Archive | October 22nd, 2014

“Tell me, are you OK with yourself?”

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Submitted by Maureen Clare Murphy

“How can you raise your weapon at your brother?” asks a new song which aims to challange Israel’s attempts to recruit Palestinian citizens of the state to its occupation army.

Titled “Tell me, are you OK with yourself?” (The Electronic Intifada’s translation), the track was released last week by Ehna TV, an independent Palestinian media group inside present-day Israel.

The video for the track, which can be viewed at the top of this page, shows scenes of singer Mira Azar, wearing a traditional embroidered shawl, in what appears to be a destroyed Palestinian village, as well as archive footage of Israeli violence.

Some of those scenes include slain Jerusalem teenager Muhammad Abu Khudair’sfuneral and Israeli bombing in Gaza and its bloody aftermath, as well as Palestinians fearlessly confronting heavily armed Israeli soldiers.

“Tell me, have you seen the pictures? Tell me, have you heard the news,” the song asks, referring to the terrible atrocities carried out by the military in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“And still you want to serve?” the lyrics, written by Azar, implore.

Sectarianism

The track is the latest cultural intervention pushing back against Israel’s attempts to divide and rule Palestinian citizens by fomenting sectarianism.

Israel’s renewed effort to enlist young Palestinian Christian citizens into its army was the subject of Project X, a short film featuring Omar star Samer Bisharat released earlier this year.

The Electronic Intifada reported earlier this week on denunciations of Nazareth priest Jibril Nadaf’s claims at the United Nations that Israel is the only country in the region where Christians are “not persecuted.”

“He represents no one but himself. The army he wants us to join is the same one shedding the blood of our innocent brothers and sisters — Palestinian blood just like ours,” Yara Salameh, a young Palestinian from the Galilee, told The Electronic Intifada.

Israel has groomed a handful of clergy and members of the Christian community like Nadaf to promote military service among Christians. Recruitment papers have recently been sent to Palestinian Christian youths.

Campaigning

Except for numerically small groups such as the Druze, Palestinian citizens of Israel, who comprise approximately 20 percent of the state’s population, are not required to perform army service.

Yet many state benefits are tied to army service, including employment.

However, the recruitment efforts are being met with resistance by Palestinian students at Israeli universities and anti-enlistment campaigning by Palestinian civil society organizations.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Druze youths are refusing to serve in the army and the state is facing an organized campaign within the community against conscription.

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Four Blackwater mercenaries found guilty of killing Iraqi civilians

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A US federal jury on Wednesday found four Blackwater mercenaries guilty of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians. From left: Paul Slough, Dustin Heard, Nicholas Slatten and Evan Liberty.

A US federal jury on Wednesday found four Blackwater mercenaries guilty of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians. From left: Paul Slough, Dustin Heard, Nicholas Slatten and Evan Liberty.

A federal jury in the United States on Wednesday found four former Blackwater security guards guilty of shootings of over 30 unarmed Iraqis in Baghdad in 2007.

Nicholas Slatten was convicted of first-degree murder and the other three guards — Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard — were found guilty of at least three counts of voluntary manslaughter.

The jury said the criminals acted wildly in the shootings on September 16, 2007, which left 14 people (according to some sources 17) dead and 20 others injured. The incident also triggered international criticism over the role of security contractors.

The four men were convicted on about 30 charges they faced. Slatten faces a life sentence for the murder charge while the other three convicted on manslaughter charges could face some 30 years in prison.

District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth allowed the jury to announce the verdicts, which were issued after a 10-week trial and 28 days of deliberation.

According to prosecutors, Slatten viewed killing Iraqis as “payback for 9/11” and often “deliberately fired his weapon to draw out return fire and instigate gun battles”. The prosecutors also said that Slatten also smashed windscreens of passing cars in Baghdad.

Blackwater Worldwide, which is now known as Academi and is based in McLean, Virginia, is the most notorious private security firm that had operated in Iraq.

Many Iraqis believe the US military allowed Blackwater mercenaries to commit numerous war crimes against their compatriots with impunity.

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Zionist Rat: Rep. Rogers says Snowden should be charged with murder

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Mike Rogers, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee

Zionist Rat Mike Rogers, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee

A senior US congressman says intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden is a “traitor” and should be charged with murder.

“The [US] government has pressed charges on Mr. Snowden,” Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, told a gathering of British MPs and foreign policy professionals in the House of Commons in London on Tuesday.

“We are treating him, as I would argue, the traitor that he is,” the Michigan Republican added. “And by the way, and this is important, I would charge him for murder.”

Snowden, a former contractor with US National Security Agency (NSA), has provided explosive material to the media, exposing the troubling scope and nature of US and UK global and domestic spying programs.

Rogers claimed that the intelligence leaks have led to the deaths of American and British soldiers as “the enemy” was now privy to secret information.

Following the revelations, Snowden fled the United States to avoid espionage charges.

Last year, Russia granted him asylum for one year and in August it extended his permission to stay in the country until August 2017.

“Many don’t find it odd he is in the loving arms of an SVR [Russia’s External Intelligence Service] agent right now in Moscow. I do,” Rogers told the British MPs.

Rogers’ committee is charged with oversight of US spy agencies, including the CIA, NSA and FBI.

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US hypocrisy: Zio-Nazi kills far more civilians than ISIL

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The hypocrisy of Washington is on full display as Nazi, a staunch US ally, has killed far more civilians in Gaza with impunity than ISIL has in Iraq and Syria, a human rights activist says.

“Israel has done far worse than any ISIS or any Daesh. They have made the largest refugee population in the world. They have killed much more people than Daesh,” author and freelance Journalist Siraj Davis told Press TV on Wednesday.

