a mole.” If only Assange had done that—maybe the indictment would carry a little more drama. But all he allegedly did was say, in response to Manning’s claim that she didn’t have any more documents to share, that “curious eyes never run dry in my experience.” The horror!

The allegation that Assange conspired with Manning to gain unauthorized access to a government computer is equally underwhelming and misleading. Manning had authorized access to the secret documents she leaked: what Assange did was try to help her access them from a different username. If successful (it apparently wasn’t), this effort would not have given Manning access to any additional files—it merely would have ensured, or at least enhanced, her anonymity.

FYI: Manning has been locked up in Alexandria, Virginia for more than a month now, spending most of that time in solitary confinement, for refusing to testify against WikiLeaks and Assange in front of a secret grand jury.

Chiming in from her ivory tower, Hillary Clinton joined Democratic and Republican lawmakers in gloating about Assange’s unlawful arrest: “The bottom line is he has to answer for what he has done, at least as it’s been charged.”

We know what he’s been charged with; now let’s recall what he has actually done. Using time-honored journalistic methods, he shone a hard light on crimes routinely committed by the American empire in the name of the American people—crimes that would otherwise have remained concealed behind an iron curtain of government deception and media complicity.

“On the morning of July 12, 2007, two Apache helicopters using 30mm cannon fire killed about a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad. Two children were also wounded. Although some of the men appear to have been armed, the behavior of nearly everyone was relaxed. The US military initially claimed that all the dead were ‘anti-Iraqi forces’ or ‘insurgents.’”

That’s the preface to Collateral Murder, the notorious video published by WikiLeaks showing American troops firing on a group of people standing around in the street. Two of them were Reuters journalists; both of them were killed. “Ha ha ha, I hit ‘em,” one soldier chuckles after the first round of fire. “Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards,” another says, to which another responds, “Nice. Good shootin’.”

The video, more disturbing to your average person than a sterile civilian casualties report, illustrates why the Military Tribunal at Nuremberg named “military aggression,” not genocide, as the “supreme international crime”: because it establishes a context in which murder becomes not only commonplace, but banal. At the end of that road lies Auschwitz.

Crimes like the one depicted in Collateral Murder are facilitated and rendered acceptable by crimes of a much greater magnitude, like Bush’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

What Julian Assange did—what Hillary Clinton says “he has to answer for”—is show people the consequences of their governments’ actions, so that maybe one day individuals like Hillary Clinton will be stripped of their impunity and made to answer for what they have done. That is the quintessence of journalism and, according to the United States, an intolerable crime. Behold the cowardice of power.

As for the UK’s role in this charade, while it has long been clear that London is a faithful servant of the American empire, extraditing Assange to the US—whereupon new and more serious charges will almost certainly be leveled against him—would mark a new depth of national disgrace.

At the time of his arrest Assange was reportedly clutching in his hand a book by Gore Vidal. In a 2009 interview with The Independent, an octogenarian Vidal was asked for his thoughts on modern England. “This isn’t a country,” he said, “it’s an American aircraft carrier.” Indeed.

Terrorist Designations: Trump and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps

It’s designed to give the US more leg room in the sanction stakes but may end up having its own hemming consequences.  The designation by the Trump administration of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organisation was meant to expand options for the US while shutting others out.  While Trump attempts to defrost matters with North Korea, Iran has played the convenient bug bear.

As President Donald Trump outlined in a statement, “This unprecedented step, led by the Department of State, recognises the reality that Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft.”

The policy had an inevitable resonance in Israel, where it cheered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior to the Tuesday national poll.  Designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guards “as a terrorist organization” kept “the world safe from Iran aggression and terrorism”.  Such a consequence may well be wishful thinking.  Jacob Heilbrun opines rather pessimistically that such a policy shift is bound to be disruptive; the president “has allowed himself to be captured by a neocon contingent, housed at the Foundation of Defense for Democracies, that is thirsting for a new crusade to vanquish the mullahs in Tehran.”

