Archive | December 2nd, 2013

Three black students waiting for bus arrested after cops order them to ‘disperse’

By David Edwards
Raliek Redd, Wan'Tauhjs Weathers and Daequon Carelock arrested while waiting for bus (WHEC)

Three African-American students who were waiting for a school bus in Rochester, New York were arrested on Wednesday morning when police officer told them to “disperse,” even though witnesses said they did nothing wrong.

According to WROC, basketball coach Jacob Scott had arranged for a school bus to pick up the boys to take them to a scrimmage on a day when school was closed.

A police report claimed that the boys were blocking “pedestrian traffic while standing on a public sidewalk…preventing free passage of citizens walking by and attempting to enter and exit a store…Your complainant gave several lawful clear and concise orders for the group to disperse and leave the area without complaince [sic].”

But the students and the coach dispute the police version of events.

“We didn’t do nothing,” student Raliek Redd explained. “We was just trying to go to our scrimmage.”

“We was just waiting for our bus and he started arrested us,” student Wan’Tauhjs Weathers added.

Daequon Carelock, who was also arrested, lamented that anyone could be “just downtown, minding your own business, and next thing you know, anything can happen.”

Coach Scott arrived just as the boys were being handcuffed and was also threatened with arrest.

“He goes on to say, ‘If you don’t disperse, you’re going to get booked as well,’” Scott recalled. “I said, ‘Sir, I’m the adult. I’m their varsity basketball coach. How can you book me? What am I doing wrong? Matter of fact, what are these guys doing wrong?’”

“One of the police officers actually told me, if he had a big enough caravan, he would take all of us downtown,” he noted.

Scott called the incident a “catastrophe” for the boys and witnesses who were traumatized by the arrest.

“These young men were doing nothing wrong, nothing wrong. They did exactly what they were supposed to do and still they get arrested,” Scott remarked. “I’m speaking to the officers with dignity…and still and yet – they see me get treated like nothing.”

Rochester school board member Mary Adams expressed her outrage at the arraignment last week.

“I think the charges should be immediately dropped and I think the district attorney’s office should be stepping in and looking at these kinds of matters,” she said.

“I’m very concerned about a pattern of young people being abused by police authority,” Adams told WHEC. “To me, this seems like a really clear case, part of a pattern.”

A trial for the three students is scheduled for December 11.

Watch this video from WROC, broadcast Nov. 29, 2013.

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UK: 5 benefit changes the government don’t want you to know about


Threats to take away children from families is a new low for the coalition government’s war on benefit claimants.

Conservative government ministers watching David Cameron deliver his keynote spe
Conservative government ministers watching David Cameron deliver his keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference. Photo: Getty.

It used to be that when politicians wanted to bury bad news they’d orchestrate its release to time with a distracting event. Seeing Iain Duncan Smith publicly criticized for wasting at least £140 million of public money over Universal Credit at the start of this month, it struck me how we’ve slowly reached another level. “Unmitigated disaster”? “Alarmingly weak”? These words were used to describe Universal Credit but could easily have been levelled at a number of largely unreported changes to the benefit system. Nowadays, bad news is buried by even worse news. The sheer volume of inefficient and unethical changes to social security this Government has enacted means some of it doesn’t even get noticed. Which, for a set of politicians hacking at vulnerable people’s support systems, is worryingly convenient.

So, here’s five benefit changes the government doesn’t want you to know about.

1. Disabled people denied a key benefit have had their right to appeal reduced

On 28 October the Department of Work and Pensions introduced a major change to the appeal process to the main disability benefit for people who are too ill to work, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). If a claimant wishes to appeal against a decision that they are not entitled to ESA, they must now ask the DWP to reconsider the decision before lodging an official appeal – and receive no money in the meantime.

Dubbed the ‘mandatory reconsideration’ stage, not only will the claimant not receive ESA income during this period, there will be no time limit on how long it will take. People with disabilities and illness are being left with no income for an indefinite period of time. This would be bad enough for a system that works. It’s particularly alarming for a system where 40 per cent of appeals overturn the original decision.

The DWP response is the claimant can claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) during this appeal stage. Campaigners tell me, however, many disabled people say they won’t apply for JSA due to the fear that doing so will be interpreted by the DWP as evidence they are indeed fit for work.

There’s also concern that the disabled and long-term sick having to enter a system not designed to cope with claimants with poor health will leave them vulnerable to sanctions. As Sharon Brennan points out on her blog ‘Diary of a NHS buff’, statistics of sanctions against JSA claimants show that every month 12% of job seekers are referred for sanction. These are sanctions given if Job Centre Plus feels claimants “are not making themselves available for work” – an accusation easily targeted at people who find it a physical struggle to make appointments, let alone look for work. Which brings us to number two.

2. Long-term sick people are having their benefits sanctioned … for being sick

The increase in sanctions placed on claimants of jobseeker’s allowance has been widely publicised, with most headlines on the issue last month dedicated to statistics revealing that nearly 600,000 have had adverse benefit sanctions taken against them.

Less publicized is the fact 45,000 sanction decisions have been made against sick and disabled people. This means the number is set to have doubled from the year before.

11, 000 sick and disabled people had their ESA penalized in just seven months – either for not participating in work related activity or missing a meeting with the Job Centre. 120 disabled people receiving JSA have had their benefits stopped for three years.

I reported in October the Work Programme’s failure to help disabled people gain employment; things as basic as making an effort to find them suitable work or understand that, when you’re dealing with claimants with health conditions, some days an appointment will be missed as they will be too ill to get up. Put this together with an increase in sanctions, and the system’s failings are now seeing sick and disabled people losing parts of their benefits.

Sarah Davidson*, 43, was threatened with a sanction for being physically unable to do her assigned work activity. Sarah has ME and was awarded ESA on the basis of limited mobility and her inability to sit for more than an hour.

Despite having a meeting with a personal advisor at Seetec, her Work Programme provider, where her inability to sit and concentrate for long periods were noted, Sarah’s now received a summons to an ‘employability programme’ that requires her to have four weeks of twice weekly work related activity lasting over three hours.

My support worker called and explained I could not do this programme because of my disability,” she tells me. “They were very rude apparently, refused to take my health condition into consideration, and said they would be reporting me to DWP for failing to participate.”

In fact, when the programme was due to start two weeks ago Sarah had a flare up of her condition and was physically unable to leave her home all week. Job Centre Plus is currently considering whether to sanction her for non-attendance.

