‘Imperial Interests’ Behind UN Call to Release Political Prisoners in Venezuela

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  • Venezuelan ambassador Jorge Valero speaks at the U.N.
    Venezuelan ambassador Jorge Valero speaks at the U.N. | Photo: UN
Many so-called political prisoners are high-ranking opposition leaders who have instigated violence in the country, leading to the deaths of many citizens.

Venezuelan Ambassador Jorge Valero has called out a high-ranking U.N. official who demanded the release of “political prisoners” as acting in favor of imperial interests.

RELATED: 74 Percent of Venezuelans Don’t Trust the Opposition: Survey

U.N. official Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein expressed “concern about the extreme polarization in Venezuela with continued restrictions on freedom of movement, association, expression and peaceful protest,” as Venezuela Analysis reported. He called for the alleged political prisoners’ release and parroted mainstream media’s condemnations of Venezuela and the supposed lack of fundamental rights for all in the country.

Valero rejected the high official’s comments, describing them as an echo of “the international media campaign against Venezuela, hatched by imperialist interests,” as reported by Venezuela Analysis.

“It is deplorable that those responsible for crimes are presented by you (Al-Hussein) as peaceful demonstrators and political opponents,” Valero said, addressing Al-Hussein during the U.N. Human Rights Council session.

He also added that “human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected in Venezuela. Everyone can freely express their own viewpoints. Peaceful declaration is a constitutional right.”

RELATED: The Venezuela ‘Opposition’ We Never Hear About

According to the Venezuelan Penal Forum, FPV, there are 97 “political prisoners” in the country. But in fact, many are high-ranking opposition leaders who have instigated violence in the country, leading to the death of many citizens in their attempt to remove the elected government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Of these alleged political prisoners, Leopoldo Lopez has gained the most international attention after he was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in jail in September 2015 for his role in the violent anti-government protests known as “The Guarimbas” in 2014, which led to the death of 43 people.

Last month, Lopez’s wife Lilian Tintori visited U.S. President Donald Trump and other U.S. congressmen to demand his release. Since then, the United States has ramped up sanctions against Venezuela.

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Ecuador Denies Entry to Venezuela Opposition Figure Visiting to Campaign for Right Wing

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  • U.S. President Donald Trump has met with Lilian Tintori, an outspoken opponent of Nicolas Maduro.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has met with Lilian Tintori, an outspoken opponent of Nicolas Maduro. | Photo: Twitter / Donald Trump
“Change is coming to Ecuador,” Tintori said, referencing the campaign slogan of right-wing presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso.

Ecuador denied entry Wednesday morning to Venezuelan opposition figure Lilian Tintori, traveling to meet and campaign with right-wing Ecuadorean presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso — an activity that is banned by the country’s immigration law.

IN DEPTH: Ecuador Elections 2017

Tintori, wife of jailed Venezuelan opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez, arrived at the airport in Guayaquil from Miami at 1:30 a.m. local time Wednesday morning. On her social media accounts she reported that immigration authorities had retained her passport and denied her entry, a move she claimed amounted to a violation of her “human rights.”

An official immigration document circulated online by local journalists showed that Tintori’s entry was denied for her failure to justify her immigration status and explain the reason for her visit.

According to Ecuador’s Human Mobility Law, “Temporary visitors in Ecuador will not be able to interfere in matters of Ecuador’s internal politics.” The law also states that foreigners can be deported for eight reasons, including for “being a temporary visitor in Ecuador who engages in issues of Ecuador’s internal politics.”

The law also outlines that lack of a valid visa when required or failure to justify immigration status — as in Tintori’s case — will result in “immediate departure of the inadmissible person” from the country “without the need for administrative processing.” It also states that such travelers can return to the country when the reason for which they were denied entry is resolved.

On social media, Tintori made references to her political motivations for visiting Ecuador, writing on her Facebook account that Ecuadoreans “have an opportunity for change” on April 2, referring to the date of the presidential runoff election between governing party candidate Lenin Moreno and opposition leader Guillermo Lasso. “They are not letting me enter because they know that change is coming to Ecuador,” she said in a video posted on her Facebook and Twitter accounts, referencing the Lasso’s campaign slogan. “They are not letting me in because they do not want me to help my Ecuadorean brothers and sisters.”

In response to Tintori being denied entry, Lasso also confirmed that the Venezuelan had planned to enter the country to support his bid for president. “A few weeks ago we agreed that she would come for a few days to accompany Maria de Lourdes and I in this campaign,” Lasso said in a video message, referring to his wife, who stood beside him in the video.

RELATED: Ecuador Indigenous Movement Split as Leader Embraces Right-Wing Presidential Candidate

In a press conference on Tintori’s case in Quito Wednesday, Interior Minister Diego Fuentes explained that when immigration authorities asked Tintori about the reason for her travels, she stated that she was “going to perform certain acts within a political agenda at the invitation of right-wing candidate Guillermo Lasso” and intended to enter with a tourist visa.

Fuentes stated that immigration authorities had acted in accordance with the law. He highlighted the article of the Human Mobility Law banning foreigners from participating in political activities and also pointed to a separate article of the same law stating that the Ecuadorean state has the power to “deny entry to a foreign person on the basis of an action or omission committed.”

Tintori, who arrived in Ecuador on an American Airlines flight from Miami, was put on a flight back to Miami at 6:45 a.m. local time Wednesday.

Fuentes confirmed that Tintori returned to Miami on the earliest available American Airlines flight. He welcomed Tintori to return to the country on a tourist visa if she intended to conduct tourist activities, saying, “she is invited with her tourist visa to carry out the activities she would like to carry out within the framework of the law and for the activist and political activities she must process the corresponding visa.”

On her Twitter account, Tintori, who frequently describes Venezuela as a “dictatorship,” claimed that she was denied entry to Ecuador because the country is “complicit in (Venezuelan President Nicolas) Maduro’s dictatorship.”

Leopoldo Lopez was jailed in 2013 for his role in violent protests that claimed the lives of 43 Venezuelans. Since then, Tintori and leaders from Lopez’s right-wing Popular Will Party have been campaigning around the globe for his release, calling him and others involved in the violent protests “political prisoners.”

Lasso, a former banker who came in distant second to front-runner Moreno in the first round of presidential elections last month, said the denial of Tintori into the country was evidence of “dictatorship.”

“Not allowing the entry of Lilian Tintori, wife of Leopoldo Lopez, confirms the dictatorship Ecuador is living the dictatorship of a political party,” Lasso said in his video message.

Lasso also misleadingly referenced the article of the constitution that allows foreigners to vote — a civil right accorded to foreign residents “as long as they have resided legally in the country for at least five years,” according to the constitution — as well as the principle of “universal citizenship,” which promotes free movement to “transform the unequal relations between countries, especially those between North and South.” While Ecuador’s widely celebrated “no one is illegal” policy — applauded by the U.N. Refugee Agency — offers a framework to decriminalize irregular immigration status, not override other sections of the immigration law barring foreigners from interfering in local politics.

RELATED: ‘In Second Round, We Will Defeat Them Again’: President Correa

A high-profile case amid opposition protests in 2015 brought similar migration laws to light and offers a precedent for application of Ecuador’s law barring foreigners from participating in local politics. French-Brazilian academic Manuela Picq, living in Ecuador with a cultural exchange visa, was deported in August after participating in opposition protests that at times turned violent. Her visa was revoked, according to then-Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, for “carrying out political activities” not allowed under the cultural exchange immigration status. Picq’s case similarly sparked accusations of human rights violations from the ranks of the opposition, including Lasso’s running mate Andrez Paez, who accompanied Picq during the legal process leading up to her deportation.

Despite Lasso’s defense of the legality of Tintori’s planned visit, as the governor of Guayas in 1999, he ordered a foreigner be expelled for less. Months after the 1999 banking crisis — which Lasso is also accused of played a role in — the then-governor called for the deportation of Venezuelan economic analyst, Jose Luis Cordeiro. The Venezuelan analyst had criticized the economic policies of the government of then-President Jamil Mahuad, under whom Lasso went on to serve as minister of finance. Lasso argued at the time that Cordeiro’s statements showed a “lack of respect” against Mahuad, adding that “it is not possible to allow foreigners to threaten the national honor” of Ecuador.