“Israel killed more civilians in one and a half months in Gaza than ISIS or Daesh did in six months in northern Iraq,” he added.

The ISIL (ISIS or Daesh) terrorists, who were initially trained by the CIA in Jordan in 2012 to destabilize the Syrian government, control large parts of Syria and Iraq.

The US and its allies are carrying out airstrikes against the terrorists in order to curb their advances in the region.

The “ultimate goal” of the bombing campaign, according to Davis, is to “control” the terrorist group in “sensitive” areas rather than destroy it.

“I don’t think the US wants to win this war,” he said, adding that, “The majority of the bombings are not occurring in the capital city of ISIS, Raqqa, Syria, (and they are) not occurring in the areas of Iraq where ISIS are.”

“The majority of the bombing sorties are occurring in areas of defense, areas that are threatened by ISIS,” he pointed out.

That, Davis said, indicates that the US wants to “control the threat, it does not want to destroy the threat.”

“The bombing is just to keep ISIS away from targets the US finds sensitive,” he added.

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Chevron Invests in Political Campaigns

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Billionaires, such as the oilmen Koch Brothers, have exploited the bulldozing of campaign-finance laws to press their special interests but publicly traded corporations have been more hesitant, with the notable exception of Chevron, as Michael Winship notes.

By Michael Winship

When the Citizens United decision came down in 2010, many feared the Supreme Court had unleashed vast and unfettered campaign contributions from corporations bent on tightening their hammerlock on government and politics.

That hasn’t happen as much as anticipated – yet. Individual billionaires and millionaires have dominated the scene instead. Perhaps it’s in part because some corporations dipping their toes into new modes of campaign funding have been rebuffed by hostile consumer and stockholder reaction: witness the backlash in 2010 when Target contributed $150,000 to a 501(c)(4) supporting anti-gay rights gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer in Minnesota.

But other corporate giants seem to have no such qualms about negative public feedback. Chevron, for example. Based in California, the multinational energy company is the third largest producer of crude in the world and greedily grateful for ongoing, generous subsidies from Congress.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “In 2013, its revenue topped those of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., Apple Inc. and General Motors Co., trailing only retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and rival Exxon Mobil Corp. … In August, Chevron reported $57.9 billion in revenue for the second quarter, which ended June 30.”

Yes, Chevron has money to burn – look at the millions and millions the company has spent fighting the $9.5 billion in damages they were ordered to pay by the Ecuadorian Supreme Court for pollution of part of the Amazon rainforest. That extravagance extends to electioneering as well, and not only to federal races but right down to a local city council election.

Chevron has made big contributions this campaign cycle to the National Republican Senatorial and Congressional Committees, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Senator John Cornyn, Senate minority whip as well as an influential member of the Senate Finance Committee.

What’s more, the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org reports that Chevron recently donated $1 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, “a conservative super PAC with ties to Karl Rove’s dark money network in early July, a rare instance of a prominent publicly traded company taking advantage of the post-Citizens United rules on corporate involvement in politics. It’s not the first time Chevron has made such a donation — in the 2012 cycle, it gave $2.5 million to the same group…” At the time, the Public Campaign Action Fund noted, “The donation appears to be the largest from a publicly-traded corporation in the post-Citizens United era.”

In the midterms so far, OpenSecrets says “the super PAC has spent just $504,000 on ads, mounting attacks on three Democrats — particularly Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Texas). But CLF has already paid out close to $2.2 million to a media buying firm for ‘pre-payment’ of ads that have yet to run; that money almost certainly will be spent, it’s just a question of when and where.”

One other place we know that Chevron has targeted for its electoral cash largesse is the city of Richmond, California (population 107,571), site of one of the state’s two largest oil refineries – both owned by Chevron.

In August 2012, toxic smoke from a fire at the Richmond refinery (there had been other serious fires in 1989 and 1999) sent 15,000 residents to local hospitals seeking treatment, many of them for respiratory problems. A year later, Chevron paid $2 million in fines and restitution and pled no contest to six charges that included, the Associated Press reported, “failing to correct deficiencies in equipment and failing to require the use of certain equipment to protect employees from potential harm.”

Around the same time as the settlement, Richmond’s City Council decided to file its own suit, accusing Chevron of “a continuation of years of neglect, lax oversight and corporate indifference to necessary safety inspection and repairs.” Fourteen other incidents of toxic gas releases from the refinery since 1989 were cited in the filing.

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, “We owe it to our community to totally ensure their safety and to bring forward and safeguard the rights of our community to live, play and work without the threat of injury because of Chevron and with the threat of Chevron bringing forward yet another incident … due to the lack of safety in their facilities. We really feel strongly. This is serious in Richmond, and we’re not backing down.”

On top of all this, Chevron has long sought approval of a billion-dollar modernization plan for its refinery but had to deal with pressure from local officials for additional air pollution restrictions and other safety requirements. This summer, the city council finally approved the plan when improvements were promised as well as $90 million in “community benefits.”

Presumably, Chevron, vexed by such governmental interference, decided enough was enough. Cue the campaign cash machine. Turn on the pumps.

Harriet Rowan, a first-year student at the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, is an intrepid reporter at the website Richmond Confidential, created by UC/Berkeley to train its journalism students and offer in-depth coverage of Richmond not provided by Bay Area mainstream media. On Oct. 10, Rowan reported, “Chevron has funneled $3 million into a trio of campaign committees to influence the Nov. 4 Richmond city election, including a nearly $1.3 million contribution on Aug. 8, according to newly-filed campaign documents.

“The committees, each a variation of Chevron’s ‘Moving Forward’ campaign, spent about $1.3 million on the Richmond mayoral and city council races as of the end of September, much of it on attack ads targeting local officials who are critical of Chevron’s massive local refinery.”