Sarah tells me she’s tried to discuss this with both JCB and Seetec but neither has responded.

“My support worker called JCP and was passed to at least 3 different people … it turns out my adviser has left. We were given the name of a new adviser, who wasn’t available to speak to us. We asked if she could give us a call to explain the situation but I’m not hopeful” she says. “Seetec has rarely if ever returned my support worker’s call or emails.”

She adds she’s normally able to use the phone herself but due to the stress of sanctions and inappropriate work activity, she now needs her support worker to make contact for her.

“I developed an anxiety disorder because of the treatment I’ve received at JCP and Seetec,” she says. “I’m not able to call them or deal with them without experiencing symptoms of panic.”

That Sarah is now physically unable to even get to her work programme provider’s offices due to Seetac moving to an area that’s inaccessible to her by public transport is only adding to that stress. She knows she could well be penalized for this as well.

“They’re 0.7 miles from a station, and it involves a combination of trains and buses with between 17 and 25 minutes walking involved. I can’t walk more than 200m. My Work Capability Assessment report states this,” she says. “I’ve asked if they would pay cab fares but I’ve had no reply.”

3. 50,000 disabled people are being cut out of work

The cocktail of cuts being made to benefits mean the DWP are managing to simultaneously penalize disabled people for not working and stopping them from having a job.

50,000 disabled people could lose their jobs due to the Government removing Disability Living Allowance (DLA), the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), an organisation of over fifty leading charities, has found

One in five disabled people who receive the now scrapped DLA are in work and use the benefit to cover the additional costs that come with that – be it help showering in the morning or a motability vehicle to get to the office.

But as DLA is phased out and replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – and half a million people lose their support – it’s been projected 50,000 disabled people will no longer be able to hold onto their jobs. (If a tenth of this number of people were due to lose their jobs at a company, this would be headline news. Tens of thousands of disabled people scattered around the country trapped in their house and unable to get to work receives a strange silence.)

Reflective of the general incompetence of new social security policies, the switch from DLA to PIP doesn’t even make sense financially. At best, it’s hoped to save the Government £145 million. Disabled people no longer being able to get to work, however, will lose the Government £278 million in lost National Insurance and Income tax, as well as £178 million in unemployment benefits it will have to pay out.

Still, they can probably make some savings by cutting other vulnerable people’s safety net elsewhere.

4. There’s now a one-year limit on hundreds of thousands of people’s sickness benefit

In fact, the government is way ahead of us. They have now ‘time limited’ Employment and Support Allowance – meaning many people who have been found too ill to find work without support can only get the benefit for a year.

700,000 people with long-term sickness or disability have had their benefit taken as a result. The means test is only £7,500 for this change, leaving someone earning barely £8,000 per year having to support themselves and their ill partner.

Gayle Lewis, 47, has fibromyalgia, endometriosis, and depression but had her ESA stopped last month. In addition to severe pain, Gayle’s conditions leaves her with muscle weakness, fatigue, and a lack of co-ordination that leads her to fall over her feet. She has memory problems that mean she forgets the words she’s looking for when talking and is sometimes unable to speak. Like hundreds of thousands of others, she has had her benefit stopped despite her health meaning she has little hope of finding long-term work.

“My illnesses have not got any better,” Gayle says to me. “In fact, my conditions have [gotten worse]… I’m in terrific pain and I’m on the waiting list to go back for yet another laparoscopy.”

Gayle’s lost £400 per month after having her ESA stopped. Due to the fact her husband earns more than the allowed £7500 a year, the two of them are left to get by on his wage alone.

As Sue Marsh, disability campaigner with We Are Spartacus, points out, “Families already overwhelmingly living in poverty will lose £4661 per year [due to ESA ‘time limiting’]. This is three times as much as higher rate taxpayers … lose in child benefit.”

Gayle tells me she’s found some part-time writing work she can do from home but would have to write six articles a day to make up the money she’s lost from ESA. “I worry that there will be days when I am completely unable to work, even from home,” she says.

The effective large-scale withdrawal of ESA comes with an extra layer of distress for those relying on the payments due to the fact the removal is done retrospectively.

As Sue Marsh says to me, “The government … backdated [the change] retrospectively … to the previous April, so April 2011 sending letters out to warn people even before the bill passed. So effectively, once it did pass, some people lost their entitlement immediately, just like that.”

The damage of backdating the withdrawal of support is worsened when poor testing sees claimants having to embark on lengthy benefit decision appeals. Gayle was incorrectly found ‘fit for work’ last year and it took her six months to even be placed in the group receiving a benefit with the ‘365 day limit’. She then had the time limit on her benefit backdated to the date of her request for an appeal.

In the system the DWP have created, sudden, arbitrary, unplanned removal of support for ill and disabled people seems almost common.

Gayle tells me she’s in a “vicious circle” as the removal of her sickness benefit makes her more ill. “That fact that our income [has quickly dropped] substantially does nothing to help the depression or the anxiety and both of these have a direct effect on the levels of pain, which are made worse by stress,” she says.

“I fear that, like many others, I will simply slip down the cracks now and disappear,” she tells me. “Which is what the DWP seems to be aiming for with this time limit.”

5. Eviction letters are now including veiled threats to remove people’s children

Depressingly, even the cuts that do gain media attention seem to have certain aspects that remain hidden. It’s well highlighted that policies like the bedroom tax are leaving people unable to pay the rent. Less well publicized is the scale of rent arrears social tenants are finding themselves in – or the tacit threats being used to get monetary blood from the stones.

Nearly three quarters of housing association staff say their tenants are falling behind on rent this year, according to a recent Unison survey. Over a third report the main cause is the bedroom tax.

Half of the housing association staff surveyed had seen an increase in tenants being evicted or forced to move out due to financial pressures, Inside Housing reported.

Stuart Hughes was one of the first to receive an eviction notice after being unable to pay the extra rent the bedroom tax had left his family with. I spoke to him back in June and looked at the eviction letters that had been repeatedly sent to his home; bold, black words of ‘possession’ and ‘legal proceedings’. It’s now emerged some housing associations are sending out letters that include the threat eviction proceedings may lead to the tenant’s children being taken into care.

“If you have children in your household we may also inform Social Services,” reads one such letter.

Or the mildly more subtle: “…we must make you aware that if there are children at your property, a referral has now been made to Children’s Social Care (Social Services) as the children at your home are now at risk of becoming homeless.”