Tintori’s main political activities have also including building relationships with other right-wing figures in the region, including conservative Argentine President Mauricio Macri and more recently, U.S. President Donald Trump.

Just weeks ago, she met Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Senator Marco Rubio in the White House. After the meeting, she thanked Trump on her Twitter account for “standing with the Venezuelan people.”

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Immigrants Commit Fewer Crimes Than US-Born Population

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  • People hold up signs before marching to Trump Tower during a protest organized by the New York Immigration Coalition against President Trump in New York City.
    People hold up signs before marching to Trump Tower during a protest organized by the New York Immigration Coalition against President Trump in New York City. | Photo: Reuters.
Donald Trump continues to blame immigrants for crime despite mounting evidence that immigrants commit less crimes than those born in the U.S.

A new study proves that immigrants actually commit far fewer crimes than people born in the United States, further debunking the myth pushed by U.S. President Donald Trump about immigrants and crime.

RELATED: How Marx’s Crisis Theory Explains Growing Anti-Immigrant Hate

The report, released by The Sentencing Project, drew on survey data analyzing 40,000 immigrants from countries around the world currently living in the United States, age 18 and older.

The study also found that higher levels of immigration in the last few decades may have contributed to the historic drop in crime rates, and that immigrants are underrepresented in U.S. prisons.

The study’s authors condemned Trump’s immigrant rhetoric, pointing to its factual incorrectness.

“Starting from his first day as a candidate, President Donald Trump has made demonstrably false claims associating immigrants with criminality,” they wrote.

“Policies that further restrict immigration are therefore not effective crime-control strategies. These facts — supported by over 100 years of research — have been misrepresented both historically and in recent political debates,” they added.

Earlier this month, Trump backed up his anti-immigrant rhetoric in a speech to Congress with this factually incorrect information about crimes committed by immigrants.

RELATED: Study Contradicts Trump Claim of Immigrant-Led ‘Lawless Chaos’

“My administration has answered the pleas of the American people for immigration enforcement and border security,” Trump said. “By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars and make our communities safer for everyone. We want all Americans to succeed, but that can’t happen in an environment of lawless chaos. We must restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders.”

“As we speak, we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak tonight and as I have promised,” he added.

But Trump’s claim that deporting migrants would lead to less crime was challenged by Steve Rattner, who worked for the Obama administration, and who tweeted, “Memo to Trump: immigrants are much less likely to be criminals than native-born Americans.”

He linked his tweet to a study by the Pew Research Center that showed new arrivals to the United States were far less likely to commit crimes than citizens born in the U.S., a conclusion similar to the one reached by The Sentencing Project.

At the meeting, Trump also revealed the creation of an agency called VOICE, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. The new office, which he said at the times will “provide a voice” to families of crime victims, is set to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by immigrants, adding to the administration’s hostility against them.

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Reading Elisabeth Weber’s KILL BOXES

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by Dr: Richard Falk

[Prefatory Note: The purpose of this post is to recommend highly a book by Elisabeth Weber addressing the interrelated issues of torture, indefinite detention, and drone warfare from a perspective that is both humanistic and deeply steeped in European philosophical thought, treating especially the work of Jacques Derrida as illuminating and situating these complex questions of state violence and technology in the special circumstances that unfolded after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Appearing below is a review of the book that appeared in a recent issue of The Huffington Post followed by my Afterword that is printed at the end of Weber’s important book. Kill Boxes can be ordered in the normal ways, including by Amazon, which these days I mention reluctantly as it remains one of the few respected companies that continue to advertise on the Breitbart alt-right website. The publisher’s website with information about how to obtain the book can be found at https://punctumbooks.com/titles/kill-boxes-facing-the-legacy-of-us-sponsored-torture-indefinite-detention-and-drone-warfare/

 

Book Review: “Kill Boxes: Facing the Legacy of US-Sponsored Torture, Indefinite Detention, and Drone Warfare,” by Elisabeth Weber

Rebecca Tinsley, Contributor

Journalist and human rights activist

In her timely book, “Kill Boxes,” Elisabeth Weber ironically notes the “long history of images uniting figures of torture and sacredness or divinity.” She explores the use of “no touch” “positional” torture in which the terrified victims are forced to inflict suffering on themselves, leaving no marks. When the Abu Ghraib photos emerged, the media focused on the pornographic aspects and the exploitation of cultural sensitivities. Most commentators accepted that “a few bad apples were to blame,” rather than seeing it as standard CIA and military practice. Yet, despite the 2014 Senate report on the use of torture, those responsible have enjoyed almost total impunity. What’s more, torture is back on the political agenda, and with popular backing, according to opinion polls.

 

Weber, a professor at UC Santa Barbara, explores the writing of Jean Amery, a survivor of the Gestapo during World War Two. He described torture as being let down by one’s own flesh, and experiencing death while still alive, prompting Weber to draw parallels with the paintings of Francis Bacon. With the first blow received from an agent of the state, Amery wrote, a person’s trust in the world broke down irreparably, and with it any expectation of help. Disturbing as some might find torture, evidently the producers of the “24” phased out torture from the show’s plots because it had become “trite” and was no longer a novelty.

 

“Kill Boxes” also traces the post-Abu Ghraib shift from capturing and interrogating suspects to extrajudicial drone assassinations. The NGO Reprieve has counted 4,700 attacks on Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, all places where the US is not, officially, at war. Weber writes of the post-traumatic stress experienced by people living in places where the hum of drones overhead is constant, and where concentrating on school lessons or work is impossible if one fears attack at any moment.

 

Drawing on Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” in which the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, is transformed into an insect, Weber cites the term “bug splat,” used by drone operators to describe those they kill. As the leading interpreter of Jacques Derrida, she also examines his “two ages of cruelty;” scientifically and technologically sophisticated, and allegedly surgical and precise, as opposed to archaic, indiscriminate and bloody. As Derrida concluded, “One does not count the dead in the same way from one corner of the globe to the other.”

 

“Kill Boxes” concludes with a scorching essay by human rights authority Richard Falk. He recalls Henry Kissinger’s post-Vietnam aim to maximize effectiveness while minimizing the risk to Americans, enjoying invulnerability while the enemy is completely vulnerable. It is, Falk, warns, the surest way to convince young Muslims that only violent resistance can protect their cultural space from American aggression.

********************************************

Afterword

 Richard Falk

The United States emerged from World War II with a triumphal sense that its military power had defeated evil political forces in Europe and Asia, and should not be subject to scrutiny despite causing massive civilian casualties along the way to victory. There were few tears shed as a result of the firebombing of Dresden, an occurrence given a long literary life thanks to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five or in reaction to the firebombing of Tokyo, or even in reaction to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These two Japanese cities were selected because they had not been previously bombed in the war as they contained no important military targets and would be ideal sites to convey the extent of devastation caused by this new hyper-weapon.

 

There is little doubt that if Germany or Japan had developed the bomb and used it in a similar fashion, and then despite this, lost the war, their leaders would have certainly been charged with crimes and held accountable. What the United States learned from this major wartime experience was that military superiority ensured the triumph of justice as well as gained for the country diplomatic ascendancy and enormous economic benefits. The unpleasant fact that the vehicle for such success included recourse to genocidal tactics of warfare was put aside as irrelevant, or worse, a demeaning of a just war and those who fought it. Ever since World War II there has been this psychotic doubling of moral consciousness that fractures the coherence of law by violating its essential imperative: treating equals equally. The contrary approach of ‘victor’s justice’ is to grant impunity to the victor while imposing accountability on the loser as by way of the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials.

 

Visiting North Vietnam in June of 1968 to view what the American Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, had described as the most ‘surgical’ bombing campaign in all of history, I was shocked by the indiscriminately devastated cities that had been targeted from air. I was even more shocked by the awareness of total vulnerability of Vietnamese society to the onslaught of what was then almost limitless high tech superiority in weaponry, which translated into total American domination of air, sea, and land dimensions of the Vietnam War. One aspect of this vulnerability of this essentially peasant society, which disturbed me deeply at the time, was the relative helplessness of the Vietnamese to do anything by way of retaliation. In this respect, the war was relatively one-sided, with war thinkers at such think tanks as RAND openly advocating a gradual escalation of the pain being inflicted on Vietnamese society until the political leadership in Hanoi came to their senses and surrender as Germany and Japan had finally done two decades earlier. After lesser forms of punishment failed to achieve their desired result, American political and military leaders pondered whether to bomb the dikes in the Red River Delta that would cause flooding in heavily populated areas, thus likely producing several million civilian casualties, or use nuclear weapons with even worse results, but held back, not because of moral or legal inhibitions, but because they feared a severe political backlash and home and internationally.

