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Israel’s Far-Right Seizes on Settlement Rape Case to Boost Electoral Prospects

WEST BANK, PALESTINE — Signs of blood libel are all over the case of a Palestinian worker accused of raping a seven-year-old Jewish girl in a religious Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Politicizing a horrifying tragedy such as this is tantamount to sacrilege, and this case, which is all over Israeli headlines, is more about police incompetence and politics than it is about justice.

As Israelis prepare for upcoming elections, the “National Religious” camp (sometimes called the “Religious Zionist” camp) represented by violent racist gangsters like newly appointed cabinet members Bezalel Smutrich and Rafi Peretz, Itamar Ben-Gvir and other followers of the late guru of the Zionist Right, Meir Kahana — desperately needs to increase the number of seats it holds in the Knesset. A blood libel against an Arab they can claim committed a terrible crime against a helpless Jewish victim is exactly what could help them tip the scale and get the votes they need.

 

A crime too horrific to imagine

The crime in question is the kidnapping and rape of a seven-year-old girl. The location has yet to be revealed but according to reports is an Ultra-Orthodox religious West Bank settlement in the Binyamin District. The defendant — whose name, along with the village where he lives, has been revealed — is Mahmoud Katusa of Deir Qadis. Katusa is a Palestinian who was working at the girl’s school as a janitor.

According to Ha’aretz, “[t]he indictment does not mention the precise date or hour when the rape took place, only that it was committed between February and April.” According to the same report, once the defendant’s alibi was confirmed, police changed the location and date of the rape to a time and place for which he had no alibi.

Mahmoud Katusa is pictured in an undated Facebook photo

If that wasn’t enough to make the accusation against the defendant bizarre, Ha’aretz further reports that “[i]n the police’s new version of events, the apartment where the rape took place is at least a 10-minute walk from the school, and along the way passes through crowded main streets of the ultra-Orthodox settlement.” Anyone who knows what Israeli settlements are like in the West Bank — or, for that matter, anywhere in occupied Palestine — is aware that an Arab walking around with a young Jewish girl without being stopped and questioned by passers-by is not possible.

 

Politically motivated

Another bizarre development in the case is the politicization of the crime in the media, such as the following headline from Ha’aretz:

Rape of 7-year-old Israeli Girl in West Bank Not Politically Motivated, Security Sources Say.”

One cannot help reading between the lines of the headline to see how it is hinting that security sources do not rule out the possibility that a seven-year-old girl would be raped as part of the Palestinian national struggle.

What is clearly politically motivated is the speed with which a Palestinian — who, according to a resident of the settlement, is, “a very familiar figure in the city, who has been working here for the past eight or nine years” — was charged. The same resident added: “They’ve caught the wrong person here and I’m crying out against it… There are millions of question marks here.”

Members of the Jewish nationalist Leava (Flame) — a racist right-wing gang with a history of violence that is dedicated to preventing the assimilation of Jews with Arabs — and the “Jewish Might” movement, who are hoping to get their members into the Knesset and even into the coalition government, are using this case to ramp up anti-Arab sentiment. As soon as news of the case broke, and before it was even made clear whether or not the man being questioned committed the crime, members of the racist gang were already blocking the road into the Deir Qadis village where the accused is from and threatening retaliation.

Leava activists block the road into Deir Qadis. Photo | Leava

Itamar Ben-Gvir, a well known racist and recent regular guest on Israeli news shows, claims that all those involved in the rape case should be given the death penalty “due to the nationalist character of the attack.” Hakol Hayehudi, a right-wing Israeli publication, claims that there are reports that while the defendant was raping the girl, “other Arabs were holding her and laughing.”

In response to the uncorroborated claim, Bezalel Smutrich, leader of the “National Unity” Party, tweeted, “If only we could execute this disgusting human being.” Smutrich, who believes Palestinian have no rights to Palestine and that it is all Jewish land, was just nominated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a cabinet position in the interim government.

Smutrich  — who was slated for the post of justice minister but blew it when he called on Israel to adopt Jewish law as the law of the land, as “in the days of David and Solomon” — is precisely the kind of uncompromising religious Zionist with whom Netanyahu is happy to align himself politically. He makes no secret of or apology for his racist, nationalistic views, expressed here in his comments on the floor of the Knesset.

A man looks at an elections billboards. The panel of the right shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flanked by extreme right politicians, from the left, Itamar Ben Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich and Michael Ben Ari in Bnei Brak, Israel, March 16, 2019. Hebrew on the right billboard reads “Kahana Lives” in a reference to a banned ultranationalist party in the 1994, March 16, 2019. Oded Balilty | AP

Another politician fighting to get the votes of extreme right-wing Israelis, Avigdor Leiberman, wrote:

The rape of a 7-year-old girl by a Palestinian shocked me deeply. This isn’t pedophilia but pure terrorism, a well-planned attack on a young, innocent, helpless girl. This is exactly the kind of case in which I wouldn’t hesitate; I demand that the court sentence this abominable terrorist to death.”

No trial, no court has yet determined that a crime was committed by anyone, let alone a Palestinian.

 

The latest

Josh Breiner, the journalist who brought the case to light, tweeted the following developments, as of the time of writing these words. According to Breiner, the police detective tasked with investigating the case said that the “investigation is lacking and that the girl was not seen by a specialist.” Breiner also reports that “the investigation goes back to Judea and Samaria, or SHAI police investigation unit,” meaning that the investigation so was deemed incomplete and local police need to investigate the case more thoroughly. “Why,” Brener asks, “did it take this long? Where were they for 50 days?” He adds:

Mahmoud Katusa is still in custody, that is a travesty. The hearing in his case is scheduled for tomorrow, but he is an Arab so what is one day more or less in prison? The man has been in custody for 50 days.”

Breiner says, “the reason we only heard about this case a few days ago is that after 46 days the police removed the gag order that was placed on this case.”

 

Conclusion?

It is not likely that there will be a clear legal conclusion to this case any time soon. The daily Ma’ariv reports that there is no conclusive evidence that the girl was raped. The girl herself, the report continues, cannot identify who, if anyone assaulted her. So far, what is clear is that the man accused of the crime, who has been in prison for 50 days, wasn’t at the scene at the time of the crime; the girl was not seen by an appropriate medical specialist; the investigation is lacking; and the gag order that was imposed on the case was lifted for reasons that have not been made clear.

However, for the Zionist, nationalist right-wing politicians, this is a great opportunity: blood libel against a Palestinian; demagoguery; and calls for everything from the total expulsion of Palestinians, to all-out war against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, to the removal and replacement of the Al-Aqsa Mosque with a Jewish temple. All are great slogans to get the votes of their constituents. Votes, so it seems, that went to the Likud Party and to Benjamin Netanyahu in the last elections.

Feature photo | A Jewish settler girls play beside a road in Amona, an illegal settlement in the West Bank, May 26, 2016 . Oded Balilty | AP

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

The post Israel’s Far-Right Seizes on Settlement Rape Case to Boost Electoral Prospects appeared first on MintPress News.

UN Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer Becomes One of Assange’s Most Vocal Advocates

On May 9, UN Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer, visited WikiLeaks founder and journalist Julian Assange at Belmarsh Prison, where he is currently serving a 50-week prison sentence for a minor bail violation. Melzer was accompanied by two medical experts who specialize in the examination of possible victims of torture as well as the documentation of symptoms, both physical and psychological. The team was able to speak with Assange and conduct a medical assessment following a set of guidelines known as “The Istanbul Protocol,” a tool designed to help UN workers and others investigate, document, and report incidents of torture and ill-treatment.

The results were shocking.

According to Melzer, the evidence is overwhelming that Assange has been “deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively [more] severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” the effects of which he described as psychological torture. Melzer also found that Assange has been exposed to:

persistent, progressively [more] severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy; and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination.”

The UN Rapporteur admitted that he had been reluctant to investigate Assange’s case, not because he felt that Assange was a “bad actor” but rather because he had been “affected by the same misguided smear campaign as everybody else.” But as he delved deeper into the case he found that Assange had been subjected to a “relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing, intimidation and defamation,” during which time no government involved tried to intervene or protect him.

In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.” (UN release)

As a result of the limited number of outside influences to which Assange was exposed, as well as his confinement to a small, controlled environment within the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for more than seven years, Melzer believes that it’s possible to determine the causes of Assange’s symptoms with a high degree of certainty.  He found that four nations have “contributed to medical effects” that Melzer and his team observed: Sweden, the U.K., Ecuador, and the U.S.

A UN statement about Melzer’s findings was released on May 31, and since that time Melzer has become one of Assange’s most active and vocal advocates, taking part in well over a dozen interviews about his health, legal difficulties, judicial bias, and more. Below is a summary of 12 different interviews he has given over approximately the last three weeks.

 

Sweden

Melzer has frequently spoken about the “elephant in the room,” which he describes as the United States’ attempts to have Assange extradited in order to make an example out of him. Essentially every judicial proceeding Assange has faced since 2010 has revolved around this threat.

His legal troubles began in August 2010, when Sweden opened an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, including rape and molestation. However, rather than contact Assange directly for questioning, Swedish authorities publicized the case despite the fact that Swedish law strictly prohibited them from doing so. Upon learning about the investigation, Assange immediately went to the police and made a statement, after which the case was closed owing to a lack of evidence.