The IRGC has certainly made its effective, often bloody mark on Middle Eastern affairs.  As US-led forces blundered in Iraq, leaving a security vacuum rich with opportunity, Iran saw a golden chance to increase its influence and harass the invaders.  The role played by IRGC’s Quds Force in supplying Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs) or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to militants in Iraq was cited in 2015 as a key reason for US policy makers to abandon the Iran nuclear deal.  “I understand,” claimed Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex) in a July 29, 2015 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, “that the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency has a classified list of roughly 500 American soldiers who were murdered by Iranian IEDs.”  US Central Command revealed a different figure: between November 2005 and December 2011, the number of US combatant deaths arising from EFP “events” stood at 196.

Dissecting such figures forensically is less significant for the anti-Iran hawks than reining in the broader effect of Tehran’s influence.  Training to its proxies has been forthcoming and consistent; the Syrian civil war has further opened the gates, leaving Israel jittery.  Washington’s ally, Saudi Arabia, has similarly balked, and seeks to plug the Shia breach in Yemen with bloody resolve.  Operating behind the scenes is the IRGC.

The issue is complicated from another perspective.  In so designating such an arm of the Iranian government a terrorist outfit, it stymies trading done with any Iranian entity from powers in the international scene untidy.  (The IRGC’s economic tentacles are not only thick, but lengthy.)  This is bound to have a localising effect.  In immediate proximity of Iran and Iran’s influence, Lebanese and Iraqi authorities risk being barred from dealing with the IRGC and its surrogate arms.  Asian and European companies, who do not have the same qualms in dealing with the theocracy, also risk facing the ire of Washington.  In Trump’s own words, “If you are doing business with the IRGC, you will be bankrolling terrorism.”

The concept is strikingly simplistic, ignoring the myriad of entanglements that follows from IRGC involvement in the Iranian economy proper.  It also side steps the possibility that the Trump Organization, in signing contracts in 2012 with developers behind the Trump Tower Baku project, had indirect dealings with Azarpassillo, an Iranian construction company controlled by the IRGC.  (Azarpassillo was awarded contracts in 2008 by then Azerbaijani transport minister Ziya Mammadov, who had been the key contact for Trump’s company.)

Till this point, the approach to the IRGC has been one of economic encirclement featuring attempts to get to the organisation via other entities.  The move to target the IGRC was already underway in other branches of the US government.  The Treasury designated the Quds Force in 2007 a supporter of terrorism, sanctioning entities connected with it.  It has assumed pride of place on the US Specially designated Global Terrorist List.  The IGRC itself, as former Under-Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is on record as saying, “is already fully sanctioned”, making the issue one of superfluous classification and needlessly provocative.

Then comes the issue of Iran’s direct response.  What is good for the goose is invariably good for the unfortunate gander.  Various Trump officials, to that end, were none too keen by the decision, claiming that retaliation would follow against US intelligence officers and troops.  Former State Department official Jason Blazakis, who spent his time in the terrorist labelling business, suggested that the commander of the Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, could well call upon his Shi’ite militias “to take actions against US assets in places like Baghdad’s Green Zone.” In consistently upending fashion, Trump also gave his emissaries in the Middle East very little time to ponder matters, leaving no guidelines as to how to enforce the designation.  On such points, White House national security advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hold courtly sway.

Rhetorical retaliation was not long in coming and seemed almost casual.  The US was branded as a “state sponsor of terrorism” with its military elements in the Middle East duly designated as “terrorist groups”.  The move, suggested Iranian state TV, had as much to do with US dislike of Tehran’s influence in the region as it did with its success in “fighting Islamic State”.  Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, in calling the move on Trump’s part “a major strategic mistake”, insisted that the new designation by Tehran would include “US military bases and their military forces in the region” and “confronted accordingly”.  Araghchi, like Trump, was merely stating the obvious, and dangerous turn in relations.

Saddamizing al-Assad

Donald Trump’s first action upon assuming the Presidential throne of the United States involved the re-location of a bust of Winston Churchill back into the Oval Office. Originally given to President Bush the Second in July, 2001, Churchill’s bust was removed by Barack Obama (January, 2009) in favor of a bust of Martin Luther King. If the symbolism in all of this changing of the bust business were a pinball machine, then lights and buzzers would be flashing and dinging like crazy!

Churchill, of course, like Dr. King, was well known for his rhetorical flourishes. Given recent events, I offer this extended Churchillian gem, a War Office Minute recorded on May 12, 1919, when Churchill was both Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for Air, for your consideration.

I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference (Versailles) of arguing in favor of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragments of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet have no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.

