Archive | February, 2014

“Over 90% of water in Gaza Strip unfit for drinking”



Gaza’s main water source is the coastal aquifer, which is also used by Israel and Egypt. It has been continuously over-pumped for decades, even prior to Israel’s occupation in 1967. At present, the Palestinian Water Authority pumps some 180 million cubic meters (mcm) a year from the aquifer in Gaza, although its replenishment rate is only 50-60 mcm a year. Over the years, this has significantly lowered the groundwater level, leading to contamination of the aquifer’s water by seawater seeping in and saline groundwater rising from deeper in the reservoir. Israel currently sells Gaza 4.2 mcm of water a year and has agreed to sell another 5 mcm of desalinated water annually, but the infrastructure work for conveying the water have yet to be completed.

Another longstanding problem in the Gaza Strip is the lack of proper wastewater treatment. Many residents are not even connected to a sewage system, and domestic waste flows into cesspits, from where it seeps into the groundwater and contaminates it. The problem has grown worse in recent years, primarily due to electricity shortages. In addition, Israel damaged wastewater-treatment facilities during Operation Cast Lead, resulting in far greater quantities of sewage going untreated. Although the facility has since been restored and new infrastructure laid in towns previously not connected to a sewage system, Gaza’s wastewater-treatment facilities are far from able to meet the required amounts and standards.

Although infrastructure has since been rebuilt or added in towns previously left untreated, Gaza’s wastewater-treatment facilities are far from meeting the necessary standards. Various projects to improve infrastructure are slow to progress, due both to Israel’s restrictions on importing construction materials and equipment into Gaza as well as to lengthy bureaucratic processes in the international organizations funding the projects.

The Palestinian Water Authority in Gaza has found a rise in nitrate levels in the water due to contamination, mostly caused by pesticide use in agriculture and sewage seeping into the aquifer. Every day, only some 25 percent of Gaza’s wastewater – about 30,000 cubic meters – is treated and recycled for agricultural use. Some 90,000 cubic meters of untreated or partially treated wastewater flows daily into the Mediterranean, resulting in contamination, health hazards and damage to the fishing industry. Due to the increased nitrate levels, the aquifer is now high in nitrogen and chloride, rendering 90 to 95 percent of its water unfit for drinking and problematic for agricultural use. The PA’s Water Authority also found that only 14 wells (some 6.5% of all wells in Gaza) provide water that meets World Health Organization standards.

Ninety-seven percent of Gazans are connected to the public water-supply system, yet this does not ensure a steady supply of water, as the Gaza Strip suffers from shortages of water, shortages in the electricity needed to pipe water through the system, as well as from severe problems with infrastructure. Consequently, residents suffer deliberate water outages, receiving running water for only six to eight hours at a time: 25% of households on a daily basis, 40% every other day, 20% once every three days, and the remaining 15% (in Gaza City, Rafah and Jabaliya) only one day out of four.

The erratic supply of water forces residents to collect water in containers. These containers are placed on rooftops, yet power outages often mean that the pumps that are to channel the water into the containers are out of commission, forcing residents to collect water in other container, on ground level.

Wafa al-Faran, 42, a married mother of eight, lives in a-Shuja’iya neighborhood, Gaza City. She related the following testimony to B’Tselem:

The power outages really interfere with the water supply to our houses. When there’s no electricity, there’s very little water in the taps. We had to buy a pump so that the water would reach the containers on our roof. We have four containers of 4,000 liters altogether. When we get running water, we turn the pump on and fill up the containers. But sometimes, there’s no electricity when there’s water. When that happened, we used to operate the pump with a generator, so that we wouldn’t run out of water. But the generator uses a lot of fuel, which is very expensive. Now there’s no fuel from Egypt and the fuel from Israel is very expensive, so we don’t use the generator at all. Even at night, when we don’t have power, we make do with candles and flashlights. A few months ago, my husband bought a new water container, which we put at the entrance to the house, so that we can fill it up when there’s no power. We get water out of the container in buckets, because it’s not connected to our plumbing.

We don’t drink the water that from the pipes and don’t use it for making coffee or tea or for cooking. We buy fresh water from water vendors. Sometimes, I use the fresh water to wash my daughters’ hair, and in the morning we use this water to wash our faces, because the water from the taps burns our eyes.

Average water consumption in the Gaza Strip is 70-90 liters per person, per day, while the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization is 100 liters per person, per day. Although most residents in Gaza are connected to the public water system, the water’s poor quality means they must buy water treated in governmental or private factories, or factories operated by charities.

Ibtesam Kheir a-Din, 48, a married mother of six lives in a-Sultan neighborhood, Rafah. She related the following testimony to B’Tselem:

The water we get is salty and unfit for drinking. Sometimes it even smells bad. We use it only to clean the house and do dishes and laundry, but nothing ever feels really clean. The clothes sometimes smell bad and get stained. The water also ruins the washing machine. We’ve fixed the machine several times, which cost us 50 to 70 shekels [approx. 14 USD – 20USD] every time, and the technician said the problems were caused by the too many salts in the water. We don’t drink the water or use it for cooking. For cooking and drinking, we buy water every day from vendors who go around the neighborhood or from shops that sell water containers. We buy 50 liters of fresh water a day, at two shekels [approx. 0.6 USD] a liter. Lately, because power outages have gone on for as long as twelve hours at time and because we don’t have enough money to pay for fuel to run the generator to fill the containers, we’ve started buying water for dishwashing and laundry, too.

On 1 November 2013, Gaza’s power plant was shut down due to a fuel shortage, and the sewage pumping stations had to be run on generators. On 13 November, one of the stations in a-Zaytun neighborhood, Gaza City, stopped operating due to a generator malfunction, causing some 35,000 mcm of raw sewage to flood the neighborhood and leak into homes.

Fat’hi Saqer, a 67-year-old resident of the neighborhood, told B’Tselem:

I live with my wife and seven children, who are five to seventeen years old, on the ground floor of a building, about twenty meters away from the sewage pumping station. On Wednesday, 13 November 2013, at around 1 o’clock, we’d just finished eating lunch after the boys came back from school, when suddenly sewage started leaking into our house. We started taking off the floor the mattresses and rugs and clothes that got wet. Then we tried to plug up the drain holes in the house with bits of cloth so that the sewage wouldn’t rise, but that didn’t help. Sewage came up through the holes and filled the house. We stopped up the holes again and started hauling out the dirty water. We put bags of sand up against the front door so that the sewage wouldn’t get in from there. We got completely wet: our hands, feet, our clothing. Everything stank. It took us hours to get all the water out and the floor dry. Then we washed only our hands and feet, because we didn’t want to use a lot of water, in case it would cause another flooding.

As far back as 2009, UNEP recommended that underground pumping from the coastal aquifer in the Gaza Strip cease, in order to prevent collapse of the Gaza water economy. Yet over-pumping continues, in part due to the lack of alternative water sources in Gaza. At present, no plan for a long-term solution to the Gaza water crisis is being implemented. The Palestinian Water Authority and UNEP have cautioned that the coastal aquifer has passed the point of no return in terms of rehabilitation options, so that as of 2016 it will no longer be possible to pump water from the aquifer.

To resolve the grave water crisis in the Gaza Strip, UNEP recommended that all parties to the coastal aquifer – Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the Hamas government and Egypt – act in conjunction to halt the swift rapid deterioration of the groundwater system that serves Gaza and also to work on finding other sources of potable drinking water for its residents. At the same time, and without delay, Israel must allow materials and equipment to be brought into Gaza for the purpose of restoring and developing Gaza’s water and wastewater treatment systems.