 

It would be misleading to suppose that the Vietnamese were entirely helpless. The Vietnamese had the capacity to rely on relatively low tech weaponry and the advantages of fighting in their territorial homeland against a foreign enemy, to inflict significant casualties on American ground forces and even to shoot down American planes now and then, often capturing and imprisoning the pilot. Unable to overcome this Vietnamese resilience and faced with a growing political discontent at home, the U.S. Government began as early as 1968 to search for an exit strategy to cut their losses in Vietnam. The highest priority of American diplomacy was to cover up the startling reality that despite the American military juggernaut, the United States still lost the Vietnam War. This effort also failed as the outcome in Vietnam eventually became clear enough for all to see, although Washington’s effort to save face prolonged the combat for seven long years, causing tens of thousands of superfluous casualties on both sides. Of course, this was not the first time that the political resolve of a mobilized native population shifted the balance against a Western state that enjoyed a decisive military superiority. All the colonial wars after 1945 exhibited a similar pattern, perhaps most spectacularly in India, where Gandhi led a massive nonviolent movement to induce the United Kingdom to abandon its most prized colonial possession.

 

Unlike the European colonial powers that came to understand that the imperial age was over, the United States was not prepared to cut back on its global security role. Instead it made three sets of adjustments to the Vietnamese experience so that it might carry on as previously: (1) it did its best to undermine citizen opposition to non-defensive wars of choice by professionalizing the armed forces, eliminating the draft, and managing the media to minimize adverse comment during the course of a war; (2) it worked hard to find tactics and weaponry that enabled one-sided warfare, avoiding battlefield casualties for American troops while inflicting heavy damage on the adversary; (3) it struggled politically to demonstrate to the American people that its military power could again be efficiently used to achieve geopolitical goals (disguised as ‘security’) and by so doing overcome what Washington policymakers derisively referred to as ‘the Vietnam Syndrome,’ that is a post-Vietnam reluctance by the citizenry to back a distant overseas war that had nothing to do with self-defense. The United States finally found an ideal war in 1991 to rehabilitate militarism when with UN blessings it restored Kuwaiti sovereignty by forcing an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait in the First Gulf War, experiencing more American casualties due to ‘friendly fire’ than from enemy resistance. This reinstatement of American military credibility was further reinforced, again rather brutally, by the Kosovo War (1999) in which NATO achieved its political goals entirely through air power without suffering a single casualty, while causing substantial civilian casualties on the ground in Kosovo. After Serbia withdrew from Kosovo Washington think tanks began boasting about the new tactical wonders of ‘zero casualty wars,’ seeming not to be aware of the vast differences between types of warfare, thus paving the wave for frustrating repetitions of Vietnam in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.

 

When approaching Elisabeth Weber’s extraordinary group of essays on how war is being waged beneath the shadows cast by the 9/11 attacks, I find this background relevant. It especially shows how reliance on one-sided warfare was being achieved by technological and tactical innovations at the close of World War II and later by a series of adjustments to the American defeat in Vietnam. There were two important changes between the wars that occurred before and after 9/11. Perhaps, the most important of these changes was the determination and capacity of the militarily inferior enemy to retaliate in ways that inflicted important symbolic harm on their militarily superior adversary and gave rise to fear and anger among the civilian population.

 

In the period between 1945 and 2001 the wars fought could be described as ‘Westphalian Wars,” that is, wars either between territorial sovereign states or within one such state, and mainly wars involving Northern countries seeking to retain their positions of dominance in the South. In these wars the combat zone was confined to the South. After 9/11 the ensuing wars were more properly understood as North/South with reactive violence in the South directed at targets in the North, sometimes with great effect, as in the 9/11 attacks. True, the military superiority, although taking new forms thanks to technological and tactical innovations, remained in the North, particularly the United States, but the other side developed the will and capacity to retaliate, although in a manner that was accurately perceived as immoral and illegitimate, and characterized as ‘terrorism.’

 

The second fundamental change in the nature of warfare, also of a post-Westphalian character, was to make the whole world a potential battlefield including, or even particularly, the homeland. In effect, the United States developed weapons and tactics to hunt for the prey wherever on the planet they might be hiding, including within ‘sleeper cells’ in its own society. Similarly, the adversary used what ingenuity it possessed to find soft spots in ‘homeland security’ and deliver violent blows wherever it might inflict harm and cause fear, a kind of low tech ‘shock and awe.’ The entire world, without much respect for boundaries and sovereign rights, has become a global battlefield in which the so-called ‘War on Terror’ is being waged between two non-Westphalian political entities. On one side is the United States as the first ‘global state’ in history with its network of hundreds of foreign military bases, navies in all oceans, militarization of space, and its many allies among foreign countries. On the other side are a variety of non-territorial extremist networks (Al Qaeda, ISIS) spread across the globe, and capable of attracting followers in the heartland of its enemies who are willing to undertake suicide missions either by following orders or spontaneously.

 

Weber’s brilliant essays shine the bright light of philosophical, cultural, and psychological interpretation on these new patterns of violent conflict that have completely overwhelmed the outmoded Westphalian political consciousness. Her approach is heavily influenced by the complex illuminations of Jacques Derrida, especially his electrifying insights into the inevitability of living together on this planet, his profound application of the auto-immune mechanism to the kind of monstrous political behavior that these post-9/11 shockwaves have produced, and his depictions of the unnerving equivalencies between the sophisticated cruelties of the ‘civilized’ countries and the ‘barbaric’ cruelties of their supposedly primitive enemies.

 

These are fundamental realities that elude the conscience, and even the consciousness, of the political class that devises the war policies for the West, which, above all claims the high moral and legal ground for its counterterrorist campaigns. It is helpful to remember that the consciousness of the politicians and decision-makers has been shaped for centuries by a form of cynical realism misleadingly attributed to Thucydides and Machiavelli that allegedly adopts the simplistic amoral formula of ‘might makes right,’ which has the secondary effect of marginalizing considerations of law. Henry Kissinger, the arch realist of our era, makes no secret in various writings of his annoyance with ill-tutored aides that remind him of legal or moral constraints that should be considered when contemplating policy choices. For the Kissingers of this world, the only considerations that count are effectiveness and the minimization of risks, underpinned by the idea that the principal agency of history is military power the results of which tended to be mostly vindicated by nationally oriented historians, although also challenged by a few historians with revisionist interpretations.

 

What Weber’s essays of exploration help us understand is that this Kissinger worldview directly leads to torture, kill boxes, indefinite detention, and drone attacks in response to the post-Westphalian non-territorial reconfiguration of conflict that currently controls the political imagination in the West. Put more explicitly, the conventional Westphalian geopolitical constructs of deterrence, defense, and retaliation do not work in non-territorial struggles in which the combat soldiers of the enemy engage in suicide missions, lack high value targets to destroy, and do not threaten invasion or occupation. What works, then, is gaining information as to the intentions and location of the potential attackers, places of refuge, and the leaders. Given this understanding, normalized recourse to torture was an irresistibly attractive option for those who saw the world through a realist optic. As well, preventive war and preemptive tactics of taking out anyone deemed by word or deed to pose a threat to compensate for the absence of an effective reactive option; this circumstance contrasts with Westplalian patterns of warfare where the stonger side militarily always retained a retaliatory capability even if the adversary struck first. An exemplary victim of a drone strike was the extra-judicial, presidentially approved killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, accused of delivering extremist radio broadcasts from his Yemen hideout that allegedly inspired ‘homegrown terrorists’ to launch lethal attacks against Americans. The realist mentality has a hard time accepting social science findings that question the utility of torture as the preferred means to gather information, and since there is only lip service given to normative considerations, it is not surprising that torture persists despite being unconditionally criminalized internationally. True, torture is sanitized to some extent for the sake of modern liberal sensibilities by leaving the victim unscarred or transferring the suspect to a CIA ‘black site’ or to a torture-friendly foreign government by way of ‘extraordinary rendition.’ We are perceptively reminded in two of the prior essays how the CIA relied extensively on the secret use torture during the Cold War, having made a great effort to develop methods of torture that did not leave the victim physically disfigured.