“Moving Forward” describes itself as “a coalition of labor unions, small businesses, public safety and firefighters associations. Major funding by Chevron” – “Major,” as in 99.7 percent of the money, according to Harriet Rowan. Moving Forward was created after the 2012 fire to advance the oil company’s political interests in Richmond and this year has especially targeted for attack three city council candidates, including Gayle McLaughlin, who cannot run for re-election as mayor but is seeking a council seat.

The assault also has come from a Chevron-funded website called the Richmond Standard, described by Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik as “purporting to be a news portal for residents of Richmond,” but in reality run by “an employee of Chevron’s PR firm named Mike Aldax.”

What’s more, voters allegedly have been subjected to massive “push polling” – that is, telephoned attacks on candidates thinly disguised as opinion surveys. Author, activist and Richmond resident Steve Early writes that one such pollster told him — among other slurs posed as survey questions — that Gayle McLaughlin and fellow council candidate Eduardo Martinez were part of “a group of radicals out of touch with Richmond voters.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Hiltzik estimates that given the dollars being spread around, “Chevron is preparing to spend at least $33 for the vote of every resident of the city 18 or older.” He writes:

“For a corporation to manipulate a municipal election on this scale should be illegal. Chevron may pose as a company enjoying its free speech rights, as secured through the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, but a pincer movement employing pantsfuls of money and misleading, manipulative ‘news’ demonstrates the potential of a big company’s speech to drown out every other voice.”

His words were echoed by independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who visited Richmond last week and said, “We are not living in a democracy when giant corporations like Chevron can buy local governments. That’s called oligarchy, not democracy. We have got to fight back.”

Meanwhile, second graders at Peres Elementary School in Richmond were delighted by the appearance of the Oakland A’s “loveable elephant” Stomper. The mascot arrived in a Chevron car, delivering iPads and other Apple products worth a little under a thousand dollars, courtesy of Chevron’s Fuel Your School program. “The kids were extremely excited,” their teacher said. “There was a lot of laughing.”

At least they can’t vote — yet.

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The Two Sides of the Berlin Wall

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A portion of the Berlin Wall as photographed in 1975, toward the east. (Photo credit: Edward Valachovic)

Historical narratives are often boiled down to simplistic and self-serving storylines that influence how people see the world, when a more sophisticated and fair-minded account would offer a different perspective, as William Blum writes about the Berlin Wall.

By William Blum

November 9 will mark the 25th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The extravagant hoopla began months ago in Berlin. In the United States we can expect all the Cold War clichés about The Free World vs. Communist Tyranny to be trotted out and the simple tale of how the wall came to be will be repeated: In 1961, the East Berlin communists built a wall to keep their oppressed citizens from escaping to West Berlin and freedom. Why? Because commies don’t like people to be free, to learn the “truth.” What other reason could there have been?

First of all, before the wall went up in 1961 thousands of East Germans had been commuting to the West for jobs each day and then returning to the East in the evening; many others went back and forth for shopping or other reasons. So they were clearly not being held in the East against their will. Why then was the wall built? There were two major reasons:

1) The West was bedeviling the East with a vigorous campaign of recruiting East German professionals and skilled workers, who had been educated at the expense of the Communist government. This eventually led to a serious labor and production crisis in the East. As one indication of this, the New York Times reported in 1963: “West Berlin suffered economically from the wall by the loss of about 60,000 skilled workmen who had commuted daily from their homes in East Berlin to their places of work in West Berlin.”

It should be noted that in 1999, USA Today reported: “When the Berlin Wall crumbled [1989], East Germans imagined a life of freedom where consumer goods were abundant and hardships would fade. Ten years later, a remarkable 51% say they were happier with communism.”

Earlier polls would likely have shown even more than 51% expressing such a sentiment, for in the ten years many of those who remembered life in East Germany with some fondness had passed away; although even 10 years later, in 2009, the Washington Post could report: “Westerners [in Berlin] say they are fed up with the tendency of their eastern counterparts to wax nostalgic about communist times.”

It was in the post-unification period that a new Russian and Eastern Europe proverb was born: “Everything the Communists said about Communism was a lie, but everything they said about capitalism turned out to be the truth.”

It should be further noted that the division of Germany into two states in 1949 – setting the stage for 40 years of Cold War hostility – was an American decision, not a Soviet one.

2) During the 1950s, American cold warriors in West Germany instituted a crude campaign of sabotage and subversion against East Germany designed to throw that country’s economic and administrative machinery out of gear. The CIA and other U.S. intelligence and military services recruited, equipped, trained and financed German activist groups and individuals, of West and East, to carry out actions which ran the spectrum from juvenile delinquency to terrorism; anything to make life difficult for the East German people and weaken their support of the government; anything to make the commies look bad.

It was a remarkable undertaking. The United States and its agents used explosives, arson, short circuiting, and other methods to damage power stations, shipyards, canals, docks, public buildings, gas stations, public transportation, bridges, etc; they derailed freight trains, seriously injuring workers; burned 12 cars of a freight train and destroyed air pressure hoses of others; used acids to damage vital factory machinery; put sand in the turbine of a factory, bringing it to a standstill; set fire to a tile-producing factory; promoted work slow-downs in factories; killed 7,000 cows of a co-operative dairy through poisoning; added soap to powdered milk destined for East German schools; were in possession, when arrested, of a large quantity of the poisoncantharidin with which it was planned to produce poisoned cigarettes to kill leading East Germans; set off stink bombs to disrupt political meetings; attempted to disrupt the World Youth Festival in East Berlin by sending out forged invitations, false promises of free bed and board, false notices of cancellations, etc.; carried out attacks on participants with explosives, firebombs, and tire-puncturing equipment; forged and distributed large quantities of food ration cards to cause confusion, shortages and resentment; sent out forged tax notices and other government directives and documents to foster disorganization and inefficiency within industry and unions … all this and much more.