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“NGOs vs. Grassroots Movements: A False Dichotomy”


It seems to be popular these days to persistently juxtapose what is assumed to be politically “correct” mass and popular movements against politically “incorrect” non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and professional institutions that do not necessarily have a popular base. Recent writings include V. Suresh’s Funds and Civil Liberties (see also this writer’s response), and in the Palestinian and Arab context, Tariq Dana’s thought provoking article “Palestinian Civil Society: What Went Wrong?” Islah Jad’s equally thought-provoking ”The NGO-isation of Arab Women’s Movements” is an earlier example of this trend.

These writings raise important questions, but make assumptions and assertions that deserve further inquiry and debate. The authors note that because of NGO dependence on donors, their agendas and political outlook are necessarily affected and even subjugated, and their links to the community are weakened. They propose that civil society should move away from “NGO-isation” towards some idealized form of mobilized grassroots movement committed to a national liberation agenda and, in Palestine, the politics of resistance.

The juxtaposition of the “grassroots” and the “NGOs,” however, is a false and unnecessary dichotomy. There have certainly been a host of issues associated with foreign funding of local efforts, including the matching of donor and national priorities, the “black lists” established by the United States, growing dependency and many others. But there are also problems associated with grassroots movements as well, particularly in the fragmented political environment that currently exists.

In such an aid-dependent and politically volatile society as Palestine, these concerns take on heightened importance and need to be discussed and debated. Rather than pose either/or propositions, it is important to adopt a more inclusive attitude that recognizes the diversity of approaches as enriching the creative and mutually supportive components of civil society. It is the very multiplicity and variety of Palestinian civil society that is perhaps the only glimmer of hope in this grim political environment.

How Popular Are People’s Movements?

One of the issues regularly raised is the great increase in aid money after 1993, and the Oslo-driven shift from grass roots movements “deeply-rooted in the national liberation movement” as Dana says, to NGOs as intermediaries between the global and the local. This is debatable. NGOs were already active before Oslo. Indeed a great many of the development, human rights and women’s rights NGOs were established in the early 1980s and 1990s. These organizations were already doing very good work long before the post-Oslo increase in funding.

The “popular committee” phenomenon of the 1970s and 1980s such as the volunteer committees initiated by Birzeit University, the Medical Relief and Agricultural Relief committees and others also did excellent work and helped to prepare the ground for the first popular Intifada. Political actors, especially the Communist Party, initiated many of those committees, but eventually Fateh and others established rival committees as well. Despite the good work they did, they were not free from accusations of political elitism and manipulation of nationalist sentiment for purposes of partisan political party mobilization. The success of those mobilization efforts can be questioned, as evidenced by the weak state of those movements today. The reasons for that weakness must be studied in the context of their own history and modes of operation, rather than simply be blamed on the proliferation of better-funded NGOs.

Another over-simplified juxtaposition is pitting the presumed donor-driven globalized agendas of NGOs against the (again presumed) more homegrown national agenda of popular social movements. Funding can of course affect NGO agendas since donors do come with their own agendas and priorities. But the argument that these NGOs become implementers of foreign agendas, and that this happens at the expense of other, more indigenous forms of civil society formation, requires more evidence; a cause-and-effect connection is not so easy to discern. The fact that dozens of people choose to go after the money by forming NGOs does not mean that every NGO does so, nor does it explain why thousands others have not joined or have abandoned “mass movements.”

The picture is more nuanced and complicated, and our understanding of it must begin with questioning whether the idealized “mass-based” movements were indeed “mass-based” and represented a popular national agenda rather than that of the competing political actors behind them, as mentioned earlier. Given the current political fragmentation of Palestinian society, do we have a unitary or coherent “national agenda” beyond liberation from occupation? Moreover, don’t Fateh, Hamas, the Left in general, and even the “new globalized elite” have different visions of Palestinian society, and shouldn’t they be able to articulate those visions equally and offer the general public competing agendas and pathways to achieve them?
Donor Agendas and Other Criticism

Donors often focus their funding priorities for their own reasons, some of which are strategic, some programmatic, and some even political, and this does affect what issues get funded in any given year. No doubt, NGOs must research donor organizations’ priorities before submitting their proposals and make decisions accordingly. Sadly, not all NGOs are able to negotiate with their donors to gain support for what they feel are priority issues. It is because of this problem that a number of regional activists – including this writer — established the Arab Human Rights Fund, which takes its funding cues from the concerns on the ground and also seeks to educate international donors.

But to say that donors’ priorities eroded the capacity of Palestinian NGOs to produce plans based on national priorities – assuming we have the same national priorities – is unfair and sidelines the commitment and hard work of Palestinian NGOs. To give only one example, how is it a foreign agenda for the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza and al-Haq in Ramallah to use foreign funding to file war crimes cases against Israeli officials in Europe? Even though cowardly diplomats and courts in Britain and elsewhere are changing their laws to avoid having to deal with war crime cases, Israeli officials periodically cancel travel for fear of prosecution because of Palestinian NGOs’ creative and courageous efforts in that regard.

In fact, the power of donors to actively impose their own priorities or views on NGO work is more limited than is often assumed. For donor organizations, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t, as Rachel Wahl notes. If donors are lax about the lack of institutional accountability, they are blamed for supporting inefficiency, undemocratic NGO structures and elitism. Yet if they become too insistent or “pushy,” they are accused of interfering in the work of national NGOs and imposing their agenda. Our attention should be focused instead on Palestinian organizations’ own responsibility to be accountable and operate effectively and efficiently and be clear and insistent on their own agenda.

Then there’s the criticism that NGOs have hierarchal structures where power is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals who are only accountable to their Boards (if Boards do indeed exist or operate as they should) and not to their community. This is not a new phenomenon in Palestine or in the region for that matter, and it is not limited to the NGOs. Civil societies almost always reproduce the leadership models they are accustomed to, and Palestine is no exception. It is not only the director of many an NGO who has been in their post for 30 years, but also the head of state or a local committee or council, political party, and workers’ organization among others. To see this as a problem unique to NGOs is misplaced.

Dana makes the argument that a FAFO poll found that 59% of respondents distrusted Palestinian NGOs. This is misleading if not seen in context. That same poll showed a general lack of trust in everyone, including the political leadership. Trust in Mahmoud Abbas stood at the same 41% in 2011 and was even less for Ismail Haniyyeh at 24% in that same year. Palestinian trust in the democratization process was a dismal 25% (interestingly, their trust in human rights was nearly double at 45%). Palestinian trust in their NGOs (41%) is consistent with those numbers. In other words, Palestinians deeply frustrated with the status quo and the lack of progress on many fronts have been losing trust in everyone, not only NGOs.
Aid and Political Activism

Certainly the aid on which Palestine has become dependent is a harsh reality and the consequences this has had on the discourse and direction of development deserve much evidence-based research. However, we need to dig deeper into whether or not the de-politicization of specific funded projects necessarily leads to the de-politicization of the NGOs or of Palestinian society as a whole, as has been claimed, or whether the international development discourse perforce de-legitimizes what should be Palestinian-specific discourse and priorities.

Human rights organizations have come in for much of that criticism, but the evidence is to the contrary. This is precisely because their starting point is the universality and international standards of rights and the moral and legal power to claim them against the Israeli occupation, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Should women’s claims for equality be subordinated to the national struggle for liberation (the usual “not now, we have to fight the occupation”), or will women’s rights organizations be accused of “de-politicization” if they undertake a project – funded by an international donor – to bring Palestinian practices in line with international standards for women’s rights?

Even if some NGOs do become de-politicized – and this is not necessarily a bad thing – this does not mean that the entire society is. The work and sacrifices of the Palestinian-inspired International Solidarity Movement, or the organizations documenting settlements and settler violations or house demolitions and the effects of the Apartheid Wall, all funded by international donors, attest otherwise.