As housing solicitor Giles Peaker says on the blog ‘Nearly legal, these are threats that are “unsustainable and unjustified in both law and practice.” “Most, if not all, people evicted solely on bedroom tax derived arrears would most certainly have an argument that they were not intentionally homeless. The Council would therefore owe a household with children the full homeless duty as being homeless, in priority need and not intentionally homeless,” he says. “Even if Children Services were to accept a s17/s.20 Children Act duty (or Children (Scotland) Act 1995 equivalent) to the children of the household, there is a very strong Article 8 human rights case for the family being kept together, so the proper response would be provision or securing of accommodation for the family…”

Empty threats concerning people’s children may be a new low. Then again, against the recent actions of this Government – be it imposing sanctions on the disabled or removing the benefits of the sick – ‘a new low’ seems to come weekly.

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Deported women forced to leave babies in UK is ‘increasing problem’


MP makes claim after a pregnant woman, from Italy, was sectioned under the mental health act in UK and had her baby removed by caesarean section

Woman forced into caesarean by social services contacted the police herself after panic attack

John Hemming MP said there were many other instances of children taken from mothers in Britain, who are then deported Photo: Heathcliff O’Malley

Pregnant women who have been deported but are forced to leave their babies in Britain is becoming an ‘increasing problem’, an influential MP has said, after it emerged that an Italian national was forced into a caesarean section by social workers.

The Italian woman, who was made to leave her baby in Britain, had travelled to the country for a two-week Ryanair training course at Stansted when she was sectioned under the mental health act and told she must stay in hospital.

Essex social services then obtained a High Court order against the woman, allowing her to be forcibly sedated and the child to be taken from her womb.

John Hemming, MP for Birmingham Yardley and chairman of the Public Family Law Reform Coordinating Campaign, which wants reform and greater openness in court proceedings involving family matters, said there were many other instances of children taken from mothers in Britain, who are then deported.

He referred to the case of a mother whose child, now five-years-old, was born in Sweden, but was taken into the care of a local authority in Britain after her mother was involved in an incident at Heathrow airport.

The child was placed in a foster home in September 2012 and continued to live there until an appeal court ruled British authorities did not have jurisdiction over the child.

Mr Hemming said: “It’s a very big problem that has been swept under the carpet. Partly because it is so awful, people want to turn a blind eye to it.”

“In essence families count for nothing in the modern family court.

“The ‘best interests of the child’ are ‘paramount’ which means that what the social workers say goes. If a social worker does not say what the management want then the social worker can be fired as had happened. There is no independence in the system and family ties carry no substantial weight.

“The Italian case is one about which more will be heard.”

Mr Hemming said local authorties were often under pressure to make quick decisions about foster placements and adoptions.

Earlier this year, Education Secretary Michael Gove, launched a drive to increase the number of children adopted. It came after official figures showed almost half of all councils were failing to meet basic targets for placing children with adoptive parents.

He added: “The problem’s been going on for a long time but it’s become an increasing problem because of some of the changes brought in by the current government.”

When the police arrived at the Italian mother’s hotel room last summer, they told her that they were taking her to hospital to “make sure that the baby was OK”.

The officers had spoken to the woman’s mother on the phone, who explained that she was upset she couldn’t find the passports for her two daughters, who were staying with her in Italy.

The grandmother said she was probably stressed because she suffered from a “bipolar” condition and had not been taking her medication.

However, instead of taking the woman to hospital, officers delivered her to a psychiatric unit, where she was restrained and sectioned.

The baby girl, now 15 months old, is still being looking after by social services, who are refusing to give her back to her mother. The woman has launched a legal battle to return her daughter.

In what has turned into an international legal row, lawyers for the woman have publicly questioned why her family in Italy were not consulted beforehand and why social services insisted on keeping the child in Britain despite an offer from a family friend in America to care for her.

Under British law, a child should be adopted by members of their wider family wherever possible but social services ruled an aunt of the baby’s stepsister, an American resident, could not look after her because there was no “blood tie”.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights organisation Liberty, described the case as “the stuff of nightmares”.

She said: “Please God there’s more to this, but at first blush this is dystopian science-fiction unworthy of a democracy like ours. Forced surgery and separation of mother and infant is the stuff of nightmares that those responsible will struggle to defend in courts of law and decency.

A spokesman for Essex county council said the local authority could not comment on ongoing cases.

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Mother Agnes-Mariam in Canada: What is Really Happening in Syria?

Global Research

Mother Agnes will be giving a talk as well as meeting up with the media in Montreal on December 3, 2013, at 2pm at Centre St Pierre, rue Panet, Montreal. This is a public event to which you are cordially invited.

In Montreal, the programme is as follows:

  • Tues, Press Conference, Dec 3: 2 pm, CSN (1601, ave De Lorimier, métro Papineau); followed by meeting with civil society groups,
  • public lecture at 7pm organised by Basmet Amal (“Sourire d’espoir”), Centre islamique libanais, 40-60 Rue de Port-Royal Est à Montréal (métro Sauvé).

Mother Agnes-Mariam of the Cross is Mother Superior at the Monastery and Convent of St. James in Qara, Syria. Much of the population in the towns and villages around the monastery have fled and been made refugees. She left the safety and security of her convent to bear a message of peace in the war zone that is Syria today.

Every day there, she puts her life at serious risk organizing ceasefires to permit the evacuation of civilians caught in firefights; trying to save civilians of minority religions (such as Christians and Alawites) and of minority ethnicities (such as Druze) from harm; attempting to protect Christian churches and monasteries from attack; and promoting dialogue between the warring parties. Gunmen attacked her vehicle in May, 2013.

The story that Mother Agnes tells is very different from what we hear and read in the North American press. In May 2013, she organized an international delegation, led by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire, which visited Lebanon and Syria. The delegation observed conditions and talked with refugees, opposition and government representatives. Mother Agnes is one of the main organizers of the Mussalaha (“Reconciliation”) Initiative, a popular movement in Syria seeking to bring about a peaceful, made-in-Syria, political solution to the ongoing war. Mother Agnes-Mariam is likely to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize next year.

Mother Agnes is currently touring the U.S. and Canada to inform people about the reality in Syria and the need to stop foreign support and financing of terrorism. Her message is non-sectarian, promoting the values of peace, love and reconciliation.