 

Another puzzle of these post-Westphalian challenges involves figuring out how to retain the strategic and tactical benefits of military superiority in essentially non-territorial contexts of conflict and political inhibition. The main goal becomes how to find and destroy the enemy while losing as few lives as possible on the technologically advanced side. Drone warfare, at first glance, seems like the ideal solution, a technology that puts to ‘battlefield’ use the information procured through torture and bribery, in a manner that identifies and locates suspects in the most remote parts of the planet, and delivers precise lethal blows with supposedly minimal collateral damage to those nearby. Yet as Weber so well shows the reader, the real circle of devastation is far broader than the ‘kill box’ within which the targeted individuals are closeted. Studies have now shown that the entire surrounding communities are literally terrorized and so acutely alienated as to be receptive to extremist recruitment efforts. It is revealing that a mainstream film, Eye in the Sky, claimed to address the morality of drone strikes by limiting the civilian collateral damage to one young female street vendor in an African town while the use of the drone was justified to avoid a terrorist attack on the local market that would have killed 80 persons. What was occluded from the movie watcher was the realization that the entire community would be indefinitely traumatized by this attack launched from the sky.

 

On further reflection, drone warfare may turn out to be a Pandora’s Box for the United States. Already there are reports of ISIS making use of drone, and unlike nuclear weaponry the idea of a nonproliferation regime for drones is generally dismissed as utterly fanciful. But the seductive short-term appeal of drone warfare seems irresistible even to a Nobel Peace Prize recipient like Barack Obama. What drones offer is a way of ignoring sovereignty and geography without provoking widespread protests likely to erupt if either lots of civilians died (civilian casualties were not even counted in Iraq and Afghanistan by the Rumsfeld Defense Department as a matter of policy and if deaths do not result, while the Obama presidency ignores completely the community terrorization caused by drone strikes) or American pilots were occasionally shot down or captured. It also avoids the Guantánamo range of problems. Drone operators can sit comfortably in their Nevada office complex thousands of miles from the target, and yet have an eerily intimate relationship to the human damage done due to remote visualization technology. Weber’s commentary here tells us much about the paradoxically unnerving relationship between distance and proximity in this new era.

 

The greatest blow to our Westphalian sensibilities is undoubtedly what Derrida describes as the dynamics of the ‘auto-immune response.’ It is here that horror is reproduced by adopting methods to protect the threatened political organism, the homeland, that are no less cruel than what has been experienced. In effect, terrorism begets terrorism, and humane values, always precarious and subject to rights of exception, are explicitly subordinated to the alleged requirements of ‘security.’ The post-Westphalian turn encroaches upon the rights of the threatened society by making everyone a potential suspect, and especially implicates those who share a religious and ethnic identity with the assailants, and become too often designated as secondary targets. Weber shows the rather grotesque equivalence between the suicide bomber and the drone operator, simultaneously inflicting death and situating their bodies outside the zone of retaliatory violence.

 

One of the greatest contributions made by Weber takes the form of indicating the extreme censorship imposed on the publication of poems written by those detained at Guantánamo. The justification given was that poems might transmit coded messages, although it is hard to imagine what useful information could be conveyed by those held in conditions of prolonged captivity. A better explanation might be the reluctance of Guantánamo officials to give these prisoners an opportunity to bear witness to their sufferings and often personal and spiritual aspirations, which would undermine security by ‘humanizing’ terrorists that need to be thought of as ‘the worst of the worst’ to sustain homeland morale. Such a line of interpretation adds weight to Weber’s central claim that the humanist sensibility poses a real challenge, if not a threat, to the militarized mentality that allows the modern forms of cruelty to pass undetected through the metal detectors of ‘civilized societies.‘

 

I think a reading of Kill Boxes is particularly valuable at this time to unmask the inhumane features of post-Westphalian forms of violent conflict. We are left to ponder whether it is too late to wish for a humane future in which there is respect for and deference to the dynamics of self-determination in the non-West. We need also to seek to have the deadly mechanisms of the post-9/11 auto-immune reactive politics pass through ethical filters before carrying out their deadly missions, sometimes in foreign countries that are even remote from the declared combat zones. At the very least, the challenges posed throughout this book point to an urgent need to reconstruct international humanitarian law in light of the realities of these non-territorial patterns of transnational conflict.

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Globalization Is Just a Contemporary Word for Financial Colonialism

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By Mark Karlin

The collapsed remains of the Rana Plaza garment factory in near Dhaka, Bangladesh, June 30, 2013. The police in Bangladesh filed formal murder charges June 1, 2015, against 41 people accused of involvement in the 2013 collapse of a building that housed several clothing factories, leaving more than 1,100 people dead in the worst disaster in garment industry history. (Photo: Khaled Hasan / The New York Times)

The collapsed remains of the Rana Plaza garment factory in near Dhaka, Bangladesh, June 30, 2013. The police in Bangladesh filed formal murder charges June 1, 2015, against 41 people accused of involvement in the 2013 collapse of a building that housed several clothing factories, leaving more than 1,100 people dead in the worst disaster in garment industry history. (Photo: Khaled Hasan / The New York Times)

The “have” nations increase profits for their corporations at the expense of grievously underpaid workers in developed nations. The developed nations call this globalization, John Smith argues in his book Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis. In this interview with Truthout, Smith discusses his contention that globalization is just neocolonialism by another name.

Mark Karlin: Why did you choose to begin your book with the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013, which killed more than one thousand exploited garment workers in Bangladesh?

John Smith: Three reasons. First, the Rana Plaza disaster — a heinous crime, not an accident — aroused the sympathy and solidarity of hundreds of millions of people around the world, and reminded us all of just how intimately connected we are to the women and men who make our T-shirts, trousers and underwear. It epitomized the dangerous, exploitative and oppressive conditions endured by hundreds of millions of workers in low-wage countries whose labor provides firms in imperialist countries with much of their raw materials and intermediate inputs and working people with so many of our consumer goods. I wanted to bring these legions of low-wage workers “into the room” from the very beginning; to confront readers with the fact of our mutual interdependence and also with facts about the great differences in wages, living conditions and life chances that we are aware of but too often choose to ignore.

This brings me to the second reason. Fidel Castro, the greatest revolutionary of our times, explained Cuba’s unparalleled international solidarity as repayment of its debt to humanity. We who live in imperialist countries have an enormous debt of solidarity to our sisters and brothers in nations that have been and are being ransacked by our governments and transnational corporations! There can be no talk of socialism or progress of any sort until we acknowledge this debt and begin to repay it! We need to redefine — or better, rediscover — the real meaning of socialism: the transitional stage of society between capitalism and communism in which all forms of oppression and discrimination which violate the equality and unity of working people are progressively and consciously overcome. It is indisputable that the greatest violation of this equality and greatest obstacle to our unity arises from the division of the world between a handful of oppressor nations and the rest; working people in imperialist nations must seize political power and wrest control of the means of production in order to heal this mutilating division. This is what informed my decision to begin Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century with the Rana Plaza disaster.

Finally, Rana Plaza and Bangladesh’s garment industry is an extremely useful case study which exemplifies features shared with other low-wage manufactures-exporting nations. These include the centrality of ultra-low wages, the predilection of employers for female labor, and the growing preference of firms based in imperialist countries for arm’s-length relations with their low-wage suppliers, as opposed to foreign direct investment. Furthermore, analysis of Bangladesh’s garment industry poses a series of questions and paradoxes which mainstream economics cannot resolve and which Marxist economists have barely begun to tackle. Chief amongst them is the mainstream doctrine that wages reflect productivity, and that if Bangladeshi wages are so low it means the productivity of its workers are correspondingly low — but how can this be true when they work so intensely and for such long hours? Another is this: what is the relation between the global shift of production to low-wage countries and the global economic crisis, still in its early stages? This question is absent from mainstream and most Marxist accounts of the crisis, rendering them, in my opinion, completely redundant. The study of the Rana Plaza disaster and of Bangladesh’s garment industry therefore generates a list of issues and paradoxes which provide the themes for each subsequent chapter, and so serves to organize the whole of the rest of the book.