It is sometimes asserted that knowledge production has also shifted towards a neoliberal or neocolonial “taming” of Palestinian society into accepting the peace process, and that we need to reinvigorate “anti-colonial” and liberating research. Knowledge is crucial, and the more that can be produced to inform policies and construct liberation approaches and methodologies of resistance the better. But we do need to be careful of our value judgments. Knowledge must be based on truth and on credible analysis, whether that analysis is based in colonial, anti-colonial or neo-colonial frameworks. To demand that knowledge production and research should be directed or follow a particular model or analysis is a serious mistake and a form of suppression of and limitation on free inquiry. The world of ideas and debate requires creativity that can only come from freedom of scientific inquiry away from prescriptive ideological requirements.
Room for All Approaches

The criticism of Palestinian NGOs is well meaning and much of it well placed. The desire to see Palestinian civil society as people-centered, participatory, democratic and representative of Palestinian interests in a more legitimate and sustainable manner is laudable and certainly supportable. However, it is inaccurate and unfair to tar all components of Palestinian civil society with the same brush, and to dismiss “professional” NGOs as simply tools in the hands of funders and implementers of a post-Oslo political agenda. The alternative of idealizing “popular movements,” without taking a serious look at some of the political and organizational issues they have had is seriously problematic. Islah Jad’s call for subjecting NGOs to a more historical and empirical approach is correct but it should also be applied to popular movements. There is a lot to learn from the history of those movements and the reality of their work today, and if we can learn those lessons, perhaps then we can build social movements that can represent and advocate for the interests of their communities, with or without funding.

Civil society should not be subjected to binary analysis or to prescriptive solutions. There is room – indeed a desperate need – for a variety of approaches. Civil society actors do not all have to be the same or have the same goal, political outlook, or methods of work. Rather, creative ideas and solutions for Palestine’s extremely complicated political, economic, legal and social problems can come from different arenas, different methodologies and from open debate, especially between conflicting points of view.

There is room for everyone, and we should trust that the power of ideas and putting them into practice will uncover what makes the most sense, or what works best at any given point in time. The success of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is that a few people had a great idea and it has become a global movement because of the power of that idea. However, to say now that this or any other idea is the only way to do things, and that other work by “institutionalized” NGOs in areas such as legal research, litigation, development or capacity building are simply the product of donor-inspired agendas, is not only wrong but a serious mistake. The malaise and failure of our own national politics and mobilization strategies should not be blamed on others; neither on the outside donors who do what they do, nor on the national organizations who may be supported by them.

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NC Court Upholds Fake Terror Convictions



Karin Friedemann


Laila Yaghi remembers the horrible day in July 2009 when her son was taken away.

Ziyad Yaghi
Ziyad Yaghi

(BOSTON) – On February 11, 2014, a federal appeals court upheld the convictions of three young Muslim men from North Carolina: Omar Hassan, Hysen Sherifi and Ziyad Yaghi. The three were convicted in 2011 after two paid FBI informants falsely testified that they were part of a home-grown terror group. The men were given prison terms ranging from 15 years to 45 years. Ziyad got 31 years.

Ziyad Yaghi

Ziyad’s attorney, Robert Boyle said that the appeals court failed to address the key legal issues. “What I find particularly disturbing is the undercurrent of Islamophobia in the decision.”

Like he has done against many other innocents, the fraud Evan Kohlmann served as the government’s expert witness during the trial. He portrayed Muslim men as inherently violent and explained how Muslims supposedly think. He convinced the jury that even though the men had not committed any crime, they would eventually commit an act of terrorism in the future.

“How on earth can he even say that and how on earth can his juvenile testimony be even taken into consideration at court?!” laments Ziyad’s mother Laila Yaghi.

In 2006 and 2007, Ziyad and Omar visited Jordan, the country of Ziyad’s birth, and Egypt, Omar’s country of origin. He and Omar also attempted to visit Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, but were denied entry by Israel. The US indictment claims Ziyad’s intention in his travels was to seek armed conflict. Ziyad’s mother Laila insists otherwise:

“All they did was go sightseeing and visit family members and were looking for a future bride. Nothing out of the ordinary took place. An American with Arab background and dual citizenship was accused of conspiracy and material support based on two trips he took abroad to his own homeland! A young man who wanted to do the right thing and get married so he won’t do anything immoral at a time where women offered themselves cheaply to him!”

The testimony of the woman who met with Ziyad was not allowed in court.

Stephen Lendmann summarizes: “Paid agent provocateur informants entrap unwary targets. Secret evidence unavailable to defense attorneys convicts them. Government paid bogus experts lie. False testimony given is inflammatory. Credible defense witnesses are ruled out of order and denied. Pre-trial publicity hypes spurious terror threats. Media scoundrels headline them. Juries are intimidated to convict. Right-wing judges facilitate witch-hunt injustice. Targeted Muslims haven’t a chance.”

Laila remembers the horrible day in July 2009 when her son was taken away.

Laila Yaghi, mother of Ziyad Yaghi, fights for her son

“He was looking ahead to go to college when that day he decided to surprise me, his mother, by cleaning the kitchen floor then marinating the chicken, then afterwards he went for a swim in the neighborhood pool. Of course, who would have even imagined that a SWAT team will come to arrest an unarmed young man of 21! A young man who had not done anything wrong or illegal, who did not even break any law but happened to be a somewhat dedicated Muslim!”

Ziyad was basically punished because he knew a guy named Daniel Patrick Boyd, an American Muslim who spoke against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even though Ziyad’s association with Boyd was very limited the FBI wanted something from Ziyad that was immoral, to lie against Boyd and say whatever pleases the FBI so they can say, “we caught a terrorist,” Laila explained.

When Ziyad and his friend Omar refused to lie, the FBI retaliated. Everything they did was interpreted by the FBI in the most bizarre way. Wrestling, paintball and kickboxing became training for Jihad! The word ‘marriage’ became a code word for Jihad and so was ‘the beach’. Ziyad was charged and convicted of conspiracy and material support yet the indictment does not even say which “terrorist organization.”

“The trial was set in a town 2 1/2 hours away from us to make it hard on people to come and support us. The jury consisted of mostly senior citizens who dozed off during the trial! Most of the jury had family members in the military and were not highly educated, handpicked by the judge! Everything was done deliberately to convict these young men. Hate for our religion is growing tremendously in the US! To top it all, they tried to single us out as un-American based on our religion!” Laila continued.

“They have Ziyad in what is called the SHU, Special Housing Unit, a cell underground like a grave designed to make one lose his/her mind. A cell as small as your bathroom where Ziyad is alone in it and only allowed out of his cell an hour every two days! A country that tries to portray itself as democratic, as a first world country, treats its Muslim citizens with so much unfairness and in such an inhumane way that any reader or observer will be shocked!

“How is my son convicted of material support when he did not spend any money on anything illegal or any terrorist organization? How is he convicted of conspiracy when there hasn’t been a crime that has taken place or even a plan to commit a crime?”

One way the prosecutors manipulated the jury into thinking that these young men were jihadis was by playing endless hours of boring unclear tape recordings of Boyd, who they referred to as “the ring leader.” The prosecutors gave the jury some transcripts with words filled in by the prosecutors.

Then, even though Ziyad was not in any of these tape recordings, the prosecutors kept bringing up his name and showing his picture while the tape recordings were being played, while the jury were reading a fabricated filled in transcript by the prosecutors. Not only that, the prosecutors kept showing pictures of jihadis beheading and killing people.

“So an uninformed jury, not well educated, not traveled and elderly people who some of them mind you, can barely walk and keep awake, were anxious of getting this ordeal over and in favor of whom, of course, the well convincing prosecutors,” Laila concluded.

“Nobody should feign surprise or shock, it is painfully obvious that this is about cops and prosecutors trying to make a name for themselves when in fact, they had to rely on the anti-Islam hysteria that has gripped this nation for years now. In other words, they took the easy road toward conviction using full advantage of public ignorance and blind faith; two very dangerous commodities in this day and age. I find no honor in this and suspect future generations will look back at this time as a renaissance of the Salem Witch Trials,” writes Tim King of Salem News.