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, of Washington, DC, conservative cold warriors, in one of their Cold War International History Project Working Papers (#58, p.9) states: “The open border in Berlin exposed the GDR [East Germany] to massive espionage and subversion and, as the two documents in the appendices show, its closure gave the Communist state greater security.”

Throughout the 1950s, the East Germans and the Soviet Union repeatedly lodged complaints with the Soviets’ erstwhile allies in the West and with the United Nations about specific sabotage and espionage activities and called for the closure of the offices in West Germany they claimed were responsible, and for which they provided names and addresses. Their complaints fell on deaf ears.

Inevitably, the East Germans began to tighten up entry into the country from the West, leading eventually to the infamous wall. However, even after the wall was built there was regular, albeit limited, legal emigration from east to west. In 1984, for example, East Germany allowed 40,000 people to leave. In 1985, East German newspapers claimed that more than 20,000 former citizens who had settled in the West wanted to return home after becoming disillusioned with the capitalist system. The West German government said that 14,300 East Germans had gone back over the previous 10 years.

Let’s also not forget that while East Germany completely denazified, in West Germany for more than a decade after the war, the highest government positions in the executive, legislative and judicial branches contained numerous former and “former” Nazis.

Finally, it must be remembered, that Eastern Europe became communist because Hitler, with the approval of the West, used it as a highway to reach the Soviet Union to wipe out Bolshevism forever, and that the Russians in World War I and II, lost about 40 million people because the West had used this highway to invade Russia. It should not be surprising that after World War II the Soviet Union was determined to close down the highway.

For an additional and very interesting view of the Berlin Wall anniversary, see the article “Humpty Dumpty and the Fall of Berlin’s Wall” by Victor Grossman. Grossman (née Steve Wechsler) fled the U.S. Army in Germany under pressure from McCarthy-era threats and became a journalist and author during his years in the (East) German Democratic Republic. He still lives in Berlin and mails out his “Berlin Bulletin” on German developments on an irregular basis. You can subscribe to it at wechsler_grossman@yahoo.de.

His autobiography: Crossing the River: a Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War and Life in East Germany was published by University of Massachusetts Press. He claims to be the only person in the world with diplomas from both Harvard University and Karl Marx University in Leipzig.

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WPost’s Slimy Assault on Gary Webb

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Journalist Gary Webb

Journalist Gary Webb

Exclusive: The movie, “Kill the Messenger,” portrays the mainstream U.S. news media as craven for destroying Gary Webb rather than expanding on his investigation of the Contra-cocaine scandal. So, now one of those “journalists” is renewing the character assassination of Webb, notes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Jeff Leen, the Washington Post’s assistant managing editor for investigations, begins his
renewed attack
 
on the late Gary Webb’s Contra-cocaine reporting with a falsehood.

Leen insists that there is a journalism dictum that “an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.” But Leen must know that it is not true. Many extraordinary claims, such as assertions in 2002-03 that Iraq was hiding arsenals of WMDs, were published as flat-fact without “extraordinary proof” or any real evidence at all, including by Leen’s colleagues at the Washington Post.

A different rule actually governs American journalism – that journalists need “extraordinary proof” if a story puts the U.S. government or an “ally” in a negative light but pretty much anything goes when criticizing an “enemy.”

If, for instance, the Post wanted to accuse the Syrian government of killing civilians with Sarin gas or blame Russian-backed rebels for the shoot-down of a civilian airliner over Ukraine, any scraps of proof – no matter how dubious – would be good enough (as was the actual case in 2013 and 2014, respectively).

However, if new evidence undercut those suspicions and shifted the blame to people on “the U.S. side” – say, the Syrian rebels and the Ukrainian government – then the standards of proof suddenly skyrocket beyond reach. So what you get is not “responsible” journalism – as Leen tries to suggest – but hypocrisy and propaganda. One set of rules for the goose and another set for the gander.

The Contra-Cocaine Case

Or to go back to the Contra-cocaine scandal that Brian Barger and I first exposed for the Associated Press in 1985: If we were writing that the leftist Nicaraguan Sandinista government – the then U.S. “enemy” – was shipping cocaine to the United States, any flimsy claim would have sufficed. But the standard of proof ratcheted up when the subject of our story was cocaine smuggling by President Ronald Reagan’s beloved Contras.

In other words, the real dictum is that there are two standards, double standards, something that a careerist like Leen knows in his gut but doesn’t want you to know. All the better to suggest that Gary Webb was guilty of violating some noble principle of journalism.

But Leen is wrong in another way – because there was “extraordinary proof” establishing that the Contras were implicated in drug trafficking and that the Reagan administration was looking the other way.

When Barger and I wrote the first story about Contra-cocaine trafficking almost three decades ago, we already had “extraordinary proof,” including documents from Costa Rica, statements by Contras and Contra backers, and admissions from officials in the Drug Enforcement Administration and Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council staff.

However, Leen seems to dismiss our work as nothing but getting “tips” about Contra-cocaine trafficking as if Barger and I were like the hacks at the Washington Post and the New York Times who wait around for authorized handouts from the U.S. government.

Following the Money

Barger and I actually were looking for something different when we encountered the evidence on Contra-cocaine trafficking. We were trying to figure out how the Contras were sustaining themselves in the field after Congress cut off the CIA’s financing for their war.

We were, in the old-fashioned journalistic parlance, “following the money.” The problem was the money led, in part, to the reality that all the major Contra organizations were collaborating with drug traffickers.

Besides our work in the mid-1980s, Sen. John Kerry’s follow-on Contra-cocaine investigation added substantially more evidence. Yet Leen and his cohorts apparently felt no need to pursue the case any further or even give respectful attention to Kerry’s official findings.