Yes, that’s vintage Versailles-era Churchill promoting the “moral effect” of chemical weapons, with an eye to quelling the contentious “tribes” of soon-to-be British Mandate Iraq. Fast forward one century later, and the use of “poisoned gas” is back in the news, in connection with the Syrian conflict. In particular, the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, who does not possess a Churchill bust as far as we know, once again stands accused of using weaponized gas to attack his own citizens. A chorus of Western leaders chants “Gas! Gas! Gas!” at al-Assad, because Winston Churchill did not get his wish, since gas warfare has been considered illegal for almost a century, despite the former British Prime Minister’s obviously logical argument for it. Might as well ban War altogether! Except that, War is still entirely legal—only certain modes of warfare are not, such as chemical weapons.

In the meantime, Syrian President al-Assad flatly denies these allegations, blaming instead the rebel factions that are trying—at the moment unsuccessfully—to topple his regime. These rebel groups, whom Assad labels “terrorists,” include ISIS and al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliated militia or mercenary formation. In fact, despite President Trump’s inaugural cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase, no one knows who perpetrated the sarin gas attack on the village of Khan Sheikoun in April, 2017.

We do know, however, that 30 years ago the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein gassed between 3,000 and 5,000 Kurds to death in a town called Halabja, in Kurdish Iraq. That was March 16,1988, part of an anti-Kurdish campaign known as al-Anfal. In the face of universal condemnation, the Reagan Administration stood behind Saddam, shielding his regime from sanctions. There were even some fuzzy reports at the time that pinned the chemical blame on Iran, against whom Saddam had been waging a Kuwaiti, Saudi, and American assisted war since September of 1980. Indeed, those reports were ‘fuzzy’ because Saddam’s forces had been attacking the Iranians with chemical weapons since 1983, a fact entirely known to the Reagan Administration

Interestingly enough, when Saddam went rogue and invaded Kuwait in August of 1990, the first Bush Administration absolutely Hitlerized Saddam for his use of “poisoned gas” during the previous decade. Talk about policy pivots! Thus it came to pass that the useful genocidal tool Saddam became the useful genocidal villain Saddam. Ultimately, Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons became a major pretext for launching the Second Crusade against Iraq in 2003.

And now, we have “gas” in Syria, which has been floated as a “red line” since the Obama Administration. The United States, it should be noted, has no direct interest, or stake, in Syria. Nevertheless, we have conducted thousands of airstrikes in Syria since August of 2014, despite having no policy to accessorize our bombing campaign in that war-torn, Middle Eastern nation.

So far, Bashar al-Assad has not quite fit the neatly tailored line of villains used to sell undeclared wars to American taxpayers the last 30 years. This line includes: Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and, most recently, Moammar Qaddafi.

As of this reporting, the “Saddamizing” of Syria’s al-Assad remains incomplete; the portrait of Assad as another neo-Hitler, unfinished. Until then, we may not have a Syrian Policy beyond “Bombs Away!”, but at least we can rest assured that Winston Churchill’s bust is back in the Oval Office, symbolizing the continuing spread of a “lively terror” throughout the Middle East.

Addendum:  Nota bene. Currently, yet another American Regime is playing the demonization game, this time with Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro as the “Devil with the Red Dress on.” It is worth noting, in this connection, that the MLK bust in Obama’s Oval Office did not engender a foreign policy even remotely reflective of Dr. King’s worldview, as Obama Administration regime change operations in Honduras (2009), Libya (2011), and the stalled-out Syrian intervention, certainly attest. Indeed, it was Obama’s 2015 characterization of Venezuela as a “national security threat” that set the stage for the Trumpistanis’ would-be Bushwhacking of Venezuelan democracy, just as President Clinton laid the groundwork for the unusually disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003 by declaring “regime change” the official U.S. policy towards Iraq on Halloween, 1998 (in other words, Clinton let Al-Qaeda and the Neo-Cons — a very bad jazz band — in.). The American Regime names change, yet they keep playing the same tune, which perhaps only proves the old adage that absolute power is absolutely tone deaf.

However that may be, it should be emphasized that the Regime Changelings’ coup has not succeeded in Venezuela. Maduro, the former bus driver, has refused to be thrown under the bus by the unlawful firm of Pence, Pompeo, Bolton, and Rubio; their hand-picked usurper, Juan Guaido (“I’m a puppy, not a puppet!”), has failed to win Venezuelan hearts and minds. In Venezuela, it could very well be that we are witnessing a decisive break in the Regime Change tide.