“The War on Terrorism has created a breeding ground wherein racists, political pundits, religious zealots, and more have been the catalysts of impregnating the general American mind with detrimental emotions and thoughts that challenge those founding principles,” writes Siraj Davis. “Ziyad Yaghi is a victim, not only because he is innocent of the charges against him, but because our silence allowed it.”

“Why would my own country do this to my son and I?” Laila weeps.

“Nights seem to not end with the nightmares of my son cooped up in a tiny cell! In the morning, the first thing that comes to my mind is that my son is in jail and when I sleep that is the last thing I pray for which is his release! All my senses are abused and hurt by what has happened to my son and until this ends and my son is out, I will continue to scream that this is a grave injustice that has happened to us just because we are Muslims.”

“I wake up every morning as if I were dead but I am still counted as alive. I wake up hoping that this world never existed that there was no such thing as life! In spite of all this pain, I have to pull all my shattered pieces together and go to work,” Laila sighed.
Ziyad Yaghi 51771-056
Federal Correctional Complex-USP-2
PO Box 1034
Coleman, FL 33521-0879

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The roots of Iraqi resistance


From the ANSWER Coalition archives

From the ANSWER Archives:

March 19, 2014, marks the 11th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. During the next weeks the newsletter will feature key articles from the ANSWER Coalition archives that ANSWER and associated groups published before and during the invasion, and throughout the U.S. occupation of Iraq. This is a critical period of U.S. history and the voices of those who led the mass anti-war and anti-occupation movement during this period are largely erased from the U.S. mainstream media. Please read and share this important article originally published in May 2008 about a key moment in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Share it with young people who were not yet teenagers when the Bush administration invaded Iraq in one of the greatest war crimes in modern history.

By Michael Prysner
Originally published on May 9, 2008

The writer is an Iraq war veteran.

I clearly remember the first children I saw in Iraq. They were digging through a burning pile of trash, pulling out discarded food packages and stomping out the flames before searching inside. In those first days of the invasion, I thought maybe we would be bringing some type of relief to the poverty that existed. Instead, unemployment in Iraq has soared to roughly 70 percent. Those who do work not only suffer from low wages but must work under a brutal occupation where simply traveling to work can leave you imprisoned, disabled or dead.

Rummaging through garbage as a means of survival has become a harsh reality for the people of Iraq, but their struggle for survival goes beyond enduring hunger and poverty. On May 4—over five years later—three children rummaged through a pile of trash in Baghdad’s impoverished Madinat al-Sadr district, looking for empty bottles they could sell. As they searched through the garbage, a U.S. helicopter swooped overhead and unleashed its machine guns. The bullets, designed to demolish buildings and vehicles, tore through their bodies. They died on the pile of trash they had hoped would feed their families.

The occupation of Iraq has not only brought unrelenting violence to the region, but has also plunged the country into poverty. According to a 2007 Oxfam report, nearly half of the Iraqi population lives in “absolute poverty,” with up to 8 million Iraqis requiring immediate emergency aid. Their report declared, “Iraqis are suffering from a growing lack of food, shelter, water and sanitation, health care, education, and employment.”

Oppression breeds resistance

Deep poverty combined with the daily violence and repression of an occupying army culminated in the development of the guerrilla resistance. The U.S. corporate media—the mouthpiece for the banks, the Pentagon, and Wall Street—has scrambled to define the Iraqi resistance on their own terms. They have attributed the violence in Iraq to al-Qaeda, loyalty to Saddam Hussein or “radical Islam” to name but a few. The overall message is that the U.S. military is meeting resistance because of cultural backwardness, not the material conditions in Iraq created by the United States.

CNN recently ran a story on educational classes given to detained resistance fighters in Iraq. Wolf Blitzer explained, “We’ll look at how we are breaking them of their anti-U.S. hatred.” It is implicitly understood that the resistance movement in Iraq is driven by ignorance, and those who resist the occupation have not yet had the epiphany that submission to the United States will bring peace and prosperity. The armed struggle of the Iraqis is portrayed as idealist in nature, not an inevitable result of the material realities of occupation and oppression in Iraq.

The true causes of the Iraqi resistance can be found in V.I. Lenin’s writings on the liberation of oppressed nations, still relevant nearly a century later: “Imperialism is forcing the masses into this struggle by sharpening class antagonisms to an immense degree, by worsening the conditions of the masses both economically—trusts and high cost of living, and politically—growth of militarism, frequent wars, increase of reaction, strengthening and extension of national oppression and colonial plunder.”

To understand the resistance, it is vital to grasp that Iraqis did not choose to fight against the occupation; they were forced into it by the economic conditions created by over a decade of sanctions, the devastation of war, imperialist plunder and the political conditions under the occupation. Iraq’s long history of resistance is deeply ingrained in the consciousness of its people.

The ruling class tries to delegitimize the Iraqi resistance, claiming that the Iraqi people do in fact have political power and can make their voices heard through the “democratic process.” The notion that such “democracy” will solve the problems of the Iraqi people is a travesty—no democratic facade built under occupation will give the Iraqis the power to vote imperialist troops out of their country.

Sectarian violence a product of occupation

Washington set up the Iraqi government not so that it would serve the interests of the Iraqi people, but so that it would facilitate and manage imperialist interests within Iraq. U.S. officials intentionally designed the new Iraqi government to create conflict among the Iraqi population.

In violation of the International Humanitarian Law, the Bush administration established Iraqi political institutions based on sectarian and ethnic division. Dr. Saeed Hasan Almusawi, former Iraqi representative to the United Nations, asserts that “this policy intended to change the identity of Iraqis from the national one to [an] ethnic and sectarian one [and to] incite sectarian violence and destroy the social fabric of Iraqi Society.”

This policy was codified in the U.S.-backed Iraqi Constitution, which divided Iraq into three separate regions on a sectarian basis. The aim of the imperialists is to characterize the resistance in Iraq as anything but a national liberation struggle, and to dismantle any hint of a national identity.

The United States has used these sectarian wedges to promote the racist idea that the Iraqi people would simply slaughter each other if U.S. forces were to withdraw; in reality, sectarian strife would not exist had it not been actively fostered by the occupation. As a U.S. military study “discovered” in November 2007, “Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of ‘occupying forces’ as the key to national reconciliation.” (Washington Post, Dec. 19, 2007)

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr broke it down bluntly: “The occupation is trying to divide Sunnis and Shias. It is trying to drive a wedge between Sadris and the Sunnis. I love the Sunnis. I am a Shia, but we are all Iraqis.” (Al Jazeera, April 2)

Sadr and his Mahdi Army have vacillated between all-out resistance and compromise with the occupation. Nevertheless, his calls for national unity and the end of the occupation have resonated strongly with Iraqis and led to major confrontations with U.S. and Iraqi forces, whose strategy rests on the division of the Iraqi people.

The people of Iraq have every right to resist the occupation, and to liberate their country from national oppression. U.S. workers fighting for jobs, education, and health care have the duty to support the Iraqi resistance against the occupation that has destroyed their economy, schools and hospitals. Soldiers in the U.S. military, many of whom join to escape economic hardship, must realize that their fight is not against Iraq’s suffering poor, but against the billionaires who sent them to fight for profits. Activists truly committed to end the war must stand in solidarity with the people of Iraq, who are engaged in a heroic fight against imperialism under the most adverse circumstances.

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‘US, EU staged classic regime change in Ukraine’

RT interview with Brian Becker

The following interview of ANSWER Coalition National Coordinator Brian Becker was conducted by RT

The EU and US have carried out a classic coup d’état in Ukraine using ultra-right forces as human material, anti-war activist Brian Becker told RT. And cementing that victory with an IMF aid package would place Ukraine on a Greek path into Europe.

RT: The US and the EU are considering providing Ukraine with billions of dollars of financial aid. Do you think this will be effective considering the current climate in the country?