Days later the case was reopened by a different prosecutor and Assange remained in Sweden until the end of September in order to assist with their investigation. On September 15, 2010, Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny granted Assange permission to leave the country; so, despite an almost decade-old narrative that Assange “fled” Swedish charges (he was never charged) by hiding out in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, that is absolutely and categorically not true.

It’s also important to note that, when Assange left Sweden, authorities seized his belongings at the airport, including a laptop and other electronics; at which point, had the Swedish prosecutor been so inclined to keep him in the country for questioning, they could have seized him right then and there. Instead, they allowed him to leave.

Once Assange was in the U.K., Sweden requested that he return for questioning, which aroused suspicion owing to the fact that, as Melzer pointed out, the country has a history of cooperating with the U.S. government and turning people over to it without due process, some of whom were rendered and later tortured.  Assange feared, correctly, that the “elephant in the room” lay hidden behind Sweden’s request.

He offered to cooperate with Swedish officials if they would guarantee no extradition but they refused to do so, a disingenuous move that not only prevented Assange from defending himself but made clear how little Swedish authorities respected or, perhaps, believed the alleged victims’ stories. Assange also offered to be questioned by video link but they declined.

After the U.K. Supreme Court upheld a Swedish extradition request (over questioning in the case, not charges) in May 2012, Assange, again, under the credible fear that Sweden would extradite him to the U.S., entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he sought asylum for political persecution.

He continued to try to assist Swedish officials and offered to be questioned at the Embassy but Sweden refused, despite having previously questioned at least 44 other individuals by video link or traveling for in-person interviews. The Swedish government’s outlandish refusals only fueled speculation that it was working on behalf of the United States. The investigation was finally closed in 2017, but was resurrected by Swedish officials last month.

Melzer points out that the reopened case is not about a violent and/or forced sexual encounter but rather the allegation that Assange purposely tore a condom during consensual sexual relations. The condom was later examined by authorities, who were unable to detect any DNA on it, including Assange’s. This is what Sweden describes as “rape,” and what it has used repeatedly to publicly characterize Assange as a rapist.

Emails between the U.K.’s  Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) and Sweden also show that the U.K. pressured Marianne Ny to keep the investigation going despite the fact that there have never been any charges or evidence, leading Melzer to suggest that there are alternative motives behind the case.

Sweden made it impossible for Assange to cooperate without risking being extradited to the U.S., while his reputation, credibility, and human dignity have been “gravely affected by these allegations,” reported Melzer.  As stated earlier, the case was reopened last month, making it virtually impossible to believe that this isn’t about the “elephant in the room.”

 

Almost 10 years of judicial and public abuse

Since WikiLeaks published “Collateral Murder” and the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs in 2010, Melzer reported that there has been a “sustained and concerted effort by several States” to get Assange extradited to the U.S., and an “endless stream of humiliating, debasing and threatening statements in the press and on social media.”  Inappropriate statements have also been made by “senior political figures and even by judicial magistrates involved in proceedings against Assange.”

Reuters reported that Melzer “declined to identify judges or senior politicians whom he accused of defaming Assange,” but you don’t have to look very far to find them:

U S Demands to Assassinate Assange https://t.co/ZlHH6wfJjI via @YouTube

— Nils Melzer (@NilsMelzer) June 15, 2019

According to Melzer, all of this has led up to a level of stress that would be unbearable for anyone and, as he put it:

Here we are not speaking of prosecution but of persecution. That means that judicial power, institutions and proceedings are being deliberately abused for ulterior motives.”

The UN Rapporteur repeatedly condemned Assange’s treatment in various interviews, stating that he is “appalled at the sustained and concerted abuse this man has been exposed to at the hand of several democratic States over a period of almost a decade.” Although Ecuador’s abuse of Assange didn’t start until Lenin Moreno came to power in 2017, since that time government officials deliberately harassed him in an attempt to get him to leave the embassy or to “trigger a health crisis that would justify his expulsion” from the embassy and into British hands.

Neither of those things occurred but President Moreno did expel him from the embassy and suspend his Ecuadorian citizenship without due process of law on April 11, 2019.

 

The torture of Julian Assange

According to Melzer, Assange has been gravely affected “by the extremely hostile and arbitrary environment he’s been exposed to” over a long period of time and the “evidence is overwhelming and clear” that he is being psychologically tortured, confirming what many already believed or reported.

Melzer and his team determined that Assange is also suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, with symptoms of “chronic anxiety, permanent severe stress and agitation” (no relaxation or satisfactory sleep for months, possibly years).

During Melzer’s meeting with Assange, the UN Rapporteur found him to be “agitated, under severe stress, and unable to cope with his complex legal cases,” and since his imprisonment, his ability to focus has been compromised. He was also “extremely jumpy,” and Melzer found it difficult to have a “structured” conversation with him.

Julain Assange is taken from court, where he appeared on charges of jumping bail seven years ago, in London. Matt Dunham | AP

Assange’s concern was that he couldn’t rely on fair judicial proceedings in either the U.S. or Sweden and that he had no means or time to prepare for the “multiple, complex legal proceedings that are expanding as we speak,” Melzer said. This — accompanied by the hostile, degrading, and humiliating treatment he’s been subjected to, consistently, for almost a decade — has led to “severe stress…and psychological trauma.”

The psychiatrists that accompanied Melzer to the prison noted that Assange needs access to a psychiatrist who isn’t part of the prison system — someone he can trust — and that “if he doesn’t get that and if the pressure on him is not alleviated rapidly,” further deterioration could occur and prolonged effects could result in permanent damage such as irreversible cardiovascular damage — or worse.

Assange’s condition is extremely serious and when he was asked whether Assange could actually die in prison if his calls are ignored, Melzer responded:

Absolutely. Yes, that’s a fear that I think is very real…it has to stop here and it has to stop now.”

 

The concept of (dis)proportional treatment

During Melzer’s interview with Going Underground, he explained the concept of proportional treatment and how it has factored into Assange’s case. Proportionality is best described as the idea that the severity of the punishment should fit the seriousness of the crime, a concept that has not been applied throughout Assange’s judicial proceedings.  

Take, for instance, Sweden’s reopening of its investigation of Assange. As previously stated, he was accused of ripping a condom during a consensual sexual encounter, yet no DNA was ever found on the condom and no evidence suggests this happened. This is what Sweden has used to cast him as a rapist in the public’s eye, despite the presumption of innocence and Swedish law forbidding the government to expose details about the case, such as the accused’s identity.

The UN Rapporteur — a Swiss academic and law professor at the University of Glasgow who has authored several books on international law — explained that any prosecutor confronted with this case would likely conclude that the condom looked planted, owing to the absence of any witnesses (except Assange and the woman), any evidence of physical harm, any DNA, and any transfer of STDs. Melzer stated:

There is no evidence and the prosecutor will know from the beginning, it’s predictable that Julian Assange will have to be acquitted because of presumption of innocence…In these circumstances it is disproportionate to pursue this preliminary investigation for almost a decade.”

Meanwhile, as noted above, Sweden refused to guarantee that it wouldn’t extradite Assange; refused to question him in such a manner that would guarantee his safety, such as by video link or in person at the embassy in London; and refused to do so despite having conducted similar interviews with individuals under investigation in the same manner. Sweden also refused without explanation.  

Then, on April 11, 2019, Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno expelled Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy with no due process, while he was “unconstitutionally stripped of his citizenship.” Moreno’s decision led to Assange’s arrest by British authorities and Melzer questioned, “What country can [deny you] asylum and citizenship without due process?”

Within three hours of his arrest, Assange was brought to court for a hearing, for which he was granted a mere 15 minutes to prepare with his attorneys, the same amount of time that the hearing lasted. While in front of the judge, his lawyer tried to object based on the “strong conflict of interest” on the part of the judge, who had previously upheld Sweden’s arrest warrant (culminating in the bail violation) and would be overseeing Assange’s extradition case.  They asked that the conflict be investigated.

In an extraordinary display of bias and unprofessionalism — perhaps even judicial misconduct — the judge refused to take into account the conflict of interest as well as Assange’s credible fear of being extradited and the fact that Ecuador had given him political asylum, which it contravenes the UNHCR Cessation Clauses to revoke while the threat that gave rise to it remains. Instead, he called Assange a “narcissist” and sentenced him to 50 weeks in a high-security prison for a minor bail violation — and that is the epitome of disproportionality.

Melzer believes that:

We all have to take a step back and ask if all of these proceedings are fair…we also have to take a step back and ask if the narrative is right — rapist, narcissist, selfish, ungrateful, hacker — and scratch the surface a bit and see what’s underneath there.”

 

U.K. complicity in Assange’s torture

Melzer noted, as we all have, that Assange’s extradition case is being handled by Emma Arbuthnot, the same judge who refused to withdraw Sweden’s 2010 arrest warrant last year despite the fact that the investigation had already been closed. She’s also married to Lord Arbuthnot — the former U.K. minister of defense; former chairman of the defense committee; director of SC Strategy, which is owned by the former head of MI6; and a member of the advisory board for Thales, one of the largest arms manufacturers and dealers in the world.  

What makes this situation even more questionable is the fact that Lord Arbuthnot was exposed in WikiLeaks’ publications and that alone — the fact that a judge with such a gross conflict of interest as this has been allowed to sit for not one, but two of Assange’s cases — contributes to the psychological torture, intense stress, and anxiety he’s already experiencing, explained Melzer.