John Smith. (Photo: Monthly Review Press)

John Smith. (Photo: Monthly Review Press)

How has uber-capitalism, asserted globally by developed nations, replaced the need to control colony nations through direct political power?

Uber-capitalism signifies the supremacy of the law of value, which now rules uber alles. In other words, markets — in particular, capital markets and the capitalists who wield their social power through these markets– rule the world to a greater extent than ever before. This doesn’t mean there’s nothing else under the sun — pre-capitalist communal societies and subsistence economies still survive in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, as do the post-capitalist economic relations manifested in the welfare states in imperialist democracies (a major concession won by workers in those countries, financed to a large extent by the proceeds of super-exploitation in low-wage nations), the post-capitalist economic relations in Cuba defended by the revolutionary power of its working people and the remnants of China’s socialist revolution which have yet to be reversed by this country’s ongoing transition to capitalism. However, as capitalist social relations have extended their grip on the oppressed nations of the global South, and as the transition back to capitalism of the former socialist countries gathers pace, so these remaining redoubts of non-capitalism have shrunk, and today exist in highly antagonistic contradiction to rampant “market forces,” a euphemism for capitalist power.

The social power of capital is enforced through the so-called rule of law, which exalts the sanctity of private property and negates the sanctity of human life. Any people that dares to defy laws protecting capitalist property, e.g. by defaulting on debts or by expropriating assets, is subject to the most severe economic penalties, and, if that is not sufficient, is threatened with subversion, terrorism and invasion. The transition from colonialism of yesteryear to the neocolonialism of today is analogous to the transition from slavery to wage-slavery, and merely signifies that capitalism has largely dispensed with archaic, precapitalist forms of domination and exploitation, while taking great care to preserve its monopoly of military force for use in cases of revolutionary challenge to its rule.

What is the “GDP illusion?”

GDP — gross domestic product — measures the monetary value of all the goods and services produced for sale within a national economy. It is often criticized for what it excludes — goods and services that aren’t produced for sale, such as those produced by domestic labor and those provided for free by the state; and so-called “externalities,” i.e. the social and environmental costs which don’t appear in the accounts of private firms, such as pollution, damage to workers health, etc. However, it has never, to the best of my knowledge, been criticized for what it includes. The problem can be illustrated by considering the mark-up on a T-shirt made in Bangladesh and consumed in the US. Leaving aside, for simplicity’s sake, the cost of transport and of the raw materials used up in production, up to $19 of the $20 final sale price will appear in the GDP of the US, the country where this commodity is consumed, while the GDP of Bangladesh will be expanded by just $1, made up of the factory-owner’s profits, taxes levied by the state, and a few cents paid to the workers who actually made the T-shirt. The $19 mark-up can be broken down into the “value-added” by wholesalers and retailers and by the advertisers, owners of commercial property, etc. who provide services to them. This strongly suggests that much, most or all of the value-added that is captured by US wholesalers and retailers was actually generated in Bangladesh, not in the US.

GDP is simply the aggregate of all of the value-added of all the firms in a national economy. Taxes, and the government services financed by these taxes, are accounted for by assuming that the value of these services is exactly equal to the taxes used to pay for them — and so GDP can therefore be calculated by summing firms’ income before the deduction of taxes.

What is critical, therefore, is the nature of so-called “value-added.” For an individual firm, this is obtained by subtracting the cost of inputs from the monetary value of its output. At this point, mainstream economic theory and standard accounting practice makes a crucial and wholly arbitrary assumption: a firm’s value-added is identical to the new value created by the production process within that firm and does not include any value generated elsewhere and captured by that firm in circulation, i.e. in markets, where titles to value are circulated but none is generated. This conflation of the value generated in the production of a commodity and the price received for it is the basis of the ruling economic doctrine in all its forms. On the other hand, recognition that the value generated in production and the value captured in the marketplace are two entirely different quantities which bear no necessary relationship to each other is the starting point of Marxist value theory, one implication of which is that activities, such as advertising, security services and banking produce no value whatsoever and are instead overhead costs, forms of social consumption of values generated in productive sectors of the economy — much of which have been relocated to low-wage countries like Bangladesh.

This, then, is what I call the GDP illusion, whereby the value generated by low-wage labor in poor countries appears to be generated domestically in rich countries. In this way, the parasitic and exploitative relationship between imperialist countries and low-wage countries is veiled by supposedly objective raw economic data, considered as such even by many Marxist and other radical critics of the system who should know better.

How do you define “global labor arbitrage”?

This term was popularized in the early 2000s by Stephen Roach, a senior economist at Morgan Stanley, who described global labor arbitrage as the replacement of “high-wage workers here with like-quality, low-wage workers abroad,”  adding that “extract[ing] product from relatively low-wage workers in the developing world has become an increasingly urgent survival tactic for companies in the developed economies.” Yet this only offers a superficial description of the phenomenon, while the mainstream theory that Roach subscribes to does not adequately explain it. Before I give my definition of global labor arbitrage, I should first explain its meaning in terms of the mainstream economic theory. Simply, it means moving production to where labor costs are lowest. “Labor costs” doesn’t just refer to wages — from the capitalist’s point of view, what matters as well as the cost of labor (i.e., the wage) is the monetary value of the goods or services produced by this labor — in other words, unit labor cost, defined as the cost of the labor required to produce an extra unit of output. According to mainstream theory, efficient, unimpeded markets equate workers’ wages with their “marginal product,” i.e. their contribution to total output, and from this two important consequences flow. First, workers are not exploited — they receive in wages no more and no less than they contribute. Second, free markets equalize unit labor costs between industries and countries — if wages are higher for some workers, it means they are more productive.

So, if, in the real world, (unit) labor costs are actually lower in some countries than in others, it means that workers in those countries receive wages which are lower than their marginal product — in other words, even according to mainstream economic theory, they are being exploited. And, secondly, it means that the functioning of the labor market is impeded by extra-economic factors that depress wages, namely restrictions on the free movement of labor across borders. In mainstream economic theory, “arbitrage” means profiting from market imperfections that result in the same commodity fetching a different price in one place than in another. No other market suffers from imperfections on anything like the same scale as those encountered by the sellers of living labor, creating enormous opportunities for corporations to profit at their expense.

While none of this can be disputed by mainstream economists, the norm is to obfuscate these issues for what might be called public relations reasons, and it is to his credit that Stephen Roach spoke so plainly. But the mainstream explanation is inadequate, for several reasons. First, workers don’t just replace their wages; their unpaid labor is the source of all of the capitalists’ profits, and also pays for economic activities that do not add to social wealth, such as advertising, security, finance, etc. In other words, the exploitation of living labor is fundamental to capitalism and does not depend on market imperfections. Second, suppression of the free movement of labor cannot be regarded as an incidental, exogenous factor; instead, we need a concept that recognizes this to be an intrinsic part of contemporary global capitalism. And the same goes for the compulsion mentioned by Stephen Roach that has obliged capitalists in imperialist countries, on pain of extinction, to shift production to low-wage countries.

My definition of so-called global labor arbitrage is, therefore, that the division of the world between a handful of oppressor nations and a great number of oppressed nations, “the essence of imperialism,” as Lenin said, is now an intrinsic property of the capital/labor relation and is manifested in the racially- and nationally-stratified global workforce; and that the super-exploitation this makes possible is a central factor countering the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, postponing the eruption of systemic crisis until the first decade of the 21st century.

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Decolonization has emancipated the national bourgeoisies of the oppressed nations, giving them a place for their snouts in the trough, but the working peoples of the oppressed nations, whose hard-fought struggles achieved decolonization, still await their day of liberation. The division of the world between a handful of oppressor nations and a great majority of oppressed nations is today manifested in the racial and national hierarchy that constitutes the global working class; maintaining these divisions plays an absolutely central political as well as economic role in capitalism’s continued survival. Violent suppression of free movement of labor across national borders, especially those between imperialist and low-wage nations, is a key factor producing and perpetuating wide international wage differentials; these in turn propel both the migration of production processes to low-wage countries and the migration of low-wage workers to imperialist countries, which are therefore two sides of the same coin.