Brian Becker: Well the aid package comes because the United States and the EU have staged what is really a classic coup d’état ousting the elected government in Ukraine and carrying out the regime change which we felt was their agenda from the beginning ever since November when the EU gave Ukraine an ultimatum: “Are you with the EU, are you going to integrate into the EU – which of course eventually means integration into NATO – or are you with Russia?”

They were the ones who provoked this crisis, the protests started afterwards. A classic coup d’état has taken place. A rump session of parliament has ousted the existing, constitutionally-elected president. And now there is a reign of terror by semi-fascist and ultra-right groups against others.

So the aid package has to be seen in that context. Behind the aid package, which is designed to stabilize Ukraine as it integrates into the planned integration into the EU, is austerity measures that are really going to hurt the Ukrainian people, especially working people and the poor. That is the real path into the EU. It’s not going to be the German path. It will be the Greek path for Ukraine.

RT: Catherine Ashton is in Kiev right now and a number of US top officials are set to visit the country in the coming days. What does Brussels and the US hope to achieve during those visits?

BB: Well they are basically taking over. The human material has been far-right parties. Of course many citizens have legitimate grievances against the Yanukovich government, there is an intertanglement of all that, but the main vanguard of this movement was the ultra-right, semi-fascist, and hard right but they have had wind in their cells because of the intervention of the EU and the European governments and the US.

Anti-government protesters hold shields as they guard the Ukrainian Parliament building in Kiev February 22, 2014. (Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko)

And of course they are there now to show the new government, the coup d’état, that “we the West with all of our vast power, our banks, our military, our intelligence agencies, we are with you.” This is designed to shore up those that have taken the power in Ukraine against what may be the next stage of the struggle against those who wanted to go on a different path, who had historically closer relations to Russia or who don’t want just to be minions of the EU and the imperialist powers of the West.

RT: If you look at the beginning of all this, this has kind of started as Ukraine and their relationship with the EU, Brussels now says it will not be signing a trade agreement with Ukraine for now and will wait for the outcome of May’s elections. What are the chances of the deal being sealed then?

BB: The EU is playing with carrots and sticks. There is economic integration, which is going to mean that big parts of Ukraine’s working population will see a deterioration in their living style. The fantasy about entering Europe, with streets being lined with gold, that is a fantasy because the real project is the IMF-based austerity program. They can’t fully implement that program right at the moment because it will be a stark reminder of or a confrontation with the reality that integration into the EU will be a bad deal for many, many Ukrainians, millions of them.

So they may want to hold off for a few months in order to try and stabilize the situation politically. Now that they ousted the existing government, carried out the regime change in this important country in that it’s historically tied to Russia – 46 million people, the second-biggest military in Europe – they want to hold off because that economic program has a lot of sticks, not just carrots, mostly sticks for the poor and working people of Ukraine.

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We stand with the Bolivarian Revolution


Statement from the ANSWER Coalition

Massive march in support of the government

The ANSWER Coalition extends its full solidarity to the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro, and the masses of people who are courageously defending their revolution from U.S.-backed violence and destabilization. We demand that the U.S. government immediately end all interference in Venezuela and respect the people’s democratic choice and right to self-determination.

Beginning earlier this month, an extreme, fascist element of the opposition launched a wave of violence aimed at destabilizing the country and provoking a coup to remove democratically-elected President Nicolás Maduro. Demonstrations in support of the government have been attacked, and barricades guarded by armed gangs of opposition supporters have severely disrupted life in many major cities. Many government supporters have been murdered by these gangs, and others have died because of road accidents or being unable to receive medical attention because of the blockades.

The corporate media in both Venezuela and the United States, as well as the U.S. government, have been working hard to spread lies about the character of these demonstrations, in line with their overarching goal of assisting the overthrow of the Bolivarian Revolution. It is critical to understand that these protests do not represent the progressive demands of poor and working people, but the desperate, violent actions of a tiny group in society that is terrified of losing the wealth and power it has accumulated through centuries of exploitation. These groups receive regular infusions of millions of dollars from the U.S. government to keep their isolated organizations alive.

This violence has been exacerbated by what is accurately called an “economic war” being waged by Venezuelan capitalists, who are hoarding goods and inflating the country’s currency to artificially induce inflation and shortages. Again, this is being spun by the global corporate media, which falsely portrays the situation as an economic crisis caused by the government’s policies.

The attempt by U.S. imperialism to overthrow the Bolivarian revolutionary government in Venezuela must be seen in the broader historical pattern of intervention in Latin America. There has not been a single instance in the last century where the United States did not utilize its economic, political and military power in an effort to defeat, subvert or overthrow progressive movements and governments in Latin America.

In 1954, the CIA overthrew the progressive government of Árbenz in Guatemala. In 1961, the U.S. led a proxy invasion into Cuba and has maintained an economic blockade since. The U.S. government supported the fascist military government in Brazil to defeat the left. The CIA led the economic destabilization and eventual overthrow of the socialist Salvador Allende government of Chile in 1973. When the Sandinistas took power in 1979 after toppling the Somoza dictatorship, the U.S. government launched the so-called Contra War until the Sandinistas were finally ejected from power. It was the CIA working with the Salvadoran military that killed tens of thousands in El Salvador. In 1983, the U.S. government invaded Grenada and in 1989 it invaded Panama. Each and every intervention is given a new rationale, but the bottom line is that U.S. banks and the Military-Industrial Complex want to completely dominate Latin America’s land, labor and natural resources.

The ANSWER Coalition is committed to demonstrating our solidarity with the Venezuelan people and their government not only in words, but in the streets. We have already initiated and participated in protests across the country, often confronting supporters of the fascist opposition.

Read reports from actions in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 15again in D.C. on Feb. 19, Chicago on Feb. 22 and Los Angeles on Feb. 23.

We will continue to take to the streets and demand “U.S. hands off Venezuela!” Long live the Bolivarian Revolution!

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The Moazzam Begg Arrest: Part of the Effort to Criminalize Muslim Political Dissent


Moazzam Begg, a native-born British citizen of Pakistani descent, spent three years incarcerated in the most notorious detention camps created in the post-9/11 “War on Terror”: all without ever being charged with any crime.

Arrested in Pakistan in 2002, he was transferred to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, where he suffered torture and witnessed U.S. interrogators beat an innocent taxi driver to death, and then onwards to Guantanamo Bay where he would be detained for the next three years in conditions he’d describe as “torturous”.

Throughout this time Begg, now 45, was repeatedly deprived of legal counsel and was prohibited from even viewing the alleged evidence against him. After public outcry in his home country resulted in his repatriation to England in 2005, Begg went on to become a human rights activist — writing books, and advocating for other post-9/11 detainees through his organization Cageprisoners, whose self-described mission is: “working to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror”; “campaigning against the War on Terror”; and “working with survivors of abuse and mistreatment across the globe.”

Much of this work has included investigating the claims of others who were tortured with the complicity of the British government. It is in retaliation for this activism, he says, that he has been repeatedly harassed, including repeated interrogations and the confiscation of his passport last December at Heathrow Airport, when agents told him it was “not in the public interest” for him to retain it. In an article he published about that incident, Begg two weeks ago wrote: “I am certain that the only reason I am being continually harassed….[is because of] investigations and assertions based on hard evidence that British governments, past and present, have been wilfully complicit in torture.”

On Tuesday, Begg was arrested in an “anti-terror raid” on his home outside Birmingham, charged with “terrorism” offenses for having allegedly traveled to Syria to assist Syrian rebels. He was among four other people arrested that day, all due to Syria-related offences.

Curiously, however, Begg’s last visit to Syria was in the relatively distant past. He visited the country last in December 2012 — for what he said were advocacy purposes and to continue his investigation on torture victims renditioned to the country by Western intelligence agencies. Several individuals of Syrian descent were notoriously renditioned to the Assad regime by the U.S. for interrogation and torture, including the Canadian citizen Maher Arar, whose treatment resulted in a formal apology from the Canadian government and compensation of close to $10 million.