Sun, Dec 1: 2 pm Centenary United Church, 24 Main West at MacNab Street South across from Hamilton City Hall, Hamilton ON

Sun, Dec 1: 7 pm, Islamic Society of York Region, 1380 Stouffville Rd, Richmond Hill, ON

Mon, Dec 2: 7 pm, St. Joseph Syriac Catholic Church, 999 Lakeshore Rd East, Mississauga, ON

Program in Montreal has been revised. (see above)

Wed, Dec 4: 7 pm, St. Paul University, Auditorium G203, Ottawa, ON

Thur, Dec 5, Toronto, ON ** to be updated

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With Scant Media Attention, ‘Human Catastrophe of Epic Proportions’ Unfolding


UN, humanitarian groups warn of spirialing crisis in the Central African Republic

– Andrea Germanos

People fleeing conflict in the Central African Republic. (Photo: UNHCR/ B. Heger)A situation described as a “human catastrophe of epic proportions” is underway in the Central African Republic (CAR), yet has failed to garner widespread media attention.

On Monday, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson warned that the impoverished nation was “descending into complete chaos before our eyes.”

Describing the current turmoil in the country, the New York Times reports:

The situation has deteriorated dramatically since a coup in late March overthrew the president, François Bozizé, and installed a new president, Michel Djotodia, who was supported by an alliance of guerrilla fighters known as the Seleka, drawn from neighboring nations and the Central African Republic. Since then, the new government’s formal and informal forces have wreaked havoc or stood by while militia groups destroyed homes and carried out extrajudicial killings, torture and rape, according to human rights groups. […]

Both the former government of Mr. Bozizé and the current one of Mr. Djotodia, which is backed by the Seleka, are accused of serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and torture, according to a report released in September by Human Rights Watch.

However, since the beginning of 2013, many of the abuses of civilians have been carried out in Seleka-dominated territory, according to the report. Tensions are heightened by religious differences between members of the Seleka, who are Muslims, and the predominantly Christian populace, which is increasingly defended by armed Christian groups.

In response to the increasing violence, France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed on Tuesday his country was preparing to send “about 1,000” troops to the former colony. Those troops are in addition to approximately 2,600 troops deployed by the African Union, ostensibly to protect civilians.

Doctors Without Borders/MSF has warned of “horrific violence” gripping the country plagued by a chronic humanitarian and health emergency.

“We are extremely concerned about the living conditions of the displaced, whether overcrowded in churches, mosques or schools or invisible, living in the bush with no access to healthcare, food or water and threatened by epidemics. Much more needs to be done and it needs to be done now,” stated Sylvain Groulx, MSF Head of Mission in CAR.

Amnesty International sounded alarm as well, stating that a “human catastrophe of epic proportions” was underway in the central African country.

“The crisis is spinning out of control, despite the fact that it has been ignored by the international community for far too long,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“There was a time when a humanitarian disaster on this scale would have had the world’s press swarming all over it, or at least received a due amount of attention,” wrote Martin Bell in the UK’s Independent.  “Sadly, not here and not now.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, a thousand women staged a protest in the CAR’s capital city of Bangui. The women, whose mouths were taped over in protest of violence against women, held placards reading, “Stop violence against women. I am not an object,” and “No to murders, torture, rape.”

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As Experts Weigh in, Warmongers Emerge as Sole Opponents of Iran Nuke Deal


‘Historic’ deal signed in Geneva paves way for peaceful settlement and should be embraced, say analysts

– Jon Queally, staff writer

(Photo Credit: FARS News/Majid Asgaripour)Following Sunday’s announcement of a confirmed détente and signed nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 nations, foreign policy analysts, experts and progressives widely championed the deal by calling it a “historic” achievement that lessens the chance of a regional war and returns sanity to the serious issues of nuclear proliferation and international diplomacy in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, as Israeli leaders fume and fears that Congress could still dash progress by legislating new sanctions, polling shows that support among the public is high for a deal that avoids war, eases tensions, and offers a diplomatic pathway to a final deal.

“There is only one reason to oppose this deal: whether with weapons of war or sanctions that will lead to a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe in Iran, an all-out attack on Iran with the hope of regime change is what this is really about.” —MItchell Plitnick,

Though concerns remain for all involved, and acknowledging that the deal signed in Geneva represents only a six-month framework designed to build trust for a more permanent solution, the breakthrough is seen as a rare positive development in a region plagued by U.S. military interventions and a diplomatic deep freeze with Iran that has lasted for more than thirty years.

The agreement itself—officially drawn out in a four-page document called a Joint Plan of Action”—was signed Sunday by Iran and the P5+1 which includes the US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany.

As far as who the deal “favors,” Mitchell Plitnick, a foreign policy analyst writing at the, says “the deal self-evidently favors the West,” with Iran giving much more than they are receiving. He explains:

Iran is agreeing to it because they hope it will lead to what they want, which is a fully functional nuclear energy program that is sufficiently proven to be peaceful to remove the sanctions. When hardline Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted “Unless the agreement requires dismantling of the Iranian centrifuges, we really haven’t gained anything,” he demonstrated thorough ignorance of the nuclear weaponization process as well as the contents of the agreement. There is only one reason to oppose this deal: whether with weapons of war or sanctions that will lead to a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe in Iran, an all-out attack on Iran with the hope of regime change is what this is really about. The conclusion is inescapable — if you oppose this deal, you are looking for a lot more than the neutralization of Iran’s ability to construct a nuclear weapon.

Reviewing the document, former British diplomat Peter Jenkins, an expert on international nuclear agreements, explains how Iran has agreed to:

  • allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) daily access to the two enrichment plants that have been at the centre of Western and Israeli concern about Iran’s nuclear program. Daily access is more than enough to ensure that detection of any Iranian move towards using these facilities to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium would be so timely that the Un Security Council could interrupt and put an end to the process.
  • give the IAEA access to the workshops that produce centrifuge components and where centrifuges are assembled. This is not a legal obligation that flows from Iran’s comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA. It is a voluntary, confidence-building measure. It will enable the IAEA to provide the E3+3 with assurances that Iran is implementing its commitment in the Plan of Action to limit the production of centrifuges to what is needed for the replacement of any of its currently operating machines that break down.
  • provide the IAEA with detailed information about the purpose of each building on its nuclear sites, as well as about its uranium mines and mills and unprocessed nuclear material stocks. This will help the IAEA towards providing the international community with a credible assurance that there are no undeclared nuclear activities or material on Iranian soil – an assurance that ought, in principle, to open the way to treating the Iranian nuclear program in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT, as envisaged in the last paragraph of the Joint Plan of Action.
  • furnish up-to-date design information for the reactor under construction at Arak. This well help the IAEA to design, in collaboration with Iran, a plan for applying safeguards to the plant, with the aim of maximising the possibility of timely detection of any diversion of nuclear fuel from the reactor to non-peaceful purposes.