How is gender discrimination built into the capitalist workforce?

Capitalists utilize all forms of division and disunity amongst working people in order to reap super-profits from doubly-oppressed layers and to bear down on the wages of all workers. Since hunger for cheap labor is the main force driving the global shift of production, it’s no surprise this is manifested in a preference for the cheapest labor in those countries, namely that of women (and children); and as Bangladesh illustrates, this is no less true of countries where patriarchal culture has hitherto excluded women from life and labor outside the home. Conferring the status of wageworkers and breadwinners on young women and concentrating them in large numbers in factories tends to transform their social status and self-image, never more so than when fighting street battles with baton-wielding cops and company goons. To temper the subversive consequences of their greed, capitalist politicians crank up promotion of obscurantist, patriarchal ideologies, aimed at impeding the growth of militant class consciousness among these doubly-oppressed layers of the working class, performing a similar function to the promotion of sexiest celebrity culture and the cosmetics and fashion industries in other parts of the world.

More generally, the wealth gap between men and women is much greater than the income gap, reflecting the cumulative results of centuries and millennia of patriarchal class society. Patriarchy, like imperialism, predated capitalism and was a condition for its rise. Frederick Engels explained, in Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, that women’s oppression originated in the transition from primitive communism to class society, when a layer of the male population used their superior physical strength and aggression to seize possession of the social surplus and live at the expense of the rest of society. To pass accumulated wealth down the male line, they seized control of women’s fertility, resulting in what Engels called the “world-historic downfall of the female sex.” This implies that social revolution, opening the door to the abolition of class division, is a prerequisite for uprooting women’s oppression, which can only be accomplished by building a society that places human beings and children at its center, in place of profit and private wealth accumulation.

Posted in USA0 Comments

Beverly Bell on Berta Cáceres: “There Will Not Be Change as Long as the US Sends Military Aid to Honduras”

NOVANEWS

By Janine Jackson, FAIR

Image result for Honduras ARMY PHOTO

Janine Jackson:  March 2 marks a year since the killing of Honduran indigenous rights and environmental activist Berta Cáceres. The private and state actors believed responsible for her murder never made any secret of the threat they saw from Cáceres and her group COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras — the threat to the ability of extractive industries to steal land and water out from under indigenous people with state sanction. Such predations and the accompanying violence have been exacerbated by the 2009 coup in Honduras, a coup that the US, critically, supported.

If history is guide, what coverage you may see of the anniversary of Cáceres’ death will acknowledge her as a human rights leader but won’t discuss US complicity in her fate, and that of many others killed, attacked or jailed in Honduras for standing up for themselves and their communities.

Beverly Bell is coordinator of the group Other Worlds Are Possible, and associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She worked and traveled with Berta Cáceres and COPINH for many years. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Beverly Bell.

Beverly Bell: Thank you, Janine.

Well, in May of 2015, when we spoke to you last, corporate media in the US were largely overlooking Berta Cáceres and COPINH being awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, a sort of “green Nobel.” And we talked about that as a missed chance to bring to light connections between US-based corporations and US aid dollars, and the violence against indigenous communities and environmental advocates, among others, in Honduras. I remember that at the time, you said that because of her work, Berta’s life “hung by a thread.”

Well, that missed opportunity to talk became an ominous silence, it seems, just as it’s been made painfully clear how important it is to make just those connections. I’d like to ask you to tell us about Honduras since the assassination, and what still stands in the way of justice for Berta Cáceres and for all of those others.

The first thing that stands in the way of justice is that the Honduran government continues to be an imposed government, and completely unaccountable. It reigns with full impunity, as have the administrations which preceded it, ever since 2009 — when, as you say, the US very strongly backed a coup d’etat against Manuel Zelaya, who was the last elected government of Honduras. Since then, there have been two other elections, and both have been total shams. They were certified by both the US and Canada, but very few other governments. And so the government pretends to be a democracy, and is certainly touted as such up here, but it is in fact a dictatorship, and acts like one.

The group Global Witness, a very well-known and well-respected international human rights group, just put out another report saying that Honduras continues to be the most dangerous country in the world to be an environmental activist, and certainly the record of the last year proves that to be true. There have been dozens and dozens of assassination attempts, and at least six high-level indigenous activists — just indigenous activists — have been killed or almost killed, just in the past year since Berta Cáceres was killed.

The most recent was on February 20, when José de los Santos Sevilla, who was a leader of the Tolupan indigenous people, who are fighting their own battles against the theft of their land and resource extraction, was killed. So he is only the last. I don’t even have all the figures; they haven’t even all been tracked.

But what we know is that until there is a change in the actions of the Honduran government, and a respect for lives, human rights and democracy, indigenous and other environmental actors will not be safe. And we know, furthermore, that there will not be this change, vis-a-vis the Honduran government, as long as the US continues to send many, many, many millions of dollars of military aid to Honduras every year.

When Berta Cáceres was killed, papers like the New York Times covered it, and they talked about how the coup, in fact, had made Honduras more dangerous for activists, but then they left out the US role in the coup. Well, since then, US media have gone, if you will, further. They’ve actually worked to sell a whole different idea to US citizens about the role that the US has played and is playing in Honduras. What can you tell us about that?

Well, you mentioned the investigation into the events of March 2 a year ago, which is when Berta Cáceres was assassinated. Also that night, also in her house, a guest from Mexico, a very powerful indigenous and environmental defender in his own right, Gustavo Castro Soto, was shot and was almost killed. One bullet just missed his skull by a millimeter, and took off part of his ear instead. He was also shot in the hand. He was then held illegally by the Honduran government and tortured for one month. And we do know, we actually have corroboration from the State Department in a written email, that they were part of that investigation. Gustavo escaped just by a hair with his life, and he and his family are now living in exile in Europe.

So both Gustavo and the family of Berta Cáceres have been trying to have a fair investigation. This investigation, much like Berta’s own killing, is really a window into the role of the United States government. And I’ll just spin that out for you a little bit, because it’s part of the story that has been kept from the US public, and certainly the Honduran public.

So these two entities, one of them a direct survivor — Gustavo Castro Soto from Mexico; he’s actually the director of Friends of the Earth Mexico in Chiapas — and then the family of Berta Cáceres, have been trying to gather evidence. The Honduran government has blocked them at all turns, and then last September actually disappeared every shred of evidence that those two parties had spent six months collecting. Every document, every photograph, every scrap of paper that had the name of a lead, all disappeared.

And, of course, the Honduran government said that it was a theft. Of course, we know that it wasn’t. Furthermore, the Honduran government has refused to share any information with these players, including with Berta’s very own daughters, and they have refused the offer of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to help out and to come in as a neutral player. That is not at all surprising.

And then what the US has done is only surprising in how far it goes. It’s so egregious; what the US did has been to arrest, through a special unit that is deployed to the Honduran government, the US has made arrests at strategic times of suspects, and then has gone to the US Congress — we know this for a fact — and said, oh, no no, you can’t cut off US military aid to Honduras, because then there will be no way to go forward with the investigation into Berta Cáceres’ killing, because the US is the only team that is doing anything serious.

The US began doing this immediately after Keith Ellison introduced into Congress last year the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act, which called on all US military aid to be cut until there was significant improvement in human rights. And so it was immediately in response to this bill going into the US Congress that we then saw the US being so duplicitous, and convincing Congress that US aid had to continue flowing.

That would seem to dovetail nicely with the piece that some listeners may remember from August of last year in the New York Times, which was about how the US is involved in Honduras and making things safer in Honduras. I mean, “How the Most Dangerous Place on Earth Got Safer” was the headline over this Week in Review piece, and the subhead, I thought, was very interesting: “Programs Funded by the United States Are Helping Transform Honduras. Who Says American Power Is Dead?” This seems to me to fit precisely with this effort to fight back against any plans to stop aid by saying, no, no, no, the US is actually the force for justice here — including justice for Berta Cáceres.