Crucially, it appears that Begg was given explicit permission to take this trip to Syria by Britain’s MI5. In his last article, he described:

[I]n October 2012, I was called by an MI5 officer who said they wanted to talk to me about my views on the situation in Syria…I agreed to speak to them and meet at a hotel in East London. Both MI5 and I had our lawyers present. At the end of the meeting I was assured by MI5 that my proposed return to Syria to continue my work would not be hindered, and it wasn’t.

This raises the obvious question: if the British government had concerns about his involvement with militant groups in Syria, why did it specifically meet with him to green-light his trip there? Furthermore, if his arrest was related to his December 2012 trip, why would the government wait more than a year to arrest him for it?

That’s all independent of the bizzare spectacle of charging someone with “terrorism” offenses for allegedly helping rebels which the U.S. government itself is aiding and for whom intervention was advocated by the U.S. president as recently as last year. Indeed, in 2012, the year Begg made his trip, the widespread view in the West of Syrian rebels was that they were noble freedom-fighters who deserved as much help as possible, not “terrorists” whom the law made it a crime to assist. In the same year another major visiting supporter to the opposition movement was John McCain – an indication of how much mainstream Western support the uprising enjoyed at the time.

Begg has long been a vituperative critic of the British government’s conduct during the War on Terror but throughout this time he has always been a public figure under constant media and government scrutiny. The notion that he’d be able to engage in terrorism surreptitiously on a trip sanctioned by MI5 — then hide this for over a year — seems dubious in the extreme.

While the timing of his arrest makes little evident sense from a national security perspective, it does appear to correspond remarkably to his advocacy work. Cageprisoners’s media officer, Cerie Bullivant, yesterday noted: “Moazzam has been very open about his international travel and his objectives, including importantly exposing British complicity in rendition and torture. …[T]he timing [of his arrest] coincides with the planned release of a CAGE report on Syria and a major news piece that was due to be televised soon.”

In his last, seemingly prescient Facebook post, published just hours before his arrest, Begg wrote: Sometimes knowing too much can be a curse.” UK-based human rights investigator Nawaz Hanif told The Intercept that the charges against Begg are a transparent attempt at silencing political dissent:

The arrest of Moazzam Begg under British anti-terror laws is eerily similar to the detention of David Miranda a few months ago – both utilizing vague terror allegations to stifle investigations into abuses of power….It is pertinent to ask British authorities why Moazzam is being arrested a day before his report on torture and rendition is to be released, and over a year since he last stepped foot in Syria.”

This explanation is all the more credible given the exploitation of terrorism charges by both the U.S. and UK governments throughout the post-9/11 era. There has been a consistent attempt by government authorities to stifle political activism among those criticizing civil rights abuses as well as foreign military expansionism. Predominantly, the brunt of this suppression has focused on Muslim minority communities in the West.

The No Separate Justice campaign, along with the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, have documented numerous cases of Muslim political activists who have been arrested and detained for their public criticisms of the conduct of the War on Terror — usually under the guise of highly-tendentious terrorism charges. Individuals such as Tarek MehannaFahad HashmiJubair AhmadEmerson Winfield Begolly, and others have come to the attention of authorities for their highly public expressions of dissent, charged with terrorism, and then handed long prison sentences under extreme circumstances of incarceration rivaling those at Guantanamo.

The largest civil rights organization in the U.S., CAIR, was smeared by the DOJ in 2003 as an unidicted co-conspirator in a terrorism case (but given no opportunity to contest the innuendo), while the nation’s largest Muslim charity was prosecuted on terrorism charges for the crime of sending money to Palestinians deemed terrorists by the U.S. Government. Federal courts in the U.S., and to a lesser extent in the UK, have been subservient in the extreme to national security claims by the government, all but ensuring that accused Muslims are convicted even when the evidence is at its flimsiest. All of this, coupled with widespread community surveillance, has sent a message that aggressive political dissent among Muslims will not be tolerated and can easily be criminalized as “terrorism”.

For his part — and despite his horrific experiences — Begg has always maintained that whatever animosity he has felt has not been towards America but to the government which abused him, saying in a 2006 interview: “I’m absolutely clear in my mind that there are a great number of American soldiers who are good, decent people. … Do I hate Americans? No. Do I hate the administration? I think unreservedly.”

While government suppression of activists usually begins by targeting unpopular minority groups such as Muslims, it is clear that the dragnet is already beginning to expand, as exemplified by the recent threats and detentions of journalistswhistleblowers and other activist groups under terrorism laws.

The arrest of one of the West’s most prominent Muslim war on terror critics is almost certain to further stifle political activism within the Muslim community and more broadly as well.  Utilizing extremely dubious terrorism charges against domestic dissidents has been a hallmark of the national security state in the post-9/11 era. That such tactics are commonly condemned when implemented by authoritarian governments such as China,Egypt and Russia – and yet enthusiastically implemented at home with little objection – exemplifies the corrosive measures and accompanying mentality which are undermining the foundations of Western freedoms.

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Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine


“In the upside-down world that has become the U.S. news media, the democratically elected president was a dictator and the coup makers who overthrew the popularly chosen leader were ‘pro-democracy’ activists,” writes Parry. (Photo: DPA) There was always a measure of hypocrisy but Official Washington used to at least pretend to stand for “democracy,” rather than taking such obvious pleasure in destabilizing elected governments, encouraging riots, overturning constitutional systems and then praising violent putsches.

But events in Ukraine and Venezuela suggest that the idea of respecting the results of elections and working within legal, albeit flawed, political systems is no longer in vogue, unless the “U.S. side” happens to win, of course. If the “U.S. side” loses, then it’s time for some “shock doctrine.” And, of course, the usual demonizing of the “enemy” leader.

Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovych was surely no one’s idea of a pristine politician, though it looks like there are few to none of those in Ukraine, a country essentially controlled by a collection of billionaire oligarchs who jockey for power and shift their allegiances among corrupt politicians.

But Yanukovych was elected in what was regarded as a reasonably fair election in 2010. Indeed, some international observers called the election an important step toward establishing an orderly political process in Ukraine.

But Yanukovych sought to maintain cordial relations with neighboring Russia, which apparently rubbed American neocons the wrong way. Official Washington’s still-influential neocons have been livid with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin because he cooperated with U.S. President Barack Obama in averting U.S. wars against Iran and Syria.

In both cases, the neocons thought they had maneuvered Obama into confrontations that could have advanced their long-term strategy of “regime change” across the Middle East, a process that started in 2003 with the U.S. invasion of Iraq but stalled with that disastrous war.

However, last year, prospects for more U.S. military interventions in two other target countries – Iran and Syria – were looking up, as Israel joined with Saudi Arabia in stoking regional crises that would give Obama no choice but to launch American air strikes, against Iran’s nuclear facilities and against Syrian government targets.

Putin’s Interference

That strategy was going swimmingly until Putin helped bring Iran to the negotiating table over guarantees that its nuclear program would not lead to a nuclear weapon. Putin also brokered a deal to avert threatened U.S. air strikes on Syria over disputed evidence regarding who launched a chemical attack on civilians outside Damascus. Putin got the Syrian government to agree to eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal.

So, Putin found himself in the center of the neocons’ bulls-eye and – given some of his own unforced errors such as defending Russia’s intolerance toward gays and spending excessively on the Sochi Olympics – he became the latest “designated villain,” denounced and ridiculed across the neocon-dominated op-ed pages of the Washington Post and other major news outlets.

“The idea seems to be to cement in the minds of impressionable Americans that it is okay for the U.S. government to support the overthrow of democratically elected presidents if they have flaws.”

Even NBC, from its treasured spot as the network of the Olympic Games, felt it had no choice but todenounce Putin in an extraordinary commentary delivered by anchor Bob Costas. Once the demonizing ball gets rolling everyone has to join in or risk getting run over, too.