Melzer’s belief is that the U.K. government has “failed to show impartiality and objectivity towards Mr. Assange that is required under the rule of law,” and his concern is that if the government fails to investigate “inappropriate statements, conflicts of interest,” or other sources of bias, his extradition hearing will be nothing more than a “fig leaf for his already pre-judged refoulement [the forced transfer of refugees to a country that is likely to persecute them] to the United States.”

Besides judicial bias and persecution, the U.K. is currently limiting Assange’s access to case documents, as well as to his lawyers, which obstructs his ability to prepare a proper defense. Apparently, he’s not even allowed to have legal documents in his prison cell, nor a computer to work on so he can stay in contact with his attorneys and draft statements.

Multiple legal proceedings that are “piling up” add to Assange’s stress and inability to cope with the demands of his proceedings, stated Melzer, who concluded: “Human Rights law requires that the defendant get enough time to prepare his defense.”

 

Extradition to the United States

Melzer’s greatest concern about Assange being extradited to the United States is that he will not receive a fair trial and that he’ll be “exposed to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights,” including but not limited to torture and cruel and unusual punishment. He believes that Assange would likely be “subjected to prolonged solitary confinement, to very harsh detention conditions, and to a psychological environment which would break him eventually.”

Assange is currently facing 18 charges in the United States, 17 of which fall under the Espionage Act for doing what journalists do everyday. Melzer believes that “the main narrative in this affair really is the United States wanting to make an example of Mr. Assange in order to deter other people from following his example.”

Wikileaks editor Kristinn Hrafnnson speaks to the media ahead of a court hearing over a U.S. request to extradite Assange, May 2, 2019 Frank Augstein | AP

Subjecting Assange to a harsh sentence, severe prison conditions, and solitary confinement for journalism “amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and [is] in violation of international law as well as the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution,” said Melzer. And prosecuting him for doing what every good investigative journalist and publisher does would be a gross violation of the First Amendment.

 

The meaning of a fair trial

During his interview with Chris Hedges on RT’s program On Contact, Melzer explained what is meant by a “fair trial” and why he doesn’t think Assange will get one in the United States. First, a fair trial requires that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but Melzer argues that both public and political opinion has been so tainted against him that it seems absurd to think that Assange would be afforded due process, that his rights would be protected, or that he would face an unbiased judge and jury.

Second, a fair trial requires equality before the law but when the government fails to prosecute those who commit war crimes while prosecuting those who expose them, there is no equality before the law.  

As Melzer pointed out, no U.S. officials or military soldiers have ever been charged for gunning down innocent Iraqis, including children, and two Reuters journalists during a 2007 Baghdad airstrike, a crime that was exposed in WikiLeaks’ “Collateral Murder” video. Additionally, no one has been charged for the CIA’s torture program despite the U.S. government’s obligations under the Convention Against Torture. It’s hardly surprising then that the United States has a dismal track record when it comes to enforcing the prohibition of torture. “The only person being prosecuted here seems to be the one that actually exposed all of these crimes,” stated Melzer:

The government really loses any credibility…that’s where — why I say prosecution then becomes persecution because there is no longer the rule of law… These are proceedings that are fundamentally skewed against the defendant.”

As an example of equality under the law, Melzer pointed to two Reuters journalists who had been imprisoned in Myanmar for exposing the massacre of 10 Muslims by Myanmar’s military. Although they were sentenced to 10 years in prison, the soldiers were also prosecuted and sentenced. Both were also later pardoned. But in Assange’s case, one needs only to look at the treatment (torture) and sentencing (35 years in prison) of Chelsea Manning, the whistleblower who leaked U.S. government crimes — and the fact that no one has ever been charged for those crimes — to realize that it’s “utterly unrealistic” to think Assange might be given a fair trial, acquitted, or given a light sentence.  

When asked if he thought Assange had committed a crime, Melzer responded that he didn’t think so: although one could try and build a case against him for trying to help someone (unsuccessfully) break a code, “it’s a bit like charging someone for trying to exceed the speed limit but not succeeding because the car is too weak.”

 

Australia

Even Australia isn’t off the hook, according to Melzer, who believes that they have been a “glaring absentee” in Assange’s case. He stated that they have failed to “take steps to protect their national — certainly not from justified criminal prosecution — but to protect him from this kind of excessive, almost persecution that he’s experiencing currently.”

 

Media culpability and the threat to a free press

Melzer admits that he was reluctant to investigate Assange’s case because he had been affected by media propaganda and that it wasn’t until he started to “scratch the surface” of it that he realized how little substance there was to the stories — but how much spin and manipulation lay beneath.

He urged everyone to look deeper into the case and warned us that we have been deliberately misled about Assange. From The Canary:

The predominant image of the shady ‘hacker,’ ‘sex offender,’ and selfish ‘narcissist’ has been carefully constructed, disseminated and recycled in order to divert attention from the extremely powerful truths he exposed…”

It can’t be emphasized enough how insightful Melzer’s interview with The Canary was in terms of the media’s accountability and how Assange’s case will affect a free and protected press:

In today’s information age, the media have an extraordinary power to shape public opinion…The media are a veritable ‘fourth power’ in the state next to the traditional branches of government, controlling not only what is said and shown, but also what is not disseminated…media outlets and individual journalists…have contributed significantly to spreading abusive and deliberately distorted narratives about Mr. Assange.”

Melzer went on to say that the media has failed to challenge governments or hold officials accountable for criminality and corruption and that they have created conditions that are ripe for violating Assange’s “most fundamental rights without provoking public outrage.”

He warned against Assange’s extradition in the UN’s released statement because it would raise concerns over the criminalization of investigative journalism, and in The Canary interview he stated that it would “establish a dangerous precedent of impunity threatening freedom of press and opinion worldwide.”

 

Melzer’s recommendations

Since his medical assessment of Assange, Melzer has sent out four official letters to Sweden, the U.K., Ecuador, and the United States urging them to “refrain from further disseminating, instigating or tolerating statements or other activities prejudicial to Assange’s human rights and dignity.” He also asked that they take measures to provide Assange redress and rehabilitation and that he not be extradited to the U.S. or any country that refuses to guarantee no extradition.

All our countries have violated the Convention on Torture and are directly involved in the “sustained and concerted abuse” inflicted on Assange. Melzer believes that if Assange has really committed a crime, he has the right to develop a defense with his attorneys and a guarantee that his rights will be protected. The UN Rapporteur would also like to see an “independent observation” on how Assange’s judicial proceedings are handled, as well as his health stabilized, and that he be given time to recover before having to face the monumental court proceedings ahead of him.

Melzer’s personal belief is that Assange should be released, compensated, and rehabilitated by the four involved States because he has suffered enough.

Nils Melzer after his visit with Julian Assange on May 31, 2019. Photo | Denis Balibouse

The opinions of Melzer, whether personal or professional, should not be taken lightly.  In addition to being appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2016, he is the current human rights chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, and served as a legal adviser, delegate and deputy head of delegation with the Red Cross for 12 years, during which time he worked in conflict zones.

He has an extensive background in humanitarian work and, according to the European Parliament, he specializes in “targeting and the use of force, cyber-conflict and the regulation of private military and security companies.” His focus also includes work on “international legal challenges arising in the contemporary security environment,” and he has authored several books — such as Target Killing In International Law, which examines the legality of targeted killing — as well as academic papers like “Cyberwarfare and International Law,” which discusses the humanitarian aspects of cyberwarfare as well as how international law pertains to it.

To say that Melzer is qualified in his field would be an understatement and his report on Julian Assange and the role that Sweden, the U.K., Ecuador, and the United States have played in the psychological torture and deteriorating condition of Julian Assange should be taken with the seriousness it deserves.

 

In summary

The UN Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, concluded that Julian Assange is and has been for years psychologically tortured and that available evidence strongly suggests Sweden, the U.K., Ecuador, and the United States are responsible for the “sustained and concerted abuse inflicted” upon him. Each of these countries have failed to protect the Australian publisher from “serious abuse, insult, and intimidation by media and other private actors within their jurisdiction.”

By displaying an attitude of complacency at best, and of complicity at worst, these governments have created an atmosphere of impunity encouraging Mr. Assange’s uninhibited vilification and abuse.”

Additionally, Assange is being denied the right to fair judicial proceedings and due process — including the U.S. secret grand jury indictment; the Swedish government’s continued investigation and dissemination of “Assange is a rapist” propaganda; U.K. judges’ overt bias and conflicts of interest; and lastly, Ecuador’s termination of his asylum status and citizenship. Melzer recently wrote on Twitter:

In U.K. courts #Assange is insulted a ‘narcissist’; jailed for seeking asylum; facing US extradition for journalism’ prosecuted by CPS known to have instigated his persecution; under a judge with known conflict of interest; under a Govt having prejudged him.”

As of now, Melzer believes that the most logical explanation for the “sustained systematic failure of the judiciary” under which Assange has suffered is that the U.S. is trying to make an example of him in an effort to deter others from doing what it is that WikiLeaks and Assange do: publishing the truth.

For Melzer, it’s almost inconceivable that there are “so many layers of so profoundly skewed and bias[ed] steps in the judicial proceedings” for this to be a coincidence. He doesn’t believe Assange would receive a fair and impartial trial in the U.S. and the case raises serious concerns about a free press.

“The collective persecution of Julian Assange must end here and now!” declared Melzer.

A full extradition hearing has been set for February 2020.

Feature photo | Menyalastudio | Shutterstock

Jjimmysllama is an independent researcher and writer who provides balanced, critical analysis with a focus on the Boston bombings, Magnitsky Act, and WikiLeaks.  She is currently trying to stay warm in the Midwest.  You can read more of her work at jimmysllama.com and find her on Twitter at @jimmysllama.