Joe Cirincione, president of the  Ploughshares Fund and the author of Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late, called the agreement “the real deal,” writing:

“The negotiations are a dramatic example of the efficacy of diplomacy in resolving the most difficult of security problems.” –Joe Cirincione, Ploughshares Fund

It is possible that the nuclear deal and these related efforts could lead to a broader rapprochement with Iran that could, in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s words, help the U.S. and Iran “manage our differences.” Not “resolve” them; not “overcome” them, but more pragmatically manage them the way U.S. officials managed differences with China under Nixon and Russia under Reagan. The United States could get Iranian cooperation on a score of key U.S. strategic issues including Iraq, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Syria and the Israel-Palestine peace process.

More broadly, rolling back the Iranian program removes the largest perceived nuclear proliferation threat. Although there is no logical connection between the 5000 nuclear weapons in the U.S. active nuclear arsenal and the possibility that Iran might someday get one or ten, psychologically and politically there is.

If Iran were to become a nuclear-armed state it would be much more difficult to negotiate reductions in global stockpiles. Eliminating this threat creates the security conditions necessary for nuclear-armed states to consider reducing obsolete arsenals and for threshold states to refrain from beginning new programs.

Coupled with the success of the agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, the negotiations are a dramatic example of the efficacy of diplomacy in resolving the most difficult of security problems.

And Plitnick welcomed the agreement as a “huge step back away from war” and said Israeli claims that the agreement would imperil its security were absurd. The “only way this hurts Israel is by limiting Netanyahu’s fear-mongering,” Plitnick wrote. And continued:

“There is just about no risk for Israel here, and everything to gain, from the point of view of the average Israeli. From the point of view of right wing demagogues like Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman, it risks removing their last great boogeyman.” –Plitnick

The problem with Israel’s stance — and that of its right-wing advocates abroad — has been, all along, that what they really want is ever-increasing sanctions and tensions with Iran. The only deal that can possibly be even marginally acceptable to Israel is one which involves Iran’s total surrender. Since that was never going to be possible, the Netanyahu government is going to oppose even a great deal like this one with everything it has. A lot of Israeli rhetoric for years has been misinformation, sometimes even outright lies. Such was the case today when the Prime Minister’s office characterized the deal as giving “…Iran exactly what it wanted — a serious lessening of sanctions as well as preserving the most significant parts of its nuclear program.” The deal demonstrably does neither. Israel does have legitimate security concerns here, of course, but they have never been what Netanyahu has said they were. This deal is great for Israel because it grants unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear facilities to the IAEA, eliminates their 20% enriched uranium stockpile, and, at least for the next six months, eliminates Iran’s ability to beef up their nuclear program. It does that while bringing only temporary and unsustainable sanction relief—it will help a bit for a while, but by itself, this relief is nowhere near enough to repair the Iranian economy. There is just about no risk for Israel here, and everything to gain, from the point of view of the average Israeli. From the point of view of right wing demagogues like Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman, it risks removing their last great boogeyman. Because if there is peace with Iran, they go back to trying to sell the Palestinians and Hezbollah as existential risks. Good luck with that.

Writing at The Nation, contributing editor and foreign policy analyst Bob Dreyfuss agreed,saying the agreement is “first stop towards peace” while adding that the politics of the deal are equal in importance as the substance of it:

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry signed the deal in explicit, full-frontal defiance of American hawks, neoconservatives and hardliners, the Israel lobby, and anti-Iran partisans in Congress. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his team, backed by President Hassan Rouhani—elected in June with a mandate to do exactly this—have similarly defied their own country’s hardliners and skeptics, led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and by what Zarif calls Iran’s own Tea Party. And the United States struck the deal despite outright hostility, bordering on hysteria, from its two chief allies in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia. […]

Iran has agreed to far more intrusive IAEA inspections, including daily inspections at Natanz and at the underground facility at Fordow.

Both President Rouhani and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, have endorsed the accord, in part because for the first time the United States and the P5+1 have tacitly recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium under the terms of the Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed, by agreeing to permit Iran’s continuing enrichment to 5 percent. Rouhani said that the deal seals Iran’s “nuclear rights,” and, according to Al Arabiya, Khamenei said: “The nuclear negotiating team should be thanked and appreciated for this achievement.

William Beeman, professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, says that because neither side gave much or received much in substance, the deal should be largely seen as symbolic, though he qualified that by noting even those “symbolic” achievements are themselves historic in nature:

The principal benefit of the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 nations on November 23 is that Iran and the United States were able to down to talk and reach an agreement on something. Given 33 years of estrangement and non-communication, this is an extraordinarily important development — nearly equivalent to the U.S. breakthrough to China — perhaps the signal achievement of the Nixon administration.

The profound symbolism of the moment more than outweighs the lighter substantive elements of the temporary agreement. The United States and its partners appeared tough and got very little. Iran appeared tough and gave up very little. Both sides saved face. This is the essence of a successful agreement. No one “won” and no one “lost.”

Iranians have been both sincere and clever in the negotiations. They played up to the insubstantial straw-man accusations promulgated by the U.S. and its partners, making them seem weightier than they were in reality. By yielding to the P5+1 demands, in essence Iran has allowed itself to be persuaded to stop temporarily doing what it never intended to do — make a nuclear weapon. The bottom line is that Iran did not give up very much in the negotiations, (but it didn’t gain very much either).

And regarding the continued suggestion that Iran had a nuclear weapons program to begin with, Beeman adds:

There is a strange irony in President Obama’s announcement of the temporary agreement. He mentioned the term “nuclear weapon” multiple times in his announcement, implying that Iran was on a path to develop such a weapon. One wonders if he actually believes this or if his repeated implied accusation was a rhetorical device designed to placate his hard-line critics.

The president must know by this time that there is no evidence that Iran has or ever had a nuclear weapons program. Every relevant intelligence agency in the world has verified this fact for more than a decade. Two U.S. National Intelligence Estimates that were made public in 2007 and 2011 underscored this. The International Atomic Energy Agency has also consistently asserted that Iran has not diverted any nuclear material for any military purpose.