All of which set the stage for Ukraine. The issue at hand was whether Yanukovych should accept a closer relationship with the European Union, which was demanding substantial economic “reforms,” including an austerity plan dictated by the International Monetary Fund. Yanukovych balked at the harsh terms and turned to Ukraine’s neighbor Russia, which was offering a $15 billion loan and was keeping Ukraine’s economy afloat with discounted natural gas.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether the EU was driving too hard a bargain or whether Ukraine should undertake such painful economic “reforms” – or how Yanukovych should have balanced the interests of his divided country, with the east dominated by ethnic Russians and the west leaning toward Europe.

But protesters from western Ukraine, including far-right nationalists, sought to turn this policy dispute into a means for overthrowing the elected government. Police efforts to quell the disturbances turned violent, with the police not the only culprits. Police faced armed neo-Nazi storm troopers who attacked with firebombs and other weapons.

Though the U.S. news media did show scenes of these violent melees, the U.S. press almost universally blamed Yanukovych – and took almost gleeful pleasure as his elected government collapsed and was replaced by thuggish right-wing militias “guarding” government buildings.

With Yanukovych and many of his supporters fleeing for their lives, the opposition parties seized control of parliament and began passing draconian new laws often unanimously, as neo-Nazi thugs patrolled the scene. Amazingly, the U.S. news media treated all this as uplifting, a popular uprising against a tyrant, not a case of a coup government operating in collusion with violent extremists.

In the upside-down world that has become the U.S. news media, the democratically elected president was a dictator and the coup makers who overthrew the popularly chosen leader were “pro-democracy” activists.

A Curious History

There’s also a curious history behind U.S. attitudes toward ethnically divided Ukraine. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency – as he escalated Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union – one of his propaganda services, Radio Liberty, began broadcasting commentaries into Ukraine from right-wing exiles.

Some of the commentaries praised Ukrainian nationalists who had sided with the Nazis in World War II as the SS waged its “final solution” against European Jews. The propaganda broadcasts provoked outrage from Jewish organizations, such as B’nai B’rith, and individuals including conservative academic Richard Pipes.

According to an internal memo dated May 4, 1984, and written by James Critchlow, a research officer at the Board of International Broadcasting, which managed Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe, one RL broadcast in particular was viewed as “defending Ukrainians who fought in the ranks of the SS.”

Critchlow wrote, “An RL Ukrainian broadcast of Feb. 12, 1984 contains references to the Nazi-oriented Ukrainian-manned SS ‘Galicia’ Division of World War II which may have damaged RL’s reputation with Soviet listeners. The memoirs of a German diplomat are quoted in a way that seems to constitute endorsement by RL of praise for Ukrainian volunteers in the SS division, which during its existence fought side by side with the Germans against the Red Army.”

Harvard Professor Pipes, who was an informal adviser to the Reagan administration, also inveighed against the RL broadcasts, writing – on Dec. 3, 1984 – “the Russian and Ukrainian services of RL have been transmitting this year blatantly anti-Semitic material to the Soviet Union which may cause the whole enterprise irreparable harm.”

Though the Reagan administration publicly defended RL against some of the public criticism, privately some senior officials agreed with the critics, according to documents in the archives of the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. For instance, in a Jan. 4, 1985, memo, Walter Raymond Jr., a top official on the National Security Council, told his boss, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, that “I would believe much of what Dick [Pipes] says is right.”

This three-decade-old dispute over U.S.-sponsored radio broadcasts underscores the troubling political reality of Ukraine, which straddles a dividing line between people with cultural ties oriented toward the West and those with a cultural heritage more attuned to Russia. Though the capital Kiev sits in a region dominated by the western Ukrainians, the Russian-allied Ukrainians represent most of the population, explaining Yanukovych’s electoral victory.

Loving a Putsch

Now, right-wing militias, representing those historical resentments toward the Russians and hostility toward the Jews, have seized control of many government buildings in Kiev. Faced with this intimidation, the often-unanimous decisions by the remaining legislators would normally be viewed with extreme skepticism, including their demands for the capture and likely execution of Yanukovych.

But the U.S. press corps can’t get beyond its demonization of Putin and Yanukovych. The neocon Washington Post has been almost euphoric over the coup, as expressed in a Feb. 24 editorial:

“Ukraine has shaken off its corrupt president and the immediate prospect of domination by Russia — but at the risk of further conflict. The decision by Viktor Yanukovych to flee Kiev over the weekend triggered the disintegration of his administration and prompted parliament to replace him and schedule elections for May.

“The moves were democratic — members of Mr. Yanukovych’s party joined in the parliamentary votes — but they had the effect of nullifying an accord between the former government and opposition that had been brokered by the European Union and tacitly supported by Russia.

“Kiev is now controlled by pro-Western parties that say they will implement the association agreement with the European Union that Mr. Yanukovych turned away from three months ago, triggering the political crisis.

“There remain two big threats to this positive outcome. One is that Ukraine’s finances will collapse in the absence of a bailout from Russia or the West. The other is that the country will split along geographic lines as Russian speakers in the east of the country, perhaps supported by Moscow, reject the new political order.”

The Post continued, “What’s not clear is whether Mr. Putin would accept a Ukraine that is not under the Kremlin’s thumb. The first indications are not good: Though Mr. Putin has been publicly silent about Ukraine since Friday, the rhetoric emanating from his government has been angry and belligerent. A foreign ministry statement Monday alleged that ‘a course has been set to use dictatorial and sometimes terrorist methods to suppress dissenters in various regions.’”

So, the Washington Post’s editors consider the violent overthrow of a democratically elected president to be “democratic” and take comfort in “democratic” actions by a legislature, despite the curious lack of any no votes and the fact that this balloting has occurred under the watchful eye of neo-Nazi storm troopers patrolling government offices. And, according to the Post, the Russian government is unhinged to detect “dictatorial and sometimes terrorist methods.”

The New York Times editorial page was only slightly less celebratory, proclaiming: “The venal president of Ukraine is on the run and the bloodshed has stopped, but it is far too early to celebrate or to claim that the West has ‘won’ or that Russia has ‘lost.’ One incontrovertible lesson from the events in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, is that the deeply divided country will have to contend with dangerous problems that could reverberate beyond its borders.”

There has been, of course, a long and inglorious history of the U.S. government supporting the overthrow of elected governments: Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, Allende in Chile in 1973, Aristide in Haiti twice, Chavez in Venezuela briefly in 2002, Zelaya in Honduras in 2009, Morsi in Egypt in 2013, and others. After Yanukovych, the next target of these U.S.-embraced “democratic” coups looks to be Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela.

In these cases, it is typical for the mainstream U.S. news media to obsess over perceived flaws in the ousted leaders. On Wednesday, for instance, the New York Times made much of an unfinished presidential palace in Ukraine, calling it “a fugitive leader’s folly.” The idea seems to be to cement in the minds of impressionable Americans that it is okay for the U.S. government to support the overthrow of democratically elected presidents if they have flaws.

The outcomes for the people of these countries that are “saved” from their imperfect leaders, however, often tend to be quite ugly. Usually, they experience long periods of brutal repression at the hands of dictators, but that typically happens outside the frame of the U.S. news media’s focus or interest. Those unhappy countries fade from view almost as quickly as they were thrust to center stage, next to the demonization of their elected leaders.

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Documents Say Navy Knew Fukushima Dangerously Contaminated the USS Reagan


A stunning new report indicates the U.S. Navy knew that sailors from the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan took major radiation hits from the Fukushima atomic power plant after its meltdowns and explosions nearly three years ago.

Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) conduct a counter-measure wash down on the flight deck to remove potential radiation contamination while operating off the coast of Japan providing humanitarian assistance in support of Operation Tomodachi, March 22, 2011. Picture taken March 22, 2011.