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Pentagon Has Emitted Over a Billion Metric Tons of Greenhouse Gases in Its War on Terror

Shadowproof — The United States military has emitted over a billion metric tons of greenhouse gases since the beginning of the global war on terrorism in 2001, according to a report from Brown University’s “Costs of War” project.

It is equivalent to the annual emissions of 257 million passenger cars, “more than double the current number of cars on the road in the U.S.”

With over 800 military bases in more than 80 countries, the Pentagon remains the “world’s largest institutional user of petroleum” and “producer of greenhouse gases.”

The Pentagon is not transparent when it comes to fuel consumption or greenhouse gas emissions. However, the project used the Department of Energy’s emissions data for the report’s estimates.

In 2017, the Pentagon’s greenhouse gas emissions were about 59 million metric tons. That same year, this was more than Finland (46.8 million metric tons), Sweden (50.8 million metric tons), or Denmark (33.5 million metric tons).

At least 400 million metric tons of greenhouse gases are a result of consumption in war zones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria.

According to the report, “From 1998 to 2017, the U.S. purchased 2.4 billion barrels of petroleum fuel. Since the 9/11 attacks, annual fuel purchases have averaged more than 120 million barrels of all types of fuel. Between 2010 and 2015, the armed services purchased an average of 102 million barrels of fuel per year from the DOD.”

It is estimated the Pentagon consumed more than 85 million barrels of “operational fuel” in order to power its fleets of ships, aircraft, and combat vehicles. They also used the fuel for “contingency bases.” In total, $8.2 billion was spent.

Since 2001, the [Pentagon] has consistently consumed between 77 and 80 percent of all U.S. government energy consumption,” the report notes.

Installations that support operations, as well as military non-armored vehicles, are notorious in their guzzling of fuel. There are apparently 60,000 HUMVEEs that remain the U.S. Army’s fleet. They get about “four to eight miles per gallon of diesel fuel.”

Domestic and overseas military installations account for about 40 percent of the Pentagon’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The report briefly details how jet fuel is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Credit | Watson Institute’s Cost of War project

Aircraft are responsible for hundreds of tons of C02. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan involved massive airstrikes, and materials were flown to setup bases for occupations.

“Similarly, the U.S. war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, which began in August 2014, has entailed tens of thousands of aircraft sorties for various missions—from reconnaissance, to airlift, refueling, and weapons strikes.  A B-2 Bomber on a mission from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri might be refueled many times.

The project cites the following example from January 18, 2017: “Two B-2 Bombers, accompanied by 15 KC-135 and KC-10 aerial refueling tankers made a 30-hour round trip mission from Whiteman Air Force Base to Libya to drop bombs on ISIS targets in Libya.”

As the report mentions, the project did not account for emissions caused by the “burning of oil by sabotage” or the destruction of oil infrastructure. Nor did it account for energy consumed in the process of reconstruction efforts or the impact of deforestation.

“In Afghanistan, war-caused migration and illegal logging appear to be the chief cause of deforestation. The causes of deforestation in Iraq are complex but include war.”

While the U.S. military has plenty of resources to move to renewable energy, it has remained dependent on petroleum, which is a boon for the oil and gas industry.

Switches to renewable power generation between 2011 and 2015 have only offset less than one percent of the Pentagon’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The closure of U.S. military bases in addition to the end of wars would go a long way toward diminishing the U.S. government’s gigantic carbon footprint. Any plan to address climate change should contemplate demilitarization, given what is outlined in this report.

As Alice Slater, the New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, wrote for The Nation, U.S. military bases are not only responsible for such massive amounts of greenhouse emissions but also devastating impacts caused by pollutants and toxic weapons.

“From Agent Orange in Vietnam, depleted uranium in Iraq, and munitions dumps and firing ranges in Vieques, Puerto Rico, to a toxic brew of poisons along the Potomac River, communities and soldiers as well as children born subsequent to exposure to these toxins are suffering a broad range of illnesses and inherited genetic damage, while the U.S. government ducks any accountability for the harm caused by its mindless dumping and reckless burial of untreated toxic military wastes,” Slater described.

Countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia that have been impacted the most have been largely unable to convince or pressure the U.S. military into funding clean-up projects.

When one adds the toxic effects of U.S. military bases to the enormous amount of emissions over the past couple decades, it becomes clear a climate plan should include climate reparations for affected countries too.

Feature photo | U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers during a training exercise in Fort Irwin, Calif., June 10, 2019. Photo | Dvids

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, “Unauthorized Disclosure.

Source | Shadowproof

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How the Coup in Venezuela and the US Housing Crisis are Inextricably Connected

The United States economy is organized such that all commodities, including both weapons and housing, drive the lion’s share of profits upward, into the pockets of a wealthy elite class, at the expense of the masses of working people who generate those profits through their labor power. The functioning of this system in the interest of a tiny few at the expense of the many is made equally apparent by the orchestration of war against Venezuela by the U.S. ruling class and the orchestration of a massive housing crisis within U.S. borders by wealthy developers.

The smallest minority in the United States, the super rich, are waging a war against Venezuela with the help of Venezuela’s own class of elites. The corporate-owned press has tried to sell this war to people in the United States by spinning an elaborate web of lies. President Donald Trump claims that the United States will bring prosperity, democracy, and freedom to Venezuela. However, the reality on the ground is a CIA-backed coup against a democratically elected socialist government, for which government there is widespread support among the Venezuelan people. In fact, in acting against the democratic structures and voting processes within Venezuela, Trump and the U.S. ruling class are exposing the true motive behind their drive for war: theft of oil for profit.

Meanwhile, in the cities of Washington and Baltimore, a small minority of wealthy developers are the controlling force in making housing policy — a function carried out with the assistance of banks and political administrators like Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, whose office released a press statement earlier this year titled, “Bowser Makes Historic $138 Million Investment in Affordable Housing.” However, the reality on the ground is thousands of homeless families and children — with 19 percent of the total D.C. population living in poverty, while the city boasts a $14.5 billion budget, with $2.4 billion in reserve. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, approximately 7,000 families get evicted yearly for nonpayment of rent.

Clearly, problems like the affordable housing crisis or underfunding of schools and hospitals could be alleviated if our country prioritized the needs of the masses of working people over the needs of weapons manufacturers and oil barons. To make clear the contradiction between the United States’ stated values and actions, let’s consider the function of the U.S. economy and U.S. foreign policy, whom these policies are intended to benefit, and whom these policies leave out of the picture.

 

What does the war economy have to do with the housing crisis?

The war economy is the last stage of a capitalist empire. It is when the rich resort to using war to violently force open new markets so they can invest the surplus value (profit) they’ve accumulated to continue making new profits. The U.S. military serves as a battering ram for U.S. corporations seeking to exploit a foreign country such as Venezuela or Iran. Non-military industries like the U.S. oil industry, banking, fast-food, soda, car manufacturing, or technology industries have historically leaned heavily on the U.S. military’s ability to overthrow governments and install puppet leaders who create a favorable environment for investment and profit making.

When governments, such as the Venezuelan government of President Nicloas Maduro, enact policies to protect their natural resource wealth from foreign exploitation, the U.S. military, as well as soft-power instruments like the US Agency for International Development, engage in espionage and war to knock down the existing government and replace it with a compliant government that allows U.S. corporations to exploit the country’s resources.

Throughout this process, the military-industrial complex makes massive profits by selling planes and missiles, and building military bases for the U.S. government and its junior partners in NATO. The United States is the world’s largest weapons manufacturer and arms dealer. While we may never know all of the monied interests that pushed the U.S. to intervene in Cuba, Korea, Colombia, Haiti, or currently Venezuela, we know these interests can range from banana crops to rare earth minerals. War is a payday not just for the military-industrial complex but for several sectors of the U.S. economy, which lap up the stolen wealth that trickles down from U.S. regime-change operations.

Domestically, the masses of working people have little say in what should be funded with tax revenue. So just how badly has the war economy impacted the U.S. working class? Trump’s latest budget proposal calls for an additional $33 billion to be added to next year’s war budget while cutting a mind-boggling $1.5 trillion from healthcare, welfare, housing, education, and environmental programs over the next 10 years.

The budget reflects how out of touch Trump and his aristocratic cabinet are. While Trump claims the economy is doing better than ever before, today, the three richest Americans own more wealth than the bottom 160 million Americans. While the unemployment rate is low, adequately paying jobs are so scarce that 78 percent of people in the U.S. find themselves working paycheck to paycheck and 70 percent are in debt. Some 57 percent of Americans are unable to save $100 a month.

Despite worker productivity reaching historic highs, wages remain stagnant. Coinciding with massive increases in living costs, particularly the cost of rent, the war economy has displaced over 20,000 people, primarily native Washingtonians right here in Washington, D.C. No amount of tweeting will convince working-class people that the war economy, under both Obama and Trump, hasn’t failed them.

The grand irony of Trump’s war on Venezuela is that while Donald Trump is trying to defund the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he is spending billions of taxpayer dollars attacking Venezuela, a country that actually has a robust public housing program. The Great Venezuelan Housing Mission has built over 2.5 million affordable homes for working-class Venezuelans, despite the crippling U.S. sanctions regime. Venezuelans who lost their houses to storms, lived in violent communities, or simply couldn’t afford housing on the capitalist market, have been given dignified homes made affordable through government subsidies.