Even Israeli intelligence analysts agree that Iran is “not a danger” to Israel. Typical is ex-Mossad chief Efraim Halevy who said on March 16 this year that Iran “will not make it to the bomb,” and that Israel’s existence “is not in danger and shouldn’t be questioned.”

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‘It’s Intimidating. And It’s Free’: Iraq War Surplus Militarizing US Police


AP exclusive finds 165 MRAP vehicles used in Iraq handed to local police departments

– Sarah Lazare

Warren County Under-sheriff Shawn Labouree stands next to the department’s new mine resistance ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP in Queensbury, New York (Photo: Mike Groll / Associated Press)Weapons of occupation are coming to cities and towns across the United States after the Department of Defense handed 165 military fighting vehicles formerly used in Iraq to local law enforcement as part of a military surplus program.

This transfer of military weaponry, reported in an Associated Press exclusive on Monday, will send mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, or MRAPs—which weigh 18 tons each and include gun turrets and bulletproof glass—to urban and rural areas, some of which don’t even have the physical infrastructure to support such heavy and large vehicles.

These are not the first armored military vehicles given to U.S. police departments. A little-known 1033 program, originating from the National Defense Authorization Act of 1997, allows the Department of Defense to donate what it considers surplus military equipment to police and sheriff departments, Michael Shank and Elizabeth Beavers wrote in The Guardian. A total of $4.2 billion in such equipment, including tanks and grenade launchers, has been donated so far.

Albany County, New York Sheriff Craig Apple said of the MRAP vehicle his department will be receiving, “It’s armored. It’s heavy. It’s intimidating. And it’s free,” the Associated Pressreports.

These giveaways, which have expanded in recent years, are on top of $34 billion in Homeland Security-backed federal grants given to local police departments since September 11th, 2001 to fight “terrorism.”

This is in addition to growing business between law enforcement, private defense contractors, and arms manufacturers that has facilitated the influx of military-grade weapons and vehicles—including drones—onto U.S. streets. Private sector and law enforcement collaboration is exemplified in annual weapons expos and SWAT team training Urban Shield, previously reported in Common Dreams.

Critics blast the MRAP giveaway as evidence of the heightening militarization of the police.

“The militarization of U.S. law enforcement is but an extension of the expanding police state,” said Lara Kiswani of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center in an interview with Common Dreams. “The U.S. not only exports and imports military equipment and weapons, but it also exchanges strategies and tactics of repression that have seeped deep into our communities.”

“From the gross devastation that the people in Iraq have suffered as a result of US wars and occupation, to oppressive torture tactics and violent military attacks of the apartheid state of Israel, to the growing militarization of communities in the U.S., the policies and interests are one in the same,” she added. “They are all a means of social, political and economic control at the expense of the poor, working class, immigrants, youth, and black and brown communities.”

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Block the US-Afghan Security Agreement!


Hamid Karzai is right: it compromises Afghan sovereignty and ensures ten more years of US occupation.

(Reuters/Denis Sinyakov)Despite strong objections from President Hamid Karzai, the United States insists thatAfghanistan must sign, as written, a Bilateral Security Agreement that sets the framework for another decade of US occupation of that war-torn nation. According to the terms of the proposed accord, the United States will be able to maintain up to nine military bases, along with 8,000–12,000 troops (and a smaller contingent of European and other forces), through 2024. Over Afghan opposition, the agreement states that US troops will not be subject to Afghan law for criminal acts—even war crimes. Among the sensible points raised at the eleventh hour by Karzai: that US forces be prohibited from conducting night raids of Afghan homes and that Washington start peace talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban.

A gathering of more than 2,500 Afghan tribal leaders, clerics and national and provincial officials endorsed the accord after a four-day loya jirga, or council, convened by Karzai. But the president himself balked, saying he would sign it only after further negotiation, and perhaps not until after next April’s presidential election—which, Washington says, would be far too late. That dispute, like many others involving Karzai over the past decade, will probably be resolved in America’s favor because Washington holds all the cards. “We can continue to disagree, but at the end of the day, we are the ones who have the troops,” said a US official. So a war that President Obama has repeatedly said is “winding down” may go on for another ten years.

There are crucial questions Obama has failed to address: If the more than 100,000 US troops that occupied Afghanistan after his escalations of 2009 failed to neutralize the Taliban and its allies, how will a far smaller US contingent accomplish that task? How will the Afghan security forces, which have already absorbed $54 billion in US aid since 2002, gain enough strength with another decade of American cash infusions of up to $6 billion a year? Perhaps most important: Where is the US diplomatic strategy to secure an accord between the Afghan government, non-Taliban opposition forces and the Taliban itself?

In fact, diplomacy—especially involving Pakistan, which supports the Taliban; India, which backs the non-Pashtun elements of the old anti-Taliban Northern Alliance; and Iran—is the only way to end the war. Recently the White House learned how effective diplomacy can be in seemingly intractable conflicts. First, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry veered away from airstrikes against Syria, instead making a deal with Russia to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons and move toward a Geneva peace conference. Then, ignoring protests from hawks, neoconservatives and many members of Congress, Obama and Kerry reached a historic interim accord with Iran on its nuclear program. Despite off-again, on-again efforts to talk with the Taliban, to Karzai’s frustration, the White House hasn’t pursued a political solution in Afghanistan with the same vigor.

In the meantime, the bilateral agreement could fall apart. A similar effort to establish a security accord with Iraq did collapse, leading to the withdrawal of all US troops. Part of the reason for that failure was the refusal of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraq’s Parliament to agree to some of the same provisions that Karzai finds troubling, including legal immunity for foreign troops. But unlike Iraq, which has vast oil resources, Afghanistan is utterly dependent on foreign aid. Twelve years after the start of the war, Afghanistan is still a basket case, severely limiting Karzai’s ability to follow Maliki’s example. Karzai has spent years walking a political tightrope, objecting to night raids by US Special Forces, assailing American airstrikes that have killed many civilians—once even threatening to join the Taliban himself. Indeed, in his speeches to the loya jirga, Karzai stressed that civilian casualties are an explosive issue. He’s right; in October, on the twelfth anniversary of the war, a special issue of The Nation was devoted to a detailed report on civilians killed by US and allied forces in Afghanistan since 2001. It included a comprehensive, interactive online database highlighting hundreds of incidents, as well as articles exposing the failure of the Pentagon to institutionalize lessons learned about targeting of civilians and the ways civilian casualties help fuel the insurgency.