If true, the revelations cast new light on the $1 billion lawsuit filed by the sailors against Tokyo Electric Power. Many of the sailors are already suffering devastating health impacts, but are being stonewalled by Tepco and the Navy.

The Reagan had joined several other U.S. ships in Operation Tomodachi (“Friendship”) to aid victims of the March 11, 2011 quake and tsunami. Photographic evidence and first-person testimony confirms that on March 12, 2011 the ship was within two miles of FukushimaDai’ichi as the reactors there began to melt and explode.

In the midst of a snow storm, deck hands were enveloped in a warm cloud that came with a metallic taste. Sailors testify that the Reagan’s 5,500-member crew was told over the ship’s intercom to avoid drinking or bathing in desalinized water drawn from a radioactive sea. The huge carrier quickly ceased its humanitarian efforts and sailed 100 miles out to sea, where newly published internal Navy communications confirm it was still taking serious doses of radioactive fallout.

Scores of sailors from the Reagan and other ships stationed nearby now report a wide range of ailments reminiscent of those documented downwind from atomic bomb tests in the Pacific and Nevada, and at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. A similar metallic taste was described by pilots who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and by central Pennsylvanians downwind of Three Mile Island. Some parts of the atolls downwind from the South Pacific bomb tests remain uninhabitable six decades later.

Among the 81 plaintiffs in the federal class action are a sailor who was pregnant during the mission, and her “Baby A.G.,” born that October with multiple genetic mutations.

Officially, Tepco and the Navy say the dose levels were safe.

But a stunning new report by an American scholar based in Tokyo confirms that Naval officers communicated about what they knew to be the serious irradiation of the Reagan. Written by Kyle Cunningham and published in Japan Focus, Mobilizing Nuclear Bias” describes the interplay between the U.S. and Japanese governments as Fukushima devolved into disaster.

Cunningham writes that transcribed conversations obtained through the Freedom of Information Act feature naval officials who acknowledge that even while 100 miles away from Fukushima, the Reagan’s readings “compared to just normal background [are] about 30 times what you would detect just on a normal air sample out to sea.”

On the nuclear-powered carrier “all of our continuous monitors alarmed at the same level, at this value. And then we took portable air samples on the flight deck and got the same value,” the transcript says.

Serious fallout was also apparently found on helicopters coming back from relief missions. One unnamed U.S. government expert is quoted in the Japan Focus article as saying:

At 100 meters away it (the helicopter) was reading 4 sieverts per hour. That is an astronomical number and it told me, what that number means to me, a trained person, is there is no water on the reactor cores and they are just melting down, there is nothing containing the release of radioactivity. It is an unmitigated, unshielded number. (Confidential communication, Sept. 17, 2012).

The transcript then contains discussion of health impacts that could come within a matter of “10 hours. It’s a thyroid issue.”

Tepco and the Navy contend the Reagan did not receive a high enough dose to warrant serious concern. But Japan, South Korea and Guam deemed the carrier too radioactive to enter their ports. Stock photographs show sailors working en masse to scrub the ship down.

The $4.3 billion boat is now docked in San Diego. Critics question whether it belongs there at all. Attempts to decontaminate U.S. ships irradiated during the Pacific nuclear bombs tests from 1946-1963 proved fruitless. Hundreds of sailors were exposed to heavy doses of radiation, but some ships had to be sunk anyway.

Leaks at the Fukushima site continue to worsen. Despite its denials, Tepco recently admitted it had underestimated certain radiation releases by a factor of 500 percent. A new report indicates that particles of radioactive Cesium 134 from Fukushima have been detected in the ocean off the west coast of North America.

Global concerns continue to rise about Fukushima’s on-going crises with liquid leaks, the troubled removal of radioactive fuel rods, the search for three missing melted cores, organized crime influence at the site and much more. The flow of information has been seriously darkened by the pro-nuclear Abe Administration’s State Secrets Act, which imposes major penalties on those who might report what happens at Fukushima.

But if this new evidence holds true, it means that the Navy knew the Ronald Reagan was being plastered with serious radioactive fallout and it casts the accident in a light even more sinister than previously believed.

The stricken sailors are barred from suing the Navy, and their case against Tepco will depend on a series of complex international challenges.

But one thing is certain: neither they nor the global community have been getting anything near the full truth about Fukushima.

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In Crimea, Pro-Russian Dissent Exposes Ukraine Complexities


Armed men storm parliament building as those opposed to ‘coup’ in Kiev raise their voice… and the stakes

– Jon Queally

A Pro-Russia activist gives participants in the protest outside Crimea’s parliament building Russian patriotic ‘St George’ ribbons on 27 February 2014. (Photograph: Arthur Shwartz/EPA)As ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has reportedly surfaced in Russia, Crimean residents opposed to his ouster and the interim government taking shape in the western capital city of Kiev are rising up in opposition to what they call a ‘coup’ orchestrated by anti-democratic elements, western interference, and neo-fascists.

On Thursday morning, armed men stormed the Crimean parliament building in the city of Simferopol. After seizing the adminstrative buildings a Russian flag was raised and large crowds were reported gathering outside, voicing pro-Russian sentiments and decrying the ouster of the democratically-elected Yanukovych.

Harriet Salem, reporting for the Guardian in Simferopol, said pro-Russian supporters gathered to show support for the gunmen who seized the parliament buildings. She said:

The police have left the outside of the buildings and a pro-Russian leader gave a speech, which was shown on TV, mobilising people to come to the parliament. There are a lot of Russian flags, about 100 people outside and more and more arriving.

Later, the Guardian, which continues its live coverage here, updated their reporting to say the crowd had grown to more than 1,000 people and was still increasing.

As this tweet from ITV foreign editor James Mates shows:

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, according to Reuters, called the seizure of government buildings in the Crimea a “very dangerous game”.

“This is a drastic step, and I’m warning those who did this and those who allowed them to do this, because this is how regional conflicts begin,” he told a news conference.

Meanwhile, separate news reports indicated Yanukovych, who has not been seen since last weekend when he fled Kiev and was last spotted on the Crimean peninsula, is now in Russia.

According to the Associated Press:

A Russian official is quoted as saying that Moscow has accepted the plea of fugitive Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych who had asked for protection.

Three Russian news agencies quoted the unnamed official saying that Yanukovych’s request for protection “was satisfied on the territory of Russia.”

Yanukovych, who fled from Ukraine’s capital Kiev last week, said in the Thursday statement that he still considers himself to be the legitimate leader.

In Kiev, the latest news was that Arseniy Yatseniuk, a leader member of the opposition coalition that ousted Yanukovych, has been appointed as Ukraine’s new prime minister by the interim government. And fellow opposition leader, Vitali Klitschko, has said he will stand for presidential elections set by the opposition forces that have now assumed control.

Lastly, as events unfold and many continue to criticize western media outlets for mischaracterizing or over-simplifying the events in Ukraine, long-time investigative journalist Robert Parry writes that the mainstream press in the U.S. has followed a familiar and troubling pattern with its coverage:

Though the U.S. news media did show scenes of [the violent melees that led to his ouster], the U.S. press almost universally blamed [the violence] Yanukovych – and took almost gleeful pleasure as his elected government collapsed and was replaced by thuggish right-wing militias “guarding” government buildings.

With Yanukovych and many of his supporters fleeing for their lives, the opposition parties seized control of parliament and began passing draconian new laws often unanimously, as neo-Nazi thugs patrolled the scene. Amazingly, the U.S. news media treated all this as uplifting, a popular uprising against a tyrant, not a case of a coup government operating in collusion with violent extremists.

In the upside-down world that has become the U.S. news media, the democratically elected president was a dictator and the coup makers who overthrew the popularly chosen leader were “pro-democracy” activists.

What events now unfolding in Crimea seem to represent, is that Ukrainians there are also willing to pick up arms in order to defend their sense of what their country should be. What happens next has become a guessing games with enormous implications.

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