The Destruction of Freedom: Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange And The Corporate Media

In 2010, US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning was given a 35-year prison sentence after she had leaked more than 700,000 confidential US State Department and Pentagon documents, videos and diplomatic cables about the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks. Perhaps the most notorious of the releases was a US military video that WikiLeaks titled ‘Collateral Murder‘. It showed the indiscriminate slaying of up to eighteen people in Baghdad on 12 July, 2007. The footage, taken from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, showed the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters journalist and his rescuers. A second Reuters staff member, employed as a driver and camera assistant, was also killed. Two young children, whose father was among those killed, were seriously wounded.

The video, together with the transcript of army exchanges during the indiscriminate US killings, shocked many around the world:

Let’s shoot.
Light ’em all up.
Come on, fire!
Keep shoot, keep shoot. [keep shooting]
keep shoot.
keep shoot.
[…]
Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards.
Nice.

While in prison, Manning twice attempted to commit suicide and also spent time in solitary confinement. She was released in 2017, after her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama, two days before he left office.

On 8 March – International Women’s Day – Manning was once again jailed after she refused to testify against WikiLeaks, and its founder Julian Assange, before a grand jury in Virginia. A grand jury means that the public is not allowed entry: the hearings are held in secret. She said in a statement:

I will not comply with this, or any other grand jury.

Imprisoning me for my refusal to answer questions only subjects me to additional punishment for my repeatedly-stated ethical objections to the grand jury system.

I will not participate in a secret process that I morally object to, particularly one that has been used to entrap and persecute activists for protected political speech.

Binoy Kampmark, who lectures at RMIT University in Melbourne, remarked:

The sense of dredging and re-dredging in efforts to ensnare Manning is palpable… There is a distinct note of the sinister in this resumption of hounding a whistleblower.

Kampmark added:

Manning’s original conviction was a shot across the bow, the prelude to something fundamental. Journalists long protected for using leaked material under the First Amendment were going to become future targets of prosecution.

Sending Manning back to jail shows:

the unequivocal determination of US authorities to fetter, if not totally neutralise, the reach of WikiLeaks in the modern information wars.

The famous whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971 detailing US war crimes in Vietnam and US government lies to the public, told Amy Goodman in a Democracy Now! interview:

This is a continuation of seven-and-a-half years of torture of Chelsea Manning, in an effort to get her to contribute to incriminating WikiLeaks, so that they can bring Julian Assange or WikiLeaks to trial on charges that would not apply to The New York Times. It’s been speculated for years now that the secret charges, if they did exist—and apparently they do exist—against Julian Assange were under the same charges that I was first—the first person to be prosecuted for, back in 1971: violations of the Espionage Act, conspiracy and theft. It would be the same cases brought against me.

Ellsberg continued:

Unfortunately, bringing that against a journalist is even more blatantly a violation of the First Amendment, freedom of the press. And although Donald Trump has made it very plain he would love to prosecute and convict The New York Times, he doesn’t have the guts to do that, to do what he wants, fortunately, because it would be so obviously unconstitutional, that although his base would be happy with it and he would be happy with it, he would get into too much trouble constitutionally. So he wants to find charges against Julian that would be different from mine, because if he brought the same charges that he brought against me—in this case, against a journalist—it would clearly be found unconstitutional.’

He then pointed to the significance of this latest development:

And so, Chelsea, having failed to give them what they wanted over seven-and-a-half years here she was incarcerated, or since, or in the grand jury—namely, false incriminating charges against WikiLeaks—they’re resorting again to torture, which does work at getting false confessions. That’s what it’s for. That’s what it mainly does. They want her to contradict her earlier sworn testimony many times, that she behaved in relation to WikiLeaks exactly as she would have to The New York Times or The Washington Post, to whom she went first, before going to WikiLeaks. And they didn’t pick up on what she was offering, so she went to WikiLeaks. But she took sole responsibility, not to spare them, but because that was the truth. And she tells the truth.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to a series of Guardian and Washington Post articles based on documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden, concurred that the real target is WikiLeaks:

The Trump administration is trying to do what the Obama administration tried to do but ultimately concluded it couldn’t do without jeopardizing press freedoms, which is to prosecute WikiLeaks and Julian Assange for what it regards as the crime of publishing top-secret or classified documents.