As shown by popular support in the United States for the diplomatic deals involving Syria and Iran, an exhausted American electorate has no appetite for war. In Congress, the Progressive Caucus and other antiwar members have sharply criticized the proposed Afghan pact. “The possibility of a military presence into 2024 is unacceptable,” said Representative Barbara Lee. “There is no military solution in Afghanistan. After thirteen years and more than $778 billion invested in an unstable country and the corrupt Karzai government, it’s time to bring our troops and tax dollars home.”

Lee and others, including Senator Jeff Merkley, are trying to mobilize antiwar sentiment to force an up-or-down vote on the Afghan agreement. Americans concerned about endless war in Central Asia ought to let members of Congress and the White House know that what’s working with Syria and Iran ought to work for Afghanistan, too.

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Meditations On Law and Denial While Painting Sibel Edmonds


by Robert Shetterly

Editor’s note: The artist’s essay that follows accompanies the ‘online unveiling’—exclusive to Common Dreams—of Shetterly’s latest painting in his Americans Who Tell the Truth portrait series which present citizens throughout U.S. history who have courageously engaged in the social, environmental, or economic issues of their time. This portrait of FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds* follows one of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden unveiled on these pages in July.

Portrait of FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds. (Painted by Robert Shetterly / ‘Americans Who Tell The Truth’ project)

“Senator Humphrey, I been praying about you, and I been thinking about you, and you’re a good man. The only trouble is, you’re afraid to do what you know is right.”

Those words were spoken by Fannie Lou Hamer in Atlantic City in 1964. Hubert Humphrey, the soon-to-be running mate of Lyndon Johnson, had informed Ms. Hamer that her integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation would not be seated at the Democratic Convention, nor would they replace the all-white delegation sent to the convention by the Mississippi Democratic Party.

The reason I quote them here is that the problem she identifies—a good man afraid to do what he knows is right— haunts our history. It haunts it because moral cowardice, euphemistically called political expediency, leads to injustice, denial and corruption.

When I was painting the portrait of the FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, those words came back to me. Just three days after the 9/11 attacks, Edmonds received a call from the FBI. She had applied to the agency for an internship in 1997 and been given a battery of tests that probed her language abilities in Turkish, Farsi and Azerbaijani. The FBI, however, had never followed up with her. Now, scrambling to bolster their translation capabilities in the wake of the terrorist attack, the agency reached out to Edmonds. After a moment’s consideration, Edmonds, who was then a full-time student working on degrees in criminal justice and psychology, agreed to come on part-time as a translator for the FBI, feeling compelled to answer this “call to duty.”

What the FBI didn’t realize was that Sibel was not simply a translator. They had hired a fierce convert to US ideals. In her 2012 book, Classified Woman, Edmonds describes inheriting her “love for freedom of speech and of the press, my dedication to the protection of due process, and my endless quest for government held accountable” from her Iranian Azerbaijani father. Her father, a surgeon and hospital administrator, had been subjected to interrogation and torture in Iran when he advocated for worker’s rights in the hospital where he was employed.

As a teenager in Turkey, Edmonds wrote an essay for school in which she criticized Turkey’s censorship laws. Her scared and angry teacher asked her to withdraw the essay, fearing that his student would be jailed and tortured. Edmonds’ father backed his daughter’s decision not to submit a different essay. Within months in 1988, Edmonds left for the United States and experienced “love at first sight.” It was a place, she writes, where she could live “with the kind of freedom and rights that existed only in books and in my fantasies.”

Edmonds began work at the FBI on September 20, 2001. She was fired without cause in March of 2002. In her six month stint at the agency, Edmonds witnessed blatant incompetence, personal agendas that compromised national security, and corruption at top levels of the American government. Despite mounting threats from superiors, Edmonds refused to turn a blind eye or walk quietly away from the agency, believing it was her responsibility to expose the wrongdoing she saw. Like most whistleblowers, she assumed that when FBI really understood what she was discovering, they would stop it. She reported to what she thought were a few good men, each of them afraid to do what was right. Their choice was to silence her.

As a translator, she was discovering intricate webs of corruption involving money laundering, illegal weapon and drug sales, and illicit trading in military and nuclear technology. The spinners of the webs were (are) fronted as Turkish construction companies operating in the US. In the web, and making huge profits from the deals, were very high ranking US officials in the Congress, State Department and Pentagon. Every time Edmonds was rebuffed she tried harder to get the FBI to pay attention. Once she was fired, she went to court to sue to make her knowledge public and the US courts responded by classifying all of her information as Top Secret. She had been muzzled.

We applaud whistleblowers for their courage to tell truth to power. However, that statement is at the best misleading, at the worst, false. Power is not listening, and it is making sure that others can’t hear. Whistleblowers tell truth about power. And when that truth is about a corruption as deep and far-reaching as what Sibel Edmonds had uncovered, many people don’t even want to know.

When she was given the 2006 PEN Newman First Amendment Award. Edmonds said in her acceptance speech, “… our freedom is under assault—not from terrorists—for they only attack us, not our freedom, and they can never prevail. No, the attacks on our freedom are from within, from our very own government: and unless we recognize these attacks … and stand up, and speak out—no, shout out—against those in government who are attempting to silence the brave few who are warning us, then we are doomed to wake up one sad morning and wonder when and where our freedom died.

It seems that the information that Sibel Edmonds is sounding the alarm about, systemic corruption in all our branches of government, is information that many people, even good people, don’t want to hear. Her message is similar to what William Pepper argued in a Memphis court in 1999, that the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. was carried out by a conspiracy of government and mafia forces; similar to what James Douglass asserts about CIA involvement in the assassination of JFK in his book JFK and the Unspeakable.

Many of us would prefer to ignore this kind of deep criminality on the part of our own government. Why? Is it too dangerous to confront? Irrelevant to the struggles of our everyday lives? Is what this acknowledgement would require of us as citizens too frightening?

We celebrate the lives of people like Dr. King, mourn and grieve in official ceremonies promoted by the government, but refuse to acknowledge that the government itself was involved in the crime of his death even when the evidence is readily available. In a sense then, all of us become accessories after the fact to the crime.

Unfortunately, we all inherit our legacy of denial. Our economic, political, historical and moral lives are too often shaped by failures of accountability. When Obama refused to prosecute the Bush administration for any of its crimes in order to look forward instead of looking back, he enabled this deep criminal denial. He also ensured that we would never be able to look forward because the past would be blocking our view. And in doing so, he also ensures that a republic based on the rule of law becomes little more than propaganda.