Indeed, when Kerry’s report was issued in April 1989, the Washington Post ran a dismissive story by Michael Isikoff buried deep inside the paper. Newsweek dubbed Kerry “a randy conspiracy buff.” In Leen’s new article attacking Gary Webb — published on the front-page of the Washington Post’s Sunday Outlook section – Leen just says:

“After an exhaustive three-year investigation, the committee’s report concluded that CIA officials were aware of the smuggling activities of some of their charges who supported the contras, but it stopped short of implicating the agency directly in drug dealing. That seemed to be the final word on the matter.”

But why was it the “final word”? Why didn’t Leen and others who had missed the scandal as it was unfolding earlier in the decade at least try to build on Kerry’s findings. After all, these were now official U.S. government records. Wasn’t that “extraordinary” enough?

In this context, Leen paints himself as the true investigative journalist who knew the inside story of the Contra-cocaine tale from the beginning. He wrote: “As an investigative reporter covering the drug trade for the Miami Herald, … I wrote about the explosion of cocaine in America in the 1980s and 1990s, and the role of Colombia’s Medellin Cartel in fueling it.

“Beginning in 1985, journalists started pursuing tips about the CIA’s role in the drug trade. Was the agency allowing cocaine to flow into the United States as a means to fund its secret war supporting the contra rebels in Nicaragua? Many journalists, including me, chased that story from different angles, but the extraordinary proof was always lacking.”

Again, what Leen says is not true. Leen makes no reference to the groundbreaking AP story in 1985 or other disclosures in the ensuing years. He just insists that “the extraordinary proof” was lacking — which it may have been for him given his lackluster abilities. He then calls the final report of Kerry’s investigation the “final word.”

But Leen doesn’t explain why he and his fellow mainstream journalists were so incurious about this major scandal that they would remain passive even in the wake of a Senate investigation. It’s also not true that Kerry’s report was the “final word” prior to Webb reviving the scandal in 1996.

Government Witnesses

In 1991, during the narcotics trafficking trial of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, the U.S. government itself presented witnesses who connected the Contras to the Medellin cartel.

Indeed, after testimony by Medellin cartel kingpin Carlos Lehder about his $10 million contribution to the Contras, the Washington Post wrote in a Nov. 27, 1991 editorial that “The Kerry hearings didn’t get the attention they deserved at the time” and that “The Noriega trial brings this sordid aspect of the Nicaraguan engagement to fresh public attention.”

But the Post offered its readers no explanation for why Kerry’s hearings had been largely ignored, with the Post itself a leading culprit in this journalistic misfeasance. Nor did the Post and the other leading newspapers use the opening created by the Noriega trial to do anything to rectify their past neglect.

In other words, it didn’t seem to matter how much “extraordinary proof” the Washington Post or Jeff Leen had. Nothing would be sufficient to report seriously on the Contra-cocaine scandal, not even when the U.S. government vouched for the evidence.

So, Leen is trying to fool you when he presents himself as a “responsible journalist” weighing the difficult evidentiary choices. He’s just the latest hack to go after Gary Webb, which has become urgent again for the mainstream media in the face of “Kill the Messenger,” a new movie about Webb’s ordeal.

What Leen won’t face up to is that the tag-team destruction of Gary Webb in 1996-97 – by the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times – represented one of the most shameful episodes in the history of American journalism.

The Big Papers tore down an honest journalist to cover up their own cowardly failure to investigate and expose a grave national security crime, the Reagan administration’s tolerance for and protection of drug trafficking into the United States by the CIA’s client Contra army.

This journalistic failure occurred even though the Associated Press – far from a radical news outlet – and a Senate investigation (not to mention the Noriega trial) had charted the way.

Leen’s Assault

Contrary to Leen’s column, “Kill the Messenger” is actually a fairly honest portrayal of what happened when Webb exposed the consequences of the Contra cocaine smuggling after the drugs reached the United States. One channel fed into an important Los Angeles supply chain that produced crack.

But Leen tells you that “The Hollywood version of [Webb’s] story — a truth-teller persecuted by the cowardly and craven mainstream media — is pure fiction.”

He then lauds the collaboration of the Big Three newspapers in destroying Webb and creating such enormous pressure on Webb’s newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, that the executive editor Jerry Ceppos threw his own reporter under the bus. To Leen, this disgraceful behavior represented the best of American journalism.

Leen wrote: “The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, in a rare show of unanimity, all wrote major pieces knocking the story down for its overblown claims and undernourished reporting.

“Gradually, the Mercury News backed away from Webb’s scoop. The paper transferred him to its Cupertino bureau and did an internal review of his facts and his methods. Jerry Ceppos, the Mercury News’s executive editor, wrote a piece concluding that the story did not meet the newspaper’s standards — a courageous stance, I thought.”

“Courageous”? What an astounding characterization of Ceppos’s act of career cowardice.

But Leen continues by explaining his role in the Webb takedown. After all, Leen was then the drug expert at the Miami Herald, which like the San Jose Mercury News was a Knight Ridder newspaper. Leen says his editors sought his opinion about Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series.

Though acknowledging that he was “envious” of Webb’s story when it appeared in 1996, Leen writes that he examined it and found it wanting, supposedly because of alleged overstatements. He proudly asserts that because of his critical analysis, the Miami Herald never published Webb’s series.

But Leen goes further. He falsely characterizes the U.S. government’s later admissions contained in inspector general reports by the CIA and Justice Department. If Leen had bothered to read the reports thoroughly, he would have realized that the reports actually establish that Webb – and indeed Kerry, Barger and I – grossly understated the seriousness of the Contra-cocaine problem which began at the start of the Contra movement in the early 1980s and lasted through the decade until the end of the war.