Greenwald rightly called this attempt to go after WikiLeaks ‘a grave threat to press freedom’. However:

Most reporters are mute on this scandal, on this controversy, and while a lot of Democrats are supportive of it, because they still hate WikiLeaks so much from the 2016 election that they’re happy to see Julian Assange go to jail, even if it means standing behind the Trump administration.

The reference to the 2016 election is the allegation that WikiLeaks’ publication of emails from the Democratic Party and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign chairman, brought about Trump’s victory. Assange had even supposedly conspired with Trump, and with Trump’s alleged Russian allies, to fatally damage Clinton’s 2016 campaign: charges that are without any solid basis.

The Courage Foundation, a trust set up to fundraise the legal defence of individuals such as whistleblowers and journalists, warns of the ‘Assange Precedent’; namely, the threat to all media posed by the Trump administration’s attempt to prosecute Julian Assange:

All media organizations and journalists must recognize the threat to their freedom and ability to work posed by the Trump Administration’s prosecution of Assange. They should join human rights organizations, the United Nations and many others in opposing Assange’s extradition. They should do so out of their own self-interest given that their ability to safely publish is under serious threat.

In December 2015, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention deemed that the WikiLeaks founder, whose health is deteriorating, has been arbitrarily detained since 2010, and that he should be freed and compensated. George Galloway rightly points out that:

It’s a kind of modern day torture that Julian Assange has been subjected to.

In November 2018, Assange’s mother made an urgent and impassioned plea to raise awareness of his plight:

This is not a drill. This is an emergency. The life of my son…is in immediate and critical danger.

On 18 March, Christine Assange renewed her appeal to journalists, in particular, to stand up for her son. Their record to date has been, in the main, shameful. We have previously detailed numerous examples of journalistic abuse, scorn and ridicule thrown at Assange, and WikiLeaks, notably by Guardian journalists. For instance, Hannah Parkinson, who writes for the Guardian and its sister Sunday paper, the Observer, tweeted this about Assange last year:

This little shit has lived rent free in Knightsbridge for 5 years, probably saved about £200k.

The tweet was ‘liked’ by John Simpson, the ‘impartial’ grandly-titled BBC World Affairs Editor who exudes gravitas, if little insight, on world affairs.

And in response to the news last October that Assange was to launch legal action against the government of Ecuador, accusing it of violating his fundamental rights and freedoms, Parkinson had tweeted:

A teenager whose parents turn the wifi off

This is par for the course at the Guardian whose journalists are regularly shamed by WikiLeaks and Julian Assange doing the real job of exposing power to public scrutiny. In 2015, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs had even mocked Chelsea Manning when she was put in solitary confinement:

And the world’s tiniest violin plays a sad song

That, however, did earn a mild rebuke in a tweet from Guardian editor Matt Wells. The tweets were subsequently deleted, but not before screenshots had been saved.

The disdain, sometimes outright hostility, towards WikiLeaks and Assange is also reflected in the minimal coverage, and distinct lack of support, for Chelsea Manning’s renewed incarceration. The Guardian merely published a brief article titled, ‘Chelsea Manning jailed for refusing to testify to grand jury in WikiLeaks case’. As WikiLeaks journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson pointed out:

Of the MSM [‘mainstream’ media] the @guardian benefitted most from material Chelsea Manning was sentenced for in 2013. You might expect a huge story on the yda [yesterday] jailing of @xychelsea [Chelsea Manning] to extort her to testify against Assange/@wikileaks. But nothing except a small AP [Associated Press] based story that quickly lost front.

Hrafnsson added:

Every day Chelsea Manning @xychelsea spends in jail for refusing to testify against Assange/@wikileaks adds shame to those journalists who remain silent about this disgrace. This applies especially to those who benefited most from her brave acts in the past. @guardian @nytimes

The Guardian had, of course, benefitted in publishing Greenwald’s work based on Manning’s releases via WikiLeaks; as well as book sales that were generated on the back of WikiLeaks’ work. In 2012, veteran journalist and filmmaker John Pilger wrote that the British government’s pursuit of Julian Assange was ‘an assault on freedom and a mockery of journalism’. He described the corporate media’s treatment of Assange as ‘a vituperative personal campaign’:

Much of it has emanated from the Guardian, which, like a spurned lover, has turned on its besieged former source, having hugely profited from WikiLeaks disclosures. With not a penny going to Assange or WikiLeaks, a Guardian book has led to a lucrative Hollywood movie deal. The authors, David Leigh and Luke Harding, gratuitously abuse Assange as a “damaged personality” and “callous”. They also reveal the secret password he had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing the US embassy cables.