Yes, that piece that you mentioned that came out last August is really extraordinary, and the same journalist did one the same week on National Public Radio. And both of them show one tiny little micro example of a little community where apparently — who knows if it’s true, I doubt it, but — where apparently US government funding helped one small community center. And so this journalist extrapolated, and said that all of Honduras is getting better — as you say, Janine — thanks to US funding.

What’s extra interesting about those two pieces is that they appeared just weeks after the president of Honduras, in response to the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act moving forward in the Congress, the president had come up to Washington to do a big PR blitz to ramp up the Honduran government’s image, using the convenient tool of US media.

We’ve been speaking with Beverly Bell of the group Other Worlds. They’re online at OtherWorldsArePossible.org. Thank you so much, Beverly Bell, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Janine, I’m delighted to speak with you, and I hope that all US people listening will take responsibility for our government, such as it is, and get in touch with their congresspeople to push for this act that can truly make a difference for all Hondurans.

Posted in USA, South America0 Comments

Tortured and Wrongly Held at Guantánamo for 14 Years, Abdul Zahir Now Has Freedom, but No Justice

NOVANEWS

By Adam Hudson

Two protesters of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay look solemnly toward the White House.

Two protesters of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay look solemnly toward the White House. (Photo: Rebecca Nelson / Medill News Service)

Before Barack Obama left office, he released 10 detainees from Guantánamo to Oman. Among them was Abdul Zahir, a 45-year-old man from Afghanistan. Zahir was detained at Guantánamo for 14 years, even though the US government later admitted that he was wrongfully held. He was mistaken for another man who shared his nickname, Abdul Bari. Zahir’s story exemplifies the cruelty of Guantánamo and the policies of indefinite detention and torture, which will, in all likelihood, continue with Trump as president.

“I want to leave behind the bad things that happened to me while I have been imprisoned. I want to focus on the positive things ahead of me, seeing my family again, studying at university and perhaps being able to help others,” Zahir said, according a press release provided by his lawyers before he left Guantánamo. Zahir has three sons and speaks Arabic, Pashto and some Urdu, Farsi and English. Before his capture, he worked as a translator, shuttle driver and Arabic teacher.

US troops captured Zahir on July 11, 2002, during a raid in Afghanistan targeting another man named Abdul Bari — an alias also used by Zahir. The raid occurred at a compound in Hesarak village, which is a few miles east of Kabul and northeast of Gardez. Abdul Bari (not Zahir) allegedly helped produce and distribute chemical or biological weapons for al-Qaeda.

A day or two after the raid, US forces recovered “suspicious items,” according to a military intelligence assessment, including a white powder that they initially believed was a chemical or biological agent. However, on later examination, the substances turned out to be salt, sugar and petroleum jelly. When the Periodic Review Board determined, on July 11, 2016, that Abdul Zahir should be released, it also concluded that Zahir “was probably misidentified as the individual who had ties to al-Qaeda weapons facilitation.”

Zahir was not the only Guantánamo detainee detained because of a mistaken identity. In fact, another Guantánamo detainee among those released to Oman — Yemeni Mustafa al Shamiri — was also mistaken for another man with a similar name.

Torture and Assault in Guantánamo

Like every Guantánamo detainee, Zahir was tortured. His military defense lawyer, US Air Force Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas told Truthout that after Zahir’s capture, US forces “gave him the treatment that they thought every Brown person, every Muslim person they captured deserved — they tortured him.”

Zahir was tortured by US forces at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo, where he was transferred on October 27, 2002.

Thomas explained that Zahir suffered beatings, exposure to cold temperatures, cramped confinement, stress positions, hog-tying and sexual assault. “He would be kept in very small rooms with the air conditioning unit running full blast without proper clothing — so, a pair of shorts — and an iron bed,” Thomas said. Zahir “would be placed in interrogation rooms right under the air conditioner and they would make the room as cold as possible, with his hands tied to his waist, and then he would be tied into a fetal position on the floor in that very cold room.” In addition, Zahir “spent a year in a room that he called ‘a cage for animals.’ And in that room, he had to eat, sleep, exercise and shower all in the same place. Including elimination of waste.”

During the time he spent in that small room, a group of US troops would come into the room “wearing outfits meant to make him frightened” and “would spray a burning gas above his head,” while he was shirtless. Those troops would “drop him to the floor and two people would sit on his lower back and tie his hands and feet behind him,” a practice known as “hog-tying.” They would “then pick him up like a sheep and take him elsewhere where they would quickly immerse him in water that was flowing fast from a very big pipe.” After that, they would “take him back to where he was and drop him from about one meter onto the ground still tied.” Guards also grabbed and pulled his testicles “violently, until he fell unconscious.”

As a result of his torture, Zahir “suffered physically and emotionally.” He experienced major depressive episodes that led him to attempt suicide. Zahir protested his treatment on numerous occasions. In one instance, after he protested, a group of guards in riot gear (Forced Cell Extraction team) tackled Zahir and “damaged his spine so badly that they had to conduct surgery,” said Thomas. Since then, Zahir has had to walk with a walker and experiences internal organ issues.

Zahir’s torture was par for the course at Guantánamo. As documented by human rights groups like the Center for Constitutional Rights, beatings, shackling, sexual assault and other forms of abuse have been standard practice at Guantánamo, particularly in its early years. During the 2013 hunger strike, striking prisoners were force-fed, which is also a form of torture. Torture violates international law, particularly the UN Convention Against Torture.

For years, defense lawyers tried to get Zahir released, or at least secure a fair trial. Vermont lawyer Robert Gensburg challenged Zahir’s confinement with a habeas corpus action but was unsuccessful. Zahir was then brought up for trial before a military commission, which is when fellow Vermont lawyer David Sleigh and military co-counsel Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas joined Zahir’s defense team.

In 2006, Zahir was charged with conspiracy, materially supporting terrorism and killing civilians in connection with a grenade attack that wounded Canadian journalist Kathleen Kenna. However, the military commission temporarily shut down, his case never went to trial, and charges were dismissed. According to Thomas, Zahir made numerous, contradictory statements under torture — statements that the US government tried to use against him — but there was no physical evidence tying him to the attack. Thomas also mentioned that part of the reason Zahir was held for so long is because the US government tortured him and did not want those details made public in a civilian court.

How Do Mistaken Identity Cases Occur?

New Guantánamo intelligence reveals that the vast majority of detainees are not the “worst of the worst” as the US government claimed, according to the Miami Herald. In fact, some of those who were captured and incarcerated at Guantánamo had nothing to do with al-Qaeda.

This reality has always been clear to some people within the US government. One of them is Mark Fallon, a retired 30-year federal investigator who, from 2002 to 2004, headed the Pentagon’s Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF), established to investigate cases that would be brought before a military commission. In the early days, Fallon said it was clear to him and CITF that most of the people arriving at Guantánamo were not the super-villain terrorists portrayed by the US government. “We were frankly shocked at who wound up there going on the first plane loads. It was clear it wasn’t senior al-Qaeda leadership or main al-Qaeda men. It was just people who were kind of scooped up and a lot of them were paid bounties for. They were not very effectively, for the most part, screened very well in Afghanistan,” Fallon explained to Truthout.

Only 5 percent of Guantánamo detainees were captured by US forces. Meanwhile, 86 percent were captured by Afghan tribal allies or Pakistani security forces and handed over to US custody, according to a Seton Hall study. The detainees captured by Pakistan or Afghan tribal allies “were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies.” Very few were actually al-Qaeda fighters. “Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters,” according to the study, while 40 percent had “no definitive connection with al Qaeda” and 18 percent had “no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.”

It’s not a huge surprise that false charges and cases of mistaken identity occurred amid this race to incarcerate. Fallon said that JTF-GTMO (Joint Task Force Guantánamo), which runs the Guantánamo prison, was looking for anything to pin on detainees. For example, part of JTF-GTMO’s threat indication criteria was whether a detainee possessed a common item like a Casio F-91W or A159W wristwatch because it was “the sign of al-Qaida, [which] uses the watch to make bombs,” which Fallon called “sad” and “comical.” Fallon said CITF concluded “an overwhelming majority” of detainees had no intelligence or investigative value and should be released, while JTF-GTMO argued for further detention. However, it was JTF-GTMO’s assessments that caught the White House’s ear, while voices like Fallon’s were marginalized. Fallon shares his insider perspective on how the US government implemented torture in a book called Unjustifiable Means: The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon, and US Government Conspired to Torture.