A resident looks out of his government-assigned home in the Socialist City of Hugo Chavez in Valencia, Venezuela, March 8, 2016. Fernando Llano | AP

The United Nations recently recognized the Great Venezuelan Housing Mission’s achievements and stated that Venezuela was one of the top countries in the world for guaranteed housing. Donald Trump is trying to overthrow a government that could serve as a shining model for public housing in the United States.

Simply put, the United States cannot invest the money needed to meet the affordable housing needs of its own people, because its profit-driven war economy requires the commodification of housing and maximum exploitation of the resources and labor power of working people at home and abroad.

 

Working class under attack in D.C. and Baltimore

Working class residents in both Washington and Baltimore have been caught in the throes of the carnage wreaked by wealthy developers, including slumlords operating with little accountability. In both cities, tenants and organizers have been fighting back through grassroots organizing campaigns that have exposed the practices of elected officials and developers working together closely to oversee the displacement of working-class people and the rapid gentrification of both cities.

Brookland Manor, a 535-unit affordable housing complex in Ward 5 of Northeast Washington, has some of the few remaining affordable family-sized apartments left in the city, including three-, four- and five-bedroom units. It is also the site of a $600 million proposed luxury redevelopment project pushed by developer MidCity Financial. The project will reduce overall affordability in the historically black working-class neighborhood, and eliminate almost all of the multi-bedroom size units. The plan? To replace 535 units of affordable housing with over 1,750 luxury apartments; tripling density on 20 acres of land.

Despite a Washington Post investigative report that exposed a massive eviction campaign at Brookland Manor led by MidCity, and despite an existing affordable-housing crisis in the nation’s capital, the District’s Zoning Commission, Mayor Bowser, and the entire City Council have backed the developer’s gentrification plan with public money. The District Council, including Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, unanimously voted to approve up to $47 million in Tax Increment Financing to subsidize MidCity’s displacement plan. The Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents Association has continued to fight for development without displacement in the community.

Meanwhile, across the Beltway, the city of Baltimore is on the cusp of being massively gentrified. Baltimore, similar to Washington, has given private developers free rein, to the detriment of the health, safety and well-being of Baltimore residents.

Tenants of Bolton House in West Baltimore are engaged in a recently launched public organizing campaign, challenging Urban Atlantic, a multi-billion dollar real estate developer, over what can only be described as slum conditions in which tenants are currently living. For years, tenants of Bolton House have dealt with insect and rodent infestation, water leaks, sewage backup, trash pile-ups, broken elevators, and black mold, which is potentially lethal if inhaled.

The Bolton House, 1100 Bolton St., Baltimore, MD, June 15, 2019. Photo | Yasmina Mrabet

The newly formed Bolton House Tenant Coalition is working with community organization LinkUp and the political organization Party for Socialism and Liberation to demand accountability from Urban Atlantic and Edgewood Management for overseeing the deterioration of the building. But the list of unaddressed health and safety hazards in the building continues to grow, while Urban Atlantic continues to collect monthly rents from tenants and subsidies from the government.

With plans looming for a $1.5 billion renovation of the nearby State Center — a state government building where thousands work — Urban Atlantic is incentivized to profit while neglecting building repairs, as it waits for the influx of investment capital into the neighborhood, at which point it can sell or redevelop for even greater profits.

This is not Venezuela, it’s the United States of America. The profit-over-people practices of developers, and the resulting affordable-housing crisis impacts working people across the country, with 11 million Americans spending over 50 percent of their income on rent.

Fighting gentrification requires a single, mass housing movement because we’re all in the same ship, the ship of rising rents — and it’s sinking. With America’s wealth flowing to the war machine and corporations, Americans have no reason to support yet another war, this time against Venezuela, when our own domestic needs — including housing, the most basic of all — are far from met.

Feature photo | Work crews demolish a derelict block as Baltimore tries to reduce its sea of boarded-up properties, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. David McFadden | AP

Kei Pritsker is a journalist and activist located in Washington DC. Kei focuses on international politics and economics. He previously worked as a producer at RT America.

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Downing of US MQ-9 Drone Over Hodeida Shows Direct US Involvement in Yemeni War

HODEIDA, YEMEN — News that a U.S. government drone was shot down over Yemen’s port city of Hodeida has provoked anger among local residents, who say it is clear evidence of direct U.S. involvement in a war which has resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the UN, and has left almost 25 million people in need of aid.

On Sunday, Lieutenant Colonel Earl Brown, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said in a statement that on June 6 Houthi fighters shot down a U.S. government MQ-9 Reaper drone using an SA-6 surface-to-air missile, adding that the altitude at which the drone was shot down “indicated an improvement over previous Houthi capability.”

U.S. officials attempted to link the attack on a U.S. drone on Yemen’s coast to the downing of the MQ-9 on June 13, as the unmanned surveillance aircraft was said to be flying over one of two crippled oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia claim were also targeted by Iran. High-ranking Yemeni officials strongly reject this link, but also assert that they will not hesitate to accept any help to defend their country.

 

The CENTCOM statement confirmed reporting by MintPress that the Yemeni army, loyal to the Houthis, shot down a U.S.-made MQ-9 Reaper in al-Jabaliyah on the country’s west coast. It is not the first U.S. drone downed by Houthi forces. On June 4, a U.S.-made drone was downed and last month a U.S.-made General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drone was shot down in Yemen. This March, Yemeni forces shot down an MQ-1 Predator over Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. A few weeks later, an MQ-1C drone was shot down, also over Sana’a.

Yemen’s Houthi movement called Brown’s statement an avowal of U.S. participation in the war. Mohammed Abdulsalam, a spokesman for the Houthis, said: “The U.S. military admitting the downing of the reconnaissance drone on Yemen’s west coast proves that the aggression carries a U.S.-Zionist agenda.” He claimed that the U.S. has been involved in “various crimes committed for the fifth year against our people.”

This was not the only incident that angered local residents in Yemen this week. Families of the victims of a Saudi airstrike on a Yemeni school bus — including Zaid al Tayeb, who lost two sons in the attack — told MintPress that the Trump administration’s emergency authorization allowing a top defense firm the right to build high-tech bomb parts in Saudi Arabia is a gift to the Kingdom that killed their loved ones.

Earlier this month, Trump granted Riyadh its very own bomb factory, despite the Kingdom’s abysmal human rights record, prompting fear from Yemenis that the move will allow Saudi Arabia to reinforce its stockpile, which is already tens of thousands strong, and that the new weapons would not be used for their stated purpose of countering Iran, but instead would be dropped on Yemen.

On August 10, 2018, Zaid al Tayeb lost two of his sons — Ahmed and Ali — in a deadly school bus attack in Dhahran city in Sadaa, northern Yemen, when Saudi warplanes dropped the U.S.-manufactured Raytheon Mark-82 bomb, killing 40 children. Saudi warplanes also used the Mark-82 in a 2016 attack on a funeral in the capital Sana’a. That attack claimed over 140 lives and injured 525 others.

 

Reverse engineering from enemy wreckage

Large drones, like the MQ-9 Reaper, are usually shot down with modified air-to-air missiles, such as the Soviet-made and infrared-guided R-27T. However, the MQ-9 shot down over Hodeida was downed by an advanced air-defense system colloquially dubbed the “Barg” thunderbolt, which is a modified SA-6 surface-to-air missile, according to a Yemeni military source, who spoke to MintPress on condition of anonymity owing to the sensitive nature of the subject matter.

Houthi fighters load the remains of a US MQ-9 Reaper drone downed over Hodeida into the back of a truck. Photo | Al-Masriah

Yemen’s Houthi-allied military has made significant strides in its air-defense sector and has become a real threat to Saudi-led Coalition and U.S. operations over Yemen. The system was created using reverse-engineered technology left behind by fleeing Saudi troops, who often abandon their high-tech U.S. weapons and from the wreckage of downed U.S.-made Saudi fighter aircraft, including the F-16.

According to a Yemeni military source, the Yemeni Army has already succeeded in reverse engineering portions of the highly-prized U.S. MQ-9 technology using the wreckage of downed drones. The MQ-9 can travel vast distances, be piloted from thousands of miles away, hover in the sky for hours, and unleash a fury of Hellfire missiles.

 

Relying on drone and missile attacks to compel negotiation

The existing arsenal of drones manufactured by Yemen’s Houthi-allied military has already yielded increased battlefield victories, including in a series of attacks on the Abha Airport in Saudi Arabia. The fifth such attack on Abha came on Monday using a Qasef K2 drone, following twin strikes on the same airport and another airport in the neighboring province of Jizan using the same type of drone on Friday. Monday’s attack came a day after Saudi Arabia bombarded areas in Yemen’s capital Sana’a and in the northwestern Yemeni province of Hajjah.

The Abha airport was previously targeted by a cruise missile that brought a halt to air traffic in the area, marking a major leap in Yemen’s domestic military capability, which had to that point been limited to retaliatory drone strikes on the Kingdom, as it was not intercepted by the Kingdom’s U.S.-made Patriot anti-missile batteries.

A military source told MintPress that the attacks, striking the airport control center at the Jizan airport and the fuel station at the Abha airport, left both airports out of service. The main targets of the Yemeni army have been installations in Jizan, Najran, Abha and Khamis Mushait, and a spokesman of the Yemeni armed forces said that “such attacks will hit other airports if the Saudi bombardment and blockade of [Yemen] continues.”