A ProQuest newspaper database search on 19 March revealed that there were but four newspaper articles about the imprisonment of Chelsea Manning in the whole of the national print press: The Times, the Daily Mail, The Herald and the Daily Record (the latter two newspapers are based in Scotland). The Guardian article mentioned above, based on an Associated Press release, was published online; but not in the print version. There was also an online Telegraph piece which was also just a press release (by Agence France-Presse). As far as we could tell, there was not a single editorial or column in a major national newspaper defending Chelsea Manning, nor pointing to the grave danger to press freedom that her new incarceration posed. That is a disgraceful indictment of our so-called ‘free press’.

In an interview last week with Dennis Bernstein on Radio KPFA, John Pilger described the significance, and injustice, of the recent jailing of Chelsea Manning. The irony of her being imprisoned on International Women’s Day was first noted, then Pilger pointed to the shameful silence from the women’s movement, and other human rights activists:

Where are they [human rights activists] on Chelsea Manning? Why were there only ten people outside the Court House? Where is Amnesty International? Where are the women’s groups? Where are the LGBT groups? Where are the Pride people? Why aren’t they massing in support of Chelsea Manning? Instead I see Chelsea Manning’s story relegated in a sort of, “Oh well, that’s almost inevitable this is going to happen.” But this […] is the most significant act of principle; an inspiration to all decent people; to democrats, to people who believe in justice. So where are the groups who have been very loud in their condemnation – rightly – of Donald Trump? Where are they? Why are we not hearing from them?

Discussion then turned to the crushing reality that the corporate media is an extension of an oppressive establishment order:

Dennis Bernstein: Iit seems to me that journalists believe Chelsea Manning should be in jail. And that Julian Assange isn’t a publisher, and that he should be tried for treason because, after all, these journalists are patriots. They’re no reporters.

John Pilger: Well, I think I’ll stand back a little from that question a little, Dennis. I think we can go on and beat our heads on the media brick wall, and asking these questions on the media. The media is part of an oppressive system in various forms […]. It is an extension of the established order and these days it is without something it used to have, and that is spaces – limited spaces – but spaces for free and fair comment. Right across the corporate media these spaces have evaporated. So they are part of a system. They have shown this in a most grotesque way by the persecution of Julian Assange – the slandering of him, the distortion of the facts about his case.

Pilger, who is well-versed in Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model of the media, explained that it has already been clear for some considerable time how and why the corporate media operate in the way they do. It is now time for nonviolent direct action against the media that constantly promotes rapacious Western interests and erodes public freedoms:

It is certainly right for us to protest – and I think our protests against the media should be more of a direct action now: occupy their spaces, occupy their buildings, confront them.

Pilger added that ‘people who preserve human decency’ – the majority, that is – need to ask ourselves what we are doing about the ongoing state and corporate assault on freedom of expression; and, indeed, on freedom itself:

The Chelsea Manning/Julian Assange case goes to the very heart of everything. It is about freedom. It’s not just about freedom of expression. It is about justice. It is about the law: the use of law, the misuse of law. It is about right and wrong. If there is going to be any real debate, I think we have to confront it, and we have to do it on our terms; not through the hopeless cypher of a corporate media.

The corporate media is institutionally opposed to the interests of the vast majority of the public; that is why we reject the label ‘mainstream’. The corporate media including BBC News, systematically promotes imperialist and exploitative state interests, together with private power in the form of big business, financial speculation, military forces, the arms industry, the fossil fuel lobby, destructive agribusiness, unsustainable food production and rampant global consumerism that is destroying ecosystems, ramping up mass loss of species and endangering human survival through climate chaos. This oppressive system, with the corporate media a vital cog in the apparatus, must be exposed, confronted, dismantled and replaced with a society that truly promotes democracy, justice and human potential. It is up to us to make it happen before it’s too late.