Leen apparently assumes that few Americans will take the trouble to study and understand what the reports said. That is why I published a lengthy account of the U.S. government’s admissions – both after the reports were published in 1998 and as “Kill the Messenger” was hitting the theaters in October. [See Consortiumnews.com’s The Sordid Contra-Cocaine Saga.”]

Playing It Safe

Instead of diving into the reeds of the CIA and DOJ reports, Leen does what he and his mainstream colleagues have done for the past three decades, try to minimize the seriousness of the Reagan administration tolerating cocaine trafficking by its Contra clients and even obstructing official investigations that threatened to expose this crime of state.

Instead, to Leen, the only important issue is whether Gary Webb’s story was perfect. But no journalistic product is perfect. There are always more details that a reporter would like to have, not to mention compromises with editors over how a story is presented. And, on a complex story, there are always some nuances that could have been explained better. That is simply the reality of journalism, the so-called first draft of history.

But Leen pretends that it is the righteous thing to destroy a reporter who is not perfect in his execution of a difficult story – and that Gary Webb thus deserved to be banished from his profession for life, a cruel punishment that impoverished Webb and ultimately drove him to suicide in 2004.

But if Leen is correct – that a reporter who takes on a very tough story and doesn’t get every detail precisely correct should be ruined and disgraced – what does he tell his Washington Post colleague Bob Woodward, whose heroic Watergate reporting included an error about whether a claim regarding who controlled the White House slush fund was made before a grand jury?

While Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein were right about the substance, they were wrong about its presentation to a grand jury. Does Leen really believe that Woodward and Bernstein should have been drummed out of journalism for that mistake? Instead, they were lionized as heroes of investigative journalism despite the error – as they should have been.

Yet, when Webb exposed what was arguably an even worse crime of state – the Reagan administration turning a blind eye to the importation of tons of cocaine into the United States – Leen thinks any abuse of Webb is justified because his story wasn’t perfect.

Those two divergent judgments – on how Woodward’s mistake was understandably excused and how Webb’s imperfections were never forgiven – speak volumes about what has happened to the modern profession of journalism at least in the mainstream U.S. media. In reality, Leen’s insistence on perfection and “extraordinary proof” is just a dodge to rationalize letting well-connected criminals and their powerful accomplices off the hook.

In the old days, the journalistic goal was to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” but the new rule appears to be: “any standard of proof works when condemning the weak or the despised but you need unachievable ‘extraordinary proof’ if you’re writing about the strong and the politically popular.”

Who Is Unfit?

Leen adds a personal reflection on Webb as somehow not having the proper temperament to be an investigative reporter. Leen wrote:

“After Webb was transferred to Cupertino [in disgrace], I debated him at a conference of the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization in Phoenix in June 1997. He was preternaturally calm. While investigative journalists are usually bundles of insecurities and questions and skepticism, he brushed off any criticism and admitted no error. When asked how I felt about it all, I said I felt sorry for him. I still feel that way.”

It’s interesting – and sadly typical – that while Leen chastises Webb for not admitting error, Leen offers no self-criticism of himself for missing what even the CIA has now admitted, that the Contras were tied up in the cocaine trade. Doesn’t an institutional confession by the CIA’s inspector general constitute “extraordinary proof”?

Also, since the CIA’s inspector general’s report included substantial evidence of Contra-cocaine trafficking running through Miami, shouldn’t Leen offer some mea culpa about missing these serious crimes that were going on right under his nose – in his city and on his beat? What sort of reporter is “preternaturally calm” about failing to do his job right and letting the public suffer as Leen did?

Perhaps all one needs to know about the sorry state of today’s mainstream journalism is that Jeff Leen is the Washington Post’s assistant managing editor for investigations and Gary Webb is no longer with us.

[To learn how you can hear a December 1996 joint appearance at which Robert Parry and Gary Webb discuss their reporting, click here.]Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

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UN rapporteur wants access to Guantanamo inmates

NOVANEWS
 

Juan Mendez

The United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, says he had called on the US military to allow him to interview detainees held at the Guantanamo prison once he was invited to visit the detention center in Cuba.

Earlier in 2012, Mendez refused to visit the prison because the Pentagon did not allow him to meet with the inmates even in the presence of US officials.

“I got an invitation to Guantanamo that I could not accept because the terms were not acceptable, and I’m insisting on being invited to Guantanamo,” he said on Tuesday.

The UN special rapporteur on torture said he was invited two years ago by the Pentagon to tour the facility and to meet the authorities there.

Following a request that was “pending for a quite a long time now,” Mendez is now negotiating to visit solitary confinement cells.

Many of the detainees held at the prison have been subjected to torture such as waterboarding.

US President Barack Obama, who promised to close down the prison in 2009, acknowledged that the detainees suffered ill-treatment.

“We tortured some folks,” said the president in August. “We did some things that were contrary to our values.”

At a US court hearing that was held for the force-feeding case of Syrian prisoner, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, earlier this month, a University of Minnesota professor of medical sciences testified that many of the techniques US officials have been using to feed the prisoners run counter to the accepted medical standards.

Describing the practice as “astonishing,” Steven Miles said that the US government is applying ill-advised procedures as a form of punishment for hunger strikers.

Dhiab, who has been held without charge at the prison since August 2002, told his lawyers that since being brought to the jail, he has been forcibly removed from his cell over 1,300 times, strapped on a restraining chair and force-fed.

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Shaping the Vietnam Narrative

NOVANEWS

Scene from the Vietnam War

Scene from the Vietnam War

Controlling the narrative is a key tool for propagandists who realize that how people understand a foreign conflict goes a long way toward determining their support or opposition. So, the U.S. government’s sanitizing of the Vietnam War is not just about history, but the present, as Marjorie Cohn writes.