Yemeni military forces have intensified retaliatory attacks on vital positions in southern Saudi territories over the past few days, citing Saudi Arabia’s failure to comply with UN-brokered peace initiatives in Yemen. The Houthis also warned that airports in Saudi Arabia and the United Arabia Emirates will be targeted as long as the embargo on the Sana’a International Airport remains in place.

Meanwhile, a high-ranking diplomatic source told MintPress that mediation efforts, led by Britain, are underway to stop the targeting of airports and vital installations in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the chairman of Yemen’s Supreme Political Council, said Sana’a is ready to hold serious talks with influential countries to achieve fair peace.

The Houthis have fully withdrawn their forces from three key ports in Hodeida in compliance with the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement, Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, who heads the UN monitoring mission, confirmed on Thursday. The unilateral Houthi pullout from the ports in early May was the most significant advance yet for peace in the country; the Saudi-led Coalition, however, has not taken any steps to indicate a  serious desire for peace. Local residents believe attacks on Saudi-led Coalition countries are the most effective way to bring these countries to the negotiating table.

Feature photo | Houthi fighters inspect the remains of a US MQ-9 Reaper drone downed over Hodeida, Yemen. Photo | Al-Masriah

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

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Massive Embezzlement Scandal Threatens Juan Guaido’s Political Future

The political party of Juan Guaido — Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) — was never all that popular to begin with. The sixth largest political party in Venezuela, Popular Will is heavily financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Now, a recently exposed embezzlement scandal in Colombia risks to further alienate the party from the Venezuelan people.

What was supposed to be Guaido’s watershed moment has instead turned out to be a public-relations failure far worse than his quickly quelled attempted military coup, which MintPress News reported caused even the New York Times to describe Guaido as “deflated.”

What happened in Colombia appears to be so damning that not only is the Colombian intelligence service leaking documents exposing wrongdoing by Popular Will representatives appointed by Guaido, but the Organization of American States (OAS) — which is typically just as pro-opposition as the Colombian government — has called for an investigation.

In a tweet issued June 14 at 10:47 p.m. Venezuela time, Guaido called on his ambassador to Colombia — whom he had shut out of the aid event — to formally request an investigation by Colombian authorities, whose already-existing investigation is the reason the story came out in the first place. That was more than four hours after Secretary General of the OAS Luis Almagro called for an investigation that would clarify the “serious charges,” identify those responsible and effectuate accountability.

But Guaido had already been well aware of the charges, having dismissed his appointees who appear to be ringleaders of the embezzlement scheme. According to the report, he was contacted by the journalist who exposed the scandal 30 days before the story was published.

 

What happened in Cúcuta isn’t staying in Cúcuta

There’s barely a peep about the scandal in the Western press. A Google News search for “Juan Guaido scandal” and “Popular Will scandal” turned up nothing of relevance at the time of this article’s writing. But on Latin America social media, everyone is buzzing about it. American journalist Dan Cohen appears to be the first to highlight the scandal to an English-speaking audience.

It started with a request from Juan Guaido to billionaire investor and regime-change enthusiast Richard Branson.

Associates of Venezuelan coup frontman Juan Guaidó embezzled funds raised in Cúcuta, Colombia for humanitarian aid and lavishly spent it on hotels, nightclubs and expensive clothes. This is a monumental scandal! Great work by @OrlvndoA. https://t.co/W8Rm3o306N

— Dan Cohen (@dancohen3000) June 15, 2019

The stated purpose of the concert was to help raise funds for humanitarian aid and spotlight the economic crisis. At least that’s how it was billed to Americans. To Venezuela’s upper class, it was touted as the “trendiest concert of the decade.”

It was to be a congregation of the elite with the ostensible purpose of raising funds for the poor. One director of Popular Will told Vice News in 2014 that “the bulk of the opposition protesters are from the middle and upper classes and are led by Venezuela’s elite.” The class character of the opposition has not changed since.

Meanwhile, USAID was to coordinate the delivery of aid alongside Guaido; and Elliot Abrams, who in Guatemala used “humanitarian aid” as cover for the delivery of weapons into the country, is running the White House’s policies toward Venezuela. And so the aid was widely criticized, even by the International Red Cross, as politicized. By others, it was called a Trojan Horse.

The concert was held in Colombia across a bridge linking the country to Venezuela. International media had claimed Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro had the bridge shut down to prevent the delivery of aid, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded that the “Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE.” But the bridge, in fact, has never been opened for use.

Nonetheless, Richard Branson sought to raise $100 million and promised that Guiado “will be coming to the other side of the bridge with maybe a million of his supporters.” In the end, it was a little more than 200,000 who came.

Venezuelan singer Carlos Baute, left, gets ready to embrace Venezuela Aid Live concert organizer Sir Richard Branson, prior to the start of the concert on the Colombian side of the Tienditas International Bridge on the outskirts of Cucuta, Colombia, on the border with Venezuela, Feb. 22, 2019. Fernando Vergara | AP

Meanwhile, Guaido told the President of Colombia, Ivan Duque, that more than 1,450 soldiers had defected from the military to join them. But that figure was also inflated. A new report by PanAmPress, a Miami-based libertarian newspaper, reveals that it was just 700. “You can count on your fingers the number of decent soldiers who are there,” one local told the outlet.

Despite the low turnout, organizers lived it up in Colombia. Representatives from Popular Will, which rejects the socialist leadership of Venezuela, found themselves living like socialites across the border.

There were earlier signs of excess and debauchery. One Popular Will representative was hospitalized and his assistant found dead after overdosing while taking drugs with prostitutes, although Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) claims they were poisoned.b

FyreFest walked so Richard Branson's aid concert could run. https://t.co/ZBaDaFq9Wm

— celine and julie go bowling (@MissPavIichenko) June 15, 2019

The inflated soldier count meant more funds for the organizers, who were charged with putting them up in hotel rooms. Guaido’s “army was small but at this point it had left a very bad impression in Cucuta. Prostitutes, alcohol, and violence. They demanded and demanded,” the report said.

They also left a bad taste in the mouth of the authorities. The Colombian government was supposed to pay for some of the hotels, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was to cover the costs of others, while Guaido’s people were only going to pony up the cash for two of the seven hotels.

But Popular Will never paid, leaving one hotel with a debt of $20,000. When the situation became completely untenable, the hotel kicked 65 soldiers and their families to the curb. One soldier anonymously told the outlet that the party was not taking care of their financial needs as promised.

Guaido’s ambassador to Colombia took money out of his own pocket to try to resolve the dispute, but the check bounced.

The responsibility of taking care of the needs of the defectors went to Popular Will militants Rossana Barrera and Kevin Rojas, as decreed by Juan Guaido in a signed statement. They were also charged with overseeing the humanitarian aid.

Barrera is the sister-in-law of Popular Will member of Congress Sergio Vargara, Guaido’s right-hand man. She and Rojas were managing all the funds.

But the pair started to live well outside their means, a Colombian intelligence source told the outlet. “They gave me all the evidence,” writes PanAmPress reporter Orlando Avendano. “Receipts that show excesses, some strangely from different check books, signed the same day but with identical writing styles.”

Rojas and Berrera were spending nearly a thousand dollars at a time in the hotels and nightclubs. Similar amounts were spent at times on luxurious dinners and fancy drinks. They went on clothes shopping sprees at high-end retail outlets in the capital. They reportedly overcharged the fund on vehicle rentals and the hotels, making off with the extra cash. Berrera even told Popular Will that she was paying for all seven hotels, not just the two. And they provided Guaido with the fake figure of more than 1,450 military defectors that needed accommodation.

In order to keep the funds flowing, Rojas and Berrera pitched a benefit dinner for the soldiers to Guiado’s embassy in Colombia. But when the embassy refused to participate, Berrera created a fake email address posing as a representative of the embassy, sending invitations to Israeli and U.S. diplomats. They canceled the event after Guaido’s embassy grew wise to the scheme and alerted those invited.

“The whole government of Colombia knew about it: the intelligence community, the presidency, and the foreign ministry,” writes PanAmPress, calling it an “open secret” by the time Guaido dismissed the pair. But that was after Guaido had been defending them staunchly, trying to avoid a firing by transferring responsibilities to the embassy.

Berrera was called to the embassy for a financial audit, represented by Luis Florido, a founding member of Popular Will. She turned in just a fraction of the records uncovered by Colombian intelligence, accounting for only $100,000 in expenditures. “The [real] amount is large,” the outlet reports, citing an intelligence agent who says far more was blown.

Meanwhile, “at least 60 percent of the food donated” by foreign governments “was damaged.”

“The food is rotten, they tell me,” the PanAmPress reporter said, adding that he was shown photographs. “They don’t know how to deal with it without causing a scandal. I suppose they will burn it.”

It isn’t yet known exactly how much was embezzled by Popular Will, but it is likely the truth will come out in due time, and more investigations are likely underway. On Monday, Venezuelan defectors said they will hold a press conference in Cucuta, showcasing more corruption by Popular Will. For now, however, the fallout remains to be seen.

 

Guaidone?

One thing is certain: the scandal threatens to end Juan Guaido’s 15 minutes of fame. The de facto opposition leader had little name recognition inside Venezuela and never won a political position with more than 100,000 votes behind him. But the overnight sensation never had a lengthy life expectancy anyway.