We are taught that our separation of powers makes justice inevitable. We are not taught that corrupt collaboration of those powers makes injustice unchallengeable, that “law” is being used to commit crime.

For Sibel Edmonds that situation is untenable. Her courage and tenacity in trying to expose these crimes is, even by whistleblower standards, remarkable. I urge everyone to read her book Classified Woman to find out what we don’t want to know. She’s not afraid to do what she knows is right.

*Poster prints of the Sibel Edmonds portrait are available from the Americans Who Tell the Truth website, the sale of which support the AWTT project’s work in schools in Maine, where the artist is based, and around the country.

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World Fights Back Against the Biggest Brother in History


The United States’ vast and indiscriminate worldwide surveillance of ordinary people and heads of state has no historical precedent. Now countries around the world are fighting back using the United Nations as a vehicle for change. In a move that received little media coverage in the U.S., a United Nations committee approved without a vote a draft resolution entitled The Right to Privacy in a Digital Age.” The nonbinding resolution, which will now head to the General Assembly where it has broad support, follows from a report published in June by the United Nations Human Rights Council. It detailed the negative impact of state surveillance on free expression and human rights and lamented that technology has outpaced legislation.

Steve Rhodes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The remarkable U.N. draft resolution affirms privacy as a human right, on par with other globally recognized civil and political rights. Several leading advocacy groups, including Access Now, Amnesty International, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch and Privacy International, signed an open letter to the U.N. General Assembly backing the resolution. The letter stresses the “importance of protecting privacy and free expression in the face of technological advancements and encroaching State power.”

Carly Nyst, the head of international advocacy at Privacy International, told me, “This resolution could not be more important. At the moment we’re seeing serious threats to the protection of the right to privacy in the form of [National Security Agency] spying but also in the form of other surveillance practices that are taking place across the world. We think that voting in favor of this resolution is a really important stand for states to take so that they will no longer stand for global surveillance practices undertaken by the U.S. and others. This is a pivotal moment.”

Opposition to the U.N. resolution has come primarily from a small alliance of countries that share surveillance data, known as the “Five Eyes” (the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia). These five countries are party to a secret treaty originally signed by the U.S. and U.K. in 1941, which came to light only in 2010. Little is known about the details of the agreement. According to Nyst, “We know that there is a very, very high level of integration between the intelligence services of each of the [Five Eyes] countries to the extent that Americans are working out of Australian bases, the British are working out of New Zealand bases, etc. That information is shared, almost is standard across all five countries and there is no such thing as a no-spy deal. That means that even though they have a very high level of cooperation there are also instances in which they are spying on each other.” Nyst added, “It’s a completely secret, covert arrangement that implicates the privacy rights of almost everyone who uses the Internet.”

Despite the best efforts of the Five Eyes nations to weaken the U.N. draft resolution on privacy, opposition to U.S. spying is so strong that most of the original language remains unchanged. According to The Guardian newspaper, the only major compromise has been to drop a reference linking human rights violations to extraterritorial surveillance.

The U.S. also fought to limit the jurisdiction over privacy rights to countries themselves, but lost. That point underscores what many around the world see as a double standard between how the NSA spies on Americans versus non-Americans. The U.N. draft resolution enshrines the protection of privacy of all people equally.

According to Katitza Rodriguez, international rights director of the U.S.-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Most of the discussion around NSA spying in the United States has focused on the privacy rights of Americans because our laws only protect Americans but do not extend those protections outside U.S. borders. The U.N. resolution makes clear that privacy is an international universal human right and states have the obligation to protect privacy not only at home but also abroad.”

What has lent the resolution greater weight was that it was sponsored by two major nations: Germany and Brazil, whose leaders, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Dilma Rousseff, were alleged to have been spied upon by the NSA. Nyst admitted that “Unfortunately, even though we knew months ago that the German people and the Brazilian people had been spied upon, it was not until the leaders of those countries found that they were also under the microscope, that they really were quite enraged and decided to take action at the international level. That is the unfortunate reality that until these practices were shown to affect the leaders of the highest level of power, it wasn’t necessarily politically useful for them to make a stand against the U.S.”

Nyst takes issue with nations, such as Brazil, that want to pursue electronic independence by developing their own Internet infrastructure to counter U.S. surveillance. She says, “In fact it would not necessarily be of benefit to Internet users if countries decided to splinter off to create their own networks to protect from U.S. spying. Actually one of the most important parts of the Internet which really guarantees our freedom to look at what we like online and to say what we like online is the decentralized nature of the Internet where no one country has control over it.”

Nyst fears that “If the result from this NSA scandal is that countries like Brazil and Germany—perhaps with good reason—decide that they want to splinter off and start protecting their citizens by establishing their own Internet, actually what we might see is a real balkanization of the Internet. And that means that citizens of some countries will have much worse protections than they previously have had. If a country like Russia or Iran or China followed their lead and said, ‘Well we too are going to establish our national Internet,’ then that would drastically disadvantage the citizens of that country. That’s the last thing that we as Internet advocates want to see.”

Treating privacy as a fundamental, internationally recognized human right may offer the best protection to ordinary people from all countries. But even Americans, who are ostensibly better protected legally, have found that their privacy is often routinely violated and that they cannot do anything about it.

The U.N. resolution, if it passes, would lack enforcement mechanisms. The question then arises, what is the point? According to Rodriguez, it “definitely makes clear what is the standard to protect privacy globally and if the U.S. doesn’t comply with it then they will be in violation of international law. And that’s a huge problem because the United States has been seen as a champion of promoting free expression in the United Nations. So having them taking a position that infringes upon international law is not good for the reputation of the United States’ foreign policy.”

It is likely that the U.N. General Assembly will debate and vote on a version of the draft resolution in the coming months. Regardless of how robust the protections of privacy are in the final version, or how strongly the U.S. and its allies will feel bound by it, public opinion is certainly shifting in favor of treating privacy as a human right.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Privacy International are leading a collaboration with hundreds of civil society organizations worldwide on a framework reflecting global consensus on privacy rights called Necessary & Proportionate. That effort reflects a growing global grass-roots movement forming in parallel to the U.N.’s attempt to protect privacy. It remains to be seen whether the world can win the fight against the Biggest Brother history has ever witnessed.

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