By Marjorie Cohn

For many years after the Vietnam War, we enjoyed the “Vietnam syndrome,” in which U.S. presidents hesitated to launch substantial military attacks on other countries. They feared intense opposition akin to the powerful movement that helped bring an end to the war in Vietnam. But in 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, George H.W. Bush declared, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!”

With George W. Bush’s wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and Barack Obama’s drone wars in seven Muslim-majority countries and his escalating wars in Iraq and Syria, we have apparently moved beyond the Vietnam syndrome. By planting disinformation in the public realm, the government has built support for its recent wars, as it did with Vietnam.

Now the Pentagon is planning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War by launching a $30 million program to rewrite and sanitize its history. Replete with a fancy interactive website, the effort is aimed at teaching schoolchildren a revisionist history of the war. The program is focused on honoring our service members who fought in Vietnam. But conspicuously absent from the website is a description of the antiwar movement, at the heart of which was the GI movement.

Thousands of GIs participated in the antiwar movement. Many felt betrayed by their government. They established coffee houses and underground newspapers where they shared information about resistance. During the course of the war, more than 500,000 soldiers deserted. The strength of the rebellion of ground troops caused the military to shift to an air war.

Ultimately, the war claimed the lives of 58,000 Americans. Untold numbers were wounded and returned with post-traumatic stress disorder. In an astounding statistic, more Vietnam veterans have committed suicide than were killed in the war.

Millions of Americans, many of us students on college campuses, marched, demonstrated, spoke out, sang and protested against the war. Thousands were arrested and some, at Kent State and Jackson State, were killed. The military draft and images of dead Vietnamese galvanized the movement.

On Nov. 15, 1969, in what was the largest protest demonstration in Washington, DC, at that time, 250,000 people marched on the nation’s capital, demanding an end to the war. Yet the Pentagon’s website merely refers to it as a “massive protest.”

But Americans weren’t the only ones dying. Between 2 and 3 million Indochinese – in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – were killed. War crimes – such as the My Lai massacre – were common. In 1968, U.S. soldiers slaughtered 500 unarmed old men, women and children in the Vietnamese village of My Lai. Yet the Pentagon website refers only to the “My Lai Incident,” despite the fact that it is customarily referred to as a massacre.

One of the most shameful legacies of the Vietnam War is the U.S. military’s use of the deadly defoliant Agent Orange/dioxin. The military sprayed it unsparingly over much of Vietnam’s land. An estimated 3 million Vietnamese still suffer the effects of those deadly chemical defoliants. Tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers were also affected. It has caused birth defects in hundreds of thousands of children, both in Vietnam and the United States. It is currently affecting the second and third generations of people directly exposed to Agent Orange decades ago.

Certain cancers, diabetes, and spina bifida and other serious birth defects can be traced to Agent Orange exposure. In addition, the chemicals destroyed much of the natural environment of Vietnam; the soil in many “hot spots” near former U.S. army bases remains contaminated.

In the Paris Peace Accords signed in 1973, the Nixon administration pledged to contribute $3 billion toward healing the wounds of war and the post-war reconstruction of Vietnam. That promise remains unfulfilled.

Despite the continuing damage and injury wrought by Agent Orange, the Pentagon website makes scant mention of “Operation Ranch Hand.” It says that from 1961 to 1971, the U.S. sprayed 18 million gallons of chemicals over 20 percent of South Vietnam’s jungles and 36 percent of its mangrove forests. But the website does not cite the devastating effects of that spraying.

The incomplete history contained on the Pentagon website stirred more than 500 veterans of the U.S. peace movement during the Vietnam era to sign a petition to Lt. Gen. Claude M. “Mick” Kicklighter. It asks that the official program “include viewpoints, speakers and educational materials that represent a full and fair reflection of the issues which divided our country during the war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.”

The petition cites the “many thousands of veterans” who opposed the war, the “draft refusals of many thousands of young Americans,” the “millions who exercised their rights as American citizens by marching, praying, organizing moratoriums, writing letters to Congress,” and “those who were tried by our government for civil disobedience or who died in protests.”

And, the petition says, “very importantly, we cannot forget the millions of victims of the war, both military and civilian, who died in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, nor those who perished or were hurt in its aftermath by land mines, unexploded ordnance, Agent Orange and refugee flight.”

Antiwar activists who signed the petition include Tom Hayden and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. “All of us remember that the Pentagon got us into this war in Vietnam with its version of the truth,” Hayden said in an interview with The New York Times. “If you conduct a war, you shouldn’t be in charge of narrating it,” he added.

Veterans for Peace (VFP) is organizing an alternative commemoration of the Vietnam War. “One of the biggest concerns for us,” VFP executive director Michael McPhearson told the Times, “is that if a full narrative is not remembered, the government will use the narrative it creates to continue to conduct wars around the world – as a propaganda tool.”

Indeed, just as Lyndon B. Johnson used the manufactured Tonkin Gulf incident as a pretext to escalate the Vietnam War, George W. Bush relied on mythical weapons of mass destruction to justify his war on Iraq, and the “war on terror” to justify his invasion of Afghanistan. And Obama justifies his drone wars by citing national security considerations, even though he creates more enemies of the United States as he kills thousands of civilians.

ISIS and Khorasan (which no one in Syria heard of until about three weeks ago) are the new enemies Obama is using to justify his wars in Iraq and Syria, although he admits they pose no imminent threat to the United States. The Vietnam syndrome has been replaced by the “Permanent War.”

It is no cliché that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. Unless we are provided an honest accounting of the disgraceful history of the U.S. war on Vietnam, we will be ill equipped to protest the current and future wars conducted in our name.