Though he received so few votes (Venezuela’s population is nearly 32 million), Guaido became the president of the National Assembly because the body is controlled by a coalition of opposition groups, despite President Nicolas Maduro’s PSUV Party being the largest in the country. That was in January, and the length of the term lasts only one year. In 2015, the opposition coalition decided that after each term, the seat would be rotated to a representative of a different opposition party. While there is no law barring Guaido from being appointed president of the National Assembly again, tradition runs counter to it and another party may want to seize on a chance to get into the limelight.

Supporters of the coup — and Guaido’s self-declaration as interim president — claim that Maduro is derelict of his duties, which justifies a transition of presidential power according to the constitution. But the article that allows for such a transition in certain cases stipulates that ”a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days.”

To date, Guaido has run 145 days past his deadline to have elections held, and the opposition has made it clear they are not willing to accept new elections if Maduro runs.

This, of course, makes little dent in Guaido’s legitimacy in the eyes of the U.S. and other countries that have recognized his presidency. U.S. allies in Latin America have shown over the past few years that they have little regard for the sanctity of their constitutions. In 2017, a U.S.-backed candidate in Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, ran for re-election in explicit violation of that country’s constitution and only wound up winning through fraud. Last week, Ecuador made the decision to allow the U.S. military to operate from an airfield in the Galapagos Islands despite a constitutional provision stating that the “establishment of foreign military bases or foreign facilities for military purposes shall not be allowed.”

Feature photo | Venezuela’s self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido prior to a speech during a meeting with supporters at a hotel in Valencia, Venezuela, June 7, 2019. The colors on their faces are the colors of Venezuelan flag projected by a data projector. Juan Carlos Hernandez | AP

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post Massive Embezzlement Scandal Threatens Juan Guaido’s Political Future appeared first on MintPress News.

Israel’s Secretive Nuclear Facility Leaking as Watchdog Finds Israel Has Nearly 100 Nukes

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) — an international watchdog organization focusing on conflicts, the arms trade and nuclear proliferation — released a new report on Monday that claimed that Israel has nearly a hundred nuclear warheads, more than previously thought.

The SIPRI report described Israel’s nuclear arsenal as follows: 30 gravity bombs capable of delivering nuclear weapons by fighter jets; an additional 50 warheads that can be delivered by land-based ballistic missiles; and an unknown number of nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missiles that would grant Israel a sea-based second-strike capability.

In total, the SIPRI report estimated that Israel possesses between 80 and 90 nuclear weapons, an increase over previous years. SIPRI was unable, however, to confirm those estimates with Israel’s government, which has a long-standing policy of refusing to comment on its nuclear weapons program — a policy it describes as “nuclear ambiguity.”

As a result of this “nuclear ambiguity” policy, the actual number of Israeli nuclear weapons is unknown. Some other organizations, such as the U.S.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative, have estimated that Israel has produced enough weapons-grade plutonium to arm between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads. Israel is one of only five nations in the world that refuse to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, an international treaty aimed at ending the proliferation of nuclear weapons and achieving global nuclear disarmament.

Credit | The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook 2019

During a speech last August in front of the Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to use nuclear weapons to “wipe out” Israel’s enemies. More recently, Netanyahu and his allies in the U.S. accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, despite the fact that intelligence agencies of both the U.S. and Israel have long recognized that Iran has no such program.

 

Unsafe, but only for those whose lives don’t matter

Just as the new SIPRI report has again brought scrutiny to Israel’s nuclear program, new information about Israel’s nuclear facility — the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center, which houses the Dimona reactor — has also raised concerns about the facility’s safety.

Late last week, an Israeli court heard arguments that the site had leaked radioactive waste on more than one occasion and that information about those leaks had been hidden from some of the facility’s employees. One of those employees, Faridi Taweel, is suing the facility after learning he had cancer, which he suspects was the result of exposure to leaked radioactive material at the site.

The exposure of the numerous leaks at the Dimona facility is greatly concerning, especially in light of the revelation just a few years ago that the Dimona reactor is believed, according to a group of Israeli scientists, to have an estimated 1,537 defects. Israel has reportedly refused to consider replacing or fixing the aging nuclear core.

The fact that the site has leaked and is rife with defects should be a major issue for Israelis, as the facility is just 30 miles south of Israel’s capital Tel Aviv. Yet it is the city of Dimona itself that is in the greatest danger, as it is located just eight miles from the highly defective reactor.

But Dimona is largely populated by Jews from Northern Africa. This minority, referred to as “Black Hebrews” in Israel, is routinely discriminated against by Israel’s government, a recent example of which was the revelation of a covert Israeli government program of forcibly sterilizing African Jewish immigrants.

In addition to its large population of African Jews, Dimona and the surrounding Negev Desert are home to several Palestinian Bedouin villages, villages that are frequently labeled as “illegal” and demolished by Israel’s government. The fact that there is no political will or effort to clean up the site or prevent future leaks, coupled with the fact that the most at-risk populations are minorities frequently discriminated against by Israel’s government, reveals yet another troubling and overlooked aspect of Israel’s secretive nuclear program.

Feature photo | A Titan II missile in a silo at the Titan Missile Museum in Green Valley, Ariz. Photo | Department of Defense

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

The post Israel’s Secretive Nuclear Facility Leaking as Watchdog Finds Israel Has Nearly 100 Nukes appeared first on MintPress News.

MintCast Episode 4: The Real Motivation behind Russiagate, the Global War on Journalism a Also discussed is the U.S.’ secretive military base in the Chagos Islands. Attention is givennd the Hidden Face of American Empire

MintCast hosts Alan MacLeod and Whitney Webb discuss the latest current events including how U.S. political reactions to Trump’s Iran policy reveal the true motivations behind the Russiagate scandal and how big tech firms are teaming up with government players to suppress and intimidate journalists around the world.

Also discussed is the U.S.’ secretive military base in the Chagos Islands. Attention is given to how the native islanders have fought for decades for the right to return to their lands, how the U.S. and the UK colluded to expel the Islanders and why the military base on the Chagos Islands, known as Diego Garcias, is so important to U.S. empire and the dangers it poses to international law.

In the concluding segment, MacLeod and Webb add John Bolton to the MintCast’s Hall of Shame and Bolton’s long and storied history of hawkishness and dishonesty is discussed at length.

The post MintCast Episode 4: The Real Motivation behind Russiagate, the Global War on Journalism a Also discussed is the U.S.’ secretive military base in the Chagos Islands. Attention is givennd the Hidden Face of American Empire appeared first on MintPress News.

If Iran Is Responsible for the Fuel Tanker Attacks in the Gulf of Oman (And It May Not Be), It Is Only a Reaction to Washington’s Outrageous Conduct in the Middle East

Who is responsible for the recent attacks on the fuel tankers in the Gulf of Oman? Washington blames Iran, and has offered what it calls proof—a grainy video allegedly showing what are said to be Iranians removing what is said to be a mine from what is said to be the hull of a stricken tanker.  But the video proves nothing more than someone removed, or appeared to remove, (not affixed but removed) something from the hull of a ship. Even The New York Times was skeptical of the video-graphic indictment. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo argued that the attacks could only have been carried out by a perpetrator with “a high level of expertise,” i.e., a state, and not just any state, but Iran. But the Times pointed out that “the video depicts a curiously haphazard operation, with an ill-advised placement of the mine on the ship, careless safety procedures to remove it and little effort to hide the activity.” [2] This is hardly what you would expect of a sophisticated perpetrator with a high level of expertise. That this so-called proof of Iranian culpability was provided by Pompeo, who in May crowed that as director of the CIA “we lied, cheated, and stole” [3] hardly makes the case more convincing.

On the other hand, while Iran fervently denies responsibility for the attacks, its denials carry little weight. The country has very good reason to disrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, and equally good reason to deny it is doing so. Iran is the target of an undeclared but hardly secret war by the United States and of efforts by Washington to reduce Iranian oil exports—the country’s major source of revenue—to zero. Tehran warned as long ago as 2011 that it would retaliate against efforts to block its oil shipments, and that it would do so by dint of lex talionis—that is, via the Old Testament justice of an eye for an eye. [4] The logic is clear. Since continued access to oil revenue is a sine qua non of Iran’s existence as a viable independent state, it cannot afford to allow the United States to sever it connections to the world economy. One of the few effective measures it can take to force Washington to back off is use its geostrategic position in the Gulf to disrupt the flow of oil on which US investors depend for profits and US allies depend for energy.  Accordingly, Tehran has “repeatedly threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz if Iran isn’t allowed to export oil.” [5] The idea, then, that Iranian operatives may be behind the oil tanker attacks is hardly far-fetched. And, Iran’s leaders, hardly simpletons, would never willingly acknowledge responsibility, since an admission would quickly be turned by Washington into a casus belli.

This isn’t to say that Iran is indeed the perpetrator; only that it may be the perpetrator, and that if it is, the fact that it is, is entirely predictable. As William J. Burns, a former deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration put it, “If the Iranians were responsible for the attacks on shipping in the gulf, it is … a predictable consequence of an American coercive diplomacy strategy.” [6] What’s more, considering the nature of the undeclared US war on Iran—one led by a program of what Iranian foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif aptly calls ‘economic terrorism’—Iranian retaliation against US-allied shipping is not only predictable, but legitimate, as one of the few, if not only, means available to the Iranian state to safeguard its existence against an unprovoked attack by the United States.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in May, 2018, Pompeo issued a list of 12 demands to Iran, [7] reducible to three overarching requirements:

  • End support for opponents of US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia;
  • Abandon the Syrian government in its fight against a Western-backed Sunni Islamist insurgency;
  • Forebear from enriching uranium and developing ballistic missiles, activities that could provide the basis for a militarized nuclear self-defense in posse.