Meanwhile, Abdul Zahir will be attempting to get back on his feet, reunite with his family and begin rebuilding a life that was all but shattered. Despite his torture and horrific treatment at the hands of the US government, Zahir says he does not hate the United States or harbor any bitter feelings. Rather, he is focused on moving his life forward. Sterling called Zahir’s resolve “remarkable” and said, “He’s been through things that no human being should have to suffer through. Regardless of what they did. And he had done nothing that was a crime.”

Moving on could be difficult for Zahir. Many former Guantánamo and CIA black sitedetainees continue to face mental health problems even after being released, such as depression and post-traumatic stress. That makes it difficult for them to readjust into normal society. This means true justice for Guantánamo detainees entails more than just releasing them to another country. It also must include redress for the torture inflicted upon them and the physical, mental and emotional problems resulting from that abuse.

However, true justice does not currently seem within reach for current and former Guantánamo detainees. There arecurrently 41 detainees in Guantánamo, including 26 held in indefinite detention — people whom the government does not have enough untainted evidence to prosecute but claims are too dangerous to release. Like torture, indefinite detention also violates international human rights law. While theTrump administration has dropped the idea of reopening secret prisons, it does want to keep the Guantánamo prison open and put new detainees there. According to the Miami Herald, the Guantánamo military prison could hold another 200 or so prisoners.

Posted in USA, Human Rights0 Comments

Is The Trump Administration Reversing Support For WikiLeaks?

NOVANEWS

By Derrick Broze

After months of public support for WikiLeaks, President Trump’s administration is now considering punishing WikiLeaks for the release of leaked CIA documents.

“I love WikiLeaks.” That’s how presidential candidate Donald Trump described his feelings for the anti-secrecy organization at a rally in October 2016. Trump was celebrating WikiLeaks for their release of documents leaked from the Democratic National Committee, specifically those from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. Hillary Clinton’s email and the corporate collusion that was revealed by their release, were a popular topic for Donald Trump during his campaign. However, since WikiLeaks  released  new CIA documents on Tuesday, the Trump administration has called for prosecuting the organization and whistleblower.

WikiLeaks exposed the Central Intelligence Agency’s spying capabilities in an explosive new document dump dubbed “Vault 7.” The vault is a massive collection of 8,761 documents related to CIA surveillance activities, including everything from the CIA’s infiltration of smart phones, televisions, and cars, to the creation of a hacking station posing as a U.S. Consulate in Germany. WikiLeaks claims that the CIA recently lost control over a “majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized ‘zero day’ exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation”. The archive was apparently circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors before being shared with WikiLeaks.

The documents detail how the CIA’s hacking squad had blossomed to over 5000 registered users by the end of 2016 and produced more than a thousand hacking systems, trojans, viruses, and other “weaponized” malware. The hacking tools are built by EDG (Engineering Development Group), a software development group within the CCI. The EDG creates, tests, and offers support on all backdoors, exploits, trojans, viruses, and other malware used by the CIA in its surveillance operations. As part of a program code-named “Weeping Angel, the CIA was able to target Samsung Smart TVs via a ‘Fake-Off’ mode which would deceive the owner into believing the TV is off. In this ‘Fake-Off’ mode the CIA could use the TV as a recording device for conversations in the room.

According to Reuters, two officials speaking on condition of anonymity said that the intelligence community has been aware of the breach since the end of 2016 and that they believe the documents are indeed authentic. One of the officials told Reuters that the companies who contract with the CIA are already in the process of checking the computer logs and emails of employees who had access to the information leaked by WikiLeaks.

In response to the leaks, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told the press that the leaks undermine national security. “This is the kind of disclosure that undermines our country, our security and our well-being,” Spicer said. He also differentiated between the leaking of Podesta’s emails and the CIA documents, stating that there is a “big difference” between “undermining of Hillary Clinton” and “the leaking of classified information. There is a massive, massive difference between those two things.”

In an interview on Fox News’s “Special Report,” Vice President Pence also signaled a different outlook on WikiLeaks. “Trafficking in national security information, as is alleged WikiLeaks has done here, is a very serious offense,” Pence said. “It represents a compromise of the security of the American people.”

Pence said Americans “should be deeply troubled” by the leaks, which he claims are “designed to damage the Intelligence Community’s ability to protect America against terrorists and other adversaries.” Pence also stated that the President and the administration will “use the full force of the law and resources of the United States to hold all of those to account that were involved.” So far President Trump has not given a statement himself, but the words of his press secretary and vice president seem to indicate a change in tone.

However, if the president does indeed reverse his position on WikiLeaks it would not be the first time. As USA Today reported, Trump called WikiLeaks disgraceful in December 2010 following WikiLeaks release of classified cables from U.S. Embassies. “Trump, years prior to announcing his presidential campaign, appeared on the Kilmeade & Friends, a radio show on Fox News,” wrote USA Today. “In a clip posted on YouTube to preview the interview, host Brian Kilmeade mentioned WikiLeaks, saying, “You didn’t have anything to do with it, did you?” Trump replied, “Nope, but I think it’s disgraceful. I think there should be a death penalty or something.”

Trump’s call for a death penalty (presumably for WikiLeaks editor and founder Julian Assange) is actually not a new position either. During an interview on CNN, Trump called NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden a “total traitor” and in an interview on “Fox and Friends” Trump said that there still exists a “thing called execution” for people like Snowden.

So, according to President Trump, leaking information which exposes the massive surveillance state that exists in the United States is worthy of execution. To those who believe Trump is an anti-establishment president fighting off the forces of the globalists, please think again. Trump is a tool for the establishment and you are being played. Just like the Democrats were in 2008, the Republican-leaning individuals are also being deceived. The sooner Trump supporters accept this, the sooner we can truly break free of the left-right paradigm and expose the corruption and tyranny from right and left.

Posted in USA0 Comments

Where Are The Peace Makers As U.S. Warms Up For Another Cold War

NOVANEWS

The U.S. desperately needs new enemies to keep its war based economy on high alert. It should be intuitive obvious to the casual observer, including Christians who claim to follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace, that the U.S. prefers war to peace.

In this podcast we look at the massive NATO military build up in eastern Europe rivaling the Berlin crisis of 1961. Russia is being moved into America’s “Number One Enemy” slot. For background material, read Chuck Carlson’s article, Massive Army Deployment is Deliberate Restart of ‘The Cold War’ and listen to our podcast “Christian Zionism is a War Based Religion.” (27 mins.)

Posted in USA0 Comments

Defense Executive Pleads Guilty to Defrauding US Aid Program

NOVANEWS

Image result for Yuval Marshak PHOTO

 

A former executive of Nazi Jewish-based defense contractor has pleaded guilty for his role in schemes to defraud a multi-billion dollar US program to finance foreign military purchases, the US Department of Justice announced in a press release on Monday.

Yuval Marshak entered his plea to one count of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud and one count of major fraud against the United States in US District Court in the state of Connecticut, the release explained.

“This conviction is the result of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) ongoing effort to identify and investigate fraudulent activity targeting the Department of Defense and its programs that support America’s national security and foreign policy objectives,”  DCIS Northeast Field Office acting special agent in charge Leigh-Alistair Barzey stated in the release.

According to court documents, Marshak carried out three separate schemes between 2009 and 2013, in which he falsely certified that all items sent to ‘Israel’ had been made in the United States, as required by law, the release noted.

Marshak also falsely claimed that no commissions had been paid, when a company in Connecticut that was controlled by a relative received undisclosed payments, according to the release.Two US companies have already settled charges with the Justice Department in connection with the FMF contracts.

Earlier this year, the New Jersey-based defense contractor Octal Group agreed to pay $460,000 in fines and restitution for covering up an agreement with Marshak.

A second company, Hale Products, Inc. paid more than $60,000 and agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department investigation.

In addition to fines, Marshak faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for wire and mail fraud charges, ten years for major fraud against the US government and 20 years for international money laundering.

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZI0 Comments

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