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A Mysterious Iran-Nuke Document

NOVANEWS

A mysterious document has been used for a half dozen years to derail nuclear talks with Iran, but its origins remain dubious and one expert says it’s been used to take international inspectors “for a ride,” as Gareth Porter reports for Inter Press Service.

By Gareth Porter

Western diplomats have reportedly faulted Iran in recent weeks for failing to provide the International Atomic Energy Agency with information on experiments on high explosives intended to produce a nuclear weapon, according to an intelligence document the IAEA is investigating. But the document not only remains unverified but can only be linked to Iran by a far-fetched official account marked by a series of coincidences related to a foreign scientist that that are highly suspicious.

The original appearance of the document in early 2008, moreover, was not only conveniently timed to support Israel’s attack on a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran in December 2007 that was damaging to Israeli interests, but was leaked to the news media with a message that coincided with the current Israeli argument. The IAEA has long touted the document, which came from an unidentified member state, as key evidence justifying suspicion that Iran has covered up past nuclear weapons work.

Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, speaking to the United Nations

Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, speaking to the United Nations

In its September 2008 report the IAEA said the document describes “experimentation in connection with symmetrical initiation of a hemispherical high explosive charge suitable for an implosion type nuclear device.” But an official Iranian communication to the IAEA Secretariat challenged its authenticity, declaring, “There is no evidence or indication in this document regarding its linkage to Iran or its preparation by Iran.” The IAEA has never responded to the Iranian communication.

The story of the high explosives document and related intelligence published in the November 2011 IAEA report raises more questions about the document than it answers. The report said the document describes the experiments as being monitored with “large numbers of optical fiber cables” and cited intelligence that the experiments had been assisted by a foreign expert said to have worked in his home country’s nuclear weapons program.

The individual to whom the report referred, Ukrainian scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko, was not a nuclear weapons expert, however, but a specialist on nanodiamond synthesis. Danilenko had lectured on that subject in Iran from 2000 to 2005 and had co-authored a professional paper on the use of fiber optic cables to monitor explosive shock waves in 1992, which was available online.

Those facts presented the opportunity for a foreign intelligence service to create a report on high explosives experiments that would suggest a link to nuclear weapons as well as to Danilenko.  Danilenko’s open-source publication could help convince the IAEA Safeguards Department of the authenticity of the document, which would otherwise have been missing.

Even more suspicious, soon after the appearance of the high explosives document, the same state that had turned it over to the IAEA claimed to have intelligence on a large cylinder at Parchin suitable for carrying out the high explosives experiments described in the document, according to the 2011 IAEA report. And it identified Danilenko as the designer of the cylinder, again basing the claim on an open-source publication that included a sketch of a cylinder he had designed in 1999-2000.

The whole story thus depended on two very convenient intelligence finds within a very short time, both of which were linked to a single individual and his open source publications. Furthermore, the cylinder Danilenko sketched and discussed in the publication was explicitly designed for nanodiamonds production, not for bomb-making experiments.

Robert Kelley, who was the chief of IAEA teams in Iraq, has observed that the IAEA account of the installation of the cylinder at a site in Parchin by March 2000 is implausible, since Danilenko was on record as saying he was still in the process of designing it in 2000. And Kelley, an expert on nuclear weapons, has pointed out that the cylinder would have been unnecessary for “multipoint initiation” experiments.

“We’ve been taken for a ride on this whole thing,” Kelley told IPS.

The document surfaced in early 2008, under circumstances pointing to an Israeli role. An article in the May 2008 issue of Jane’s International Defence Review, dated March 14, 2008, referred to, “[d]ocuments shown exclusively to Jane’s” by a “source connected to a Western intelligence service.” It said the documents showed that Iran had “actively pursued the development of a nuclear weapon system based on relatively advanced multipoint initiation (MPI) nuclear implosion detonation technology for some years….”

The article revealed the political agenda behind the leaking of the high explosives document. “The picture the papers paints,” he wrote, “starkly contradicts the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released in December 2007, which said Tehran had frozen its military nuclear program in 2003.”

That was the argument that Israeli officials and supporters in the United States had been making in the wake of the National Intelligence Estimate, which Israel was eager to discredit. The IAEA first mentioned the high explosives document in an annex to its May 2008 report, shortly after the document had been leaked to Janes.

David Albright, the director of the Institute for Science and International Security, who enjoyed a close relationship with the IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen, revealed in an interview with this writer in September 2008 that Heinonen had told him one document that he had obtained earlier that year had confirmed his trust in the earlier collection of intelligence documents. Albright said that document had “probably” come from Israel.

Former IAEA Director General Mohamed E Baradei was very skeptical about all the purported Iranian documents shared with the IAEA by the United States. Referring to those documents, he writes in his 2011 memoirs, “No one knew if any of this was real.”

ElBaradei recalls that the IAEA received still more purported Iranian documents directly from Israel in summer 2009. The new documents included a two-page document in Farsi describing a four-year program to produce a neutron initiator for a fission chain reaction.

Kelley has said that ElBaradei found the document lacking credibility, because it had no chain of custody, no identifiable source, and no official markings or anything else that could establish its authenticity — the same objections Iran has raised about the high explosives document.

Meanwhile, ElBaradei resisted pressure from the United States and its European allies in 2009 to publish a report on that and other documents – including the high explosive document  – as an annex to an IAEA report. ElBaradei’s successor as director general, Yukia Amano, published the annex that the anti-Iran coalition had wanted earlier in the November 2011 report.

Amano later told colleagues at the agency that he had no choice, because he promised the United States to do so as part of the agreement by Washington to support his bid for the job within the Board of Governors, according to a former IAEA official who asked not to be identified. [For more on how Amano has been compromised, see Consortiumnews.com’sSlanting the Case on Iran’s Nukes.”[

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