In short, Pompeo demanded that Iran capitulate to a US dictatorship over the region.

There is only a vanishingly small chance that the current government in Tehran, which is constitutionally opposed to monarchy (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, hence, Washington’s Arab allies), European settler colonialism (Israel), and submission to US tyranny, will prostrate itself before Pompeo’s diktats. Which means the only way Washington could possibly achieve Iranian compliance is by replacing the country’s current government with a regime of marionettes. While Washington denies it seeks regime change in Tehran, Brett McGurk, the former US envoy for the fight against ISIS, acknowledges the obvious. “Trump may not even realize it, but particularly since the arrival of John Bolton as national security adviser last year, his administration has been pursuing what are effectively regime-change policies in not one but three countries: Venezuela, Syria, and Iran.” McGurk explains that while the United States is not explicitly calling for regime change, it is pursuing policies “that, if carried to their logical conclusion, necessitate a change of government.” [8]

There is no doubt that, its denials notwithstanding, Washington seeks regime change in Iran. Former U.S. Ambassador Robert Blackwill points out that Pompeo’s 12 demands are “effectively impossible for Iran to accommodate without fundamentally changing its leadership and system of government.” [9] Pompeo admitted to “Michael J. Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A., that the administration’s strategy would not coerce Iranian leaders into a friendlier stance. But, he said, ‘I think what can change is, the people can change the government.’” [10] In other words, since the current government is unlikely to bow to US demands, a new government must be installed, one willing to pander to US requirements. This accords with the thinking of US national security advisor John Bolton. In July 2017, Bolton opined, “The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change and, therefore, the only solution is to change the regime itself.’” [11] If any further proof is needed that Washington is pursuing a regime change program, consider this:

  • Bolton has long been on record as demanding regime change in Iran. “The declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran,” Bolton said before being hired by US president Donald Trump. [12] Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, argues that given Bolton’s very clear positions, “If you hire him, you’re making a clear signal that’s what you want.” [13] “In May 2018, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told reporters that the administration is ‘committed to regime change’ in Iran.” [14]
  • Bolton “warned Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, after the 40th anniversary of Iran’s 1979 revolution, that he should not expect ‘many more to enjoy’ (suggesting that Khamenei may be gone in a year).” [15]
  • Pompeo has referred to the US “effort to make sure that the Iranian people get control of their capital” [16] and has “suggested the Iranian public could take matters into its own hands.” [17]

If the US goal of regime change in Iran isn’t secret, then neither are the means by which Washington intends to achieve its objective. The methods are clearly spelled out in open source documents and have been reported widely in the US news media. In sum, the United States seeks to recruit Iranian citizens en masseas US agents of regime change. The goal is to induce Iranian citizens to “take matters into [their] own hands” and “get control of their capital.” The lash that will drive them to do this, according to the plan, will be the misery created by US efforts to destroy the Iranian economy, chiefly by driving Iran’s oil revenue to zero, a goal to be achieved by threatening secondary sanctions on any country that does business with the Islamic Republic. Driven by economic desperation, Iranians will channel their energies into movements to overthrow the government, facilitated by a CIA-led program of subversion, if the plan proves successful. At the same time, the CIA will stir up unrest among Iran’s ethnic minorities, adding to the maelstrom.

Washington has subjected Iran to what Pompeo calls “the strongest sanctions in history,” [18] which he describes “as being calculated to produce domestic political unrest in Iran.” [19] “What Mr. Trump and his team are trying to do,” observed The Wall Street Journal, “is to use economic sanctions to generate unprecedented pressure on Iran … to create enough economic distress in Iran that the regime could buckle under the weight of popular discontent.” [20]

Whether the sanctions are the strongest in history, as Pompeo claims, is unclear. But what is clear is that they attack the length and breadth of the Iranian economy. The United States “has sanctioned the oil sector, the metals industry and military leaders by cutting them off from the American-led international financial system. To compel unhappy allies to go along, it has threatened to cut off their companies as well if they continue doing business with Iran.” [21]

More “than 700 Iranian banks, companies and individuals, have been targeted. [22] And Washington imposed “sanctions that would severely penalize any foreign or U.S. company that does business with Iran.” [23] The US goal is to completely cut off all Iranian oil sales [24] and to blockade the country economically.

Iran’s foreign secretary calls the sanctions economic terrorism, and with good reason. If terrorism is the threat, or infliction, of harm on civilians in order to achieve political ends, then the US measures clearly constitute terrorism. There’s no doubt that the measures are intended to achieve the political goal of regime change; that they’re intended to pressure Iranian civilians; and that they’re causing harm to civilians.

As a result of US economic coercion, Iran’s economy is cratering, according to The Wall Street Journal. [25] The New York Times says the Iranian economy is “reeling from sanctions” [26] and that it is “in a bad state.” [27] Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, says his country is facing the worst economic challenge in forty years. [28]

US economic warfare on Iran has caused the value of the country’s currency, the rial, to plunge. [29] This, in turn, has “led to a sharp increase in the prices of imported goods.” [30] “By raising the cost of imports, the currency collapse” has sparked a massive inflation. Inflation is running at 40 per cent. [31] Inflation has bankrupted businesses  and put many imported goods, such as critical medicines, beyond  the reach of ordinary Iranians. [32] The IMF predicts that the economy will continue to undergo significant contraction. [33] In turn, the misery of ordinary Iranians will increase.

The cratering of the Iranian economy by itself creates the possibility of social unrest, but leaving nothing to chance, Washington has established a CIA program to help the process along. “In 2017, John Bolton—not yet national security adviser—recommended in a memo to President Trump that the U.S. support ‘internal resistance’ and minorities inside Iran,” according to The Wall Street Journal. [34] As it turned out, the administration was already working along these lines. HR McMaster, Bolton’s predecessor as national security advisor, had “signed and put out a 27-page methodical Iran strategy with two prongs. The first was…a subversion campaign to influence Iran’s population. The second was confrontation,” according to Bob Woodward, in his book about the Trump White House, Fear. [35] The New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman had reported in June 2017 that the US president had “appointed to the National Security Council hawks eager to contain Iran and push regime change, the groundwork for which would most likely be laid through C.I.A. covert action.” According to the reporters, “Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the council’s senior director for intelligence — the main White House liaison to intelligence agencies” had told other administration officials that he wanted “to use American spies to help oust the Iranian government.”  Appointed to lead the subversion operation was Michael D’Andrea, “the Central Intelligence Agency officer who oversaw the hunt for Osama bin Laden.” D’Andrea goes by the sobriquets “Dark Prince or Ayatollah Mike.” [36]

In late December 2017 and early January 2018 economic “problems and political complaints led to a wave of public protests in more than 100 Iranian cities.” [37] Trump aides pointed “to outbursts of protest in the streets of Iranian cities as a sign that, maybe” Pompeo’s “strongest sanctions in history” were producing their intended effect. One senior administration aide acknowledged “that the protests are ’sporadic’ and without any central organization, but” said: “In a hundred cities and towns in the country there is enormous dissatisfaction.”  [38] According to The New York Times, “with runaway inflation, broad economic problems and labor unrest, the Iranian government believes its popularity is weakening.” [39]

Bolton had also called on Washington to foment secessionist unrest among “minorities inside Iran.” [40]  Ethnic minorities, including Kurds, Arabs, and Baluchis, account for one-third or more of Iran’s population, [41] and uprisings by these communities could substantially add to the chaos already occasioned by Washington’s economic war on the Persian Gulf state. The Wall Street Journal reported that “Iran’s non-Persian ethnic groups, once relatively quiet, are increasingly discontented with the regime,” and that the “wave of protests across much of the country … has been strongest in the predominantly non-Persian districts.” [42] “Kurdish groups have been clashing with Iranian forces with increasing frequency in the northwest, where most of Iran’s roughly 8 million Kurds live.” To the south, Arab separatists launched a September 2018 attack on a military parade in Iran’s main oil hub. Meanwhile, “to the east, insurgents fighting for greater autonomy or independence for the Baluch people of Iran have hit military posts in an area bordering Pakistan.” [43]

Bad enough as these malign US actions are, US economic terrorism and CIA subversion are only two layers of a palimpsest of US aggression, overlaid upon ongoing US military pressure. As The New York Times notes, “The United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet patrols the Persian Gulf. American forces are deployed in Iraq to the east, Afghanistan to the west and in other regional neighbors including Turkey, Bahrain and Qatar.” [44] Iran is hemmed in by hostile US forces.

The country has also been the target of a major US cyberwarfare effort. “In the early years of the Obama administration,” wrote David E. Sanger and Mark Mezzetti in The New York Times, “the United States developed an elaborate plan for a cyberattack on Iran in case the diplomatic effort to limit its nuclear program failed and led to a military conflict. The plan, according to the reporters, is “code-named Nitro Zeus,” and is “devised to disable Iran’s air defenses, communications systems and crucial parts of its power grid.” At its zenith, “the planning for Nitro Zeus involved thousands of American military and intelligence personnel, spending tens of millions of dollars and placing electronic implants in Iranian computer networks to ‘prepare the battlefield,’ in the parlance of the Pentagon.” [45]

Earlier, the United States’ “fast-growing ranks of secret cyberwarriors” had blown up nuclear centrifuges in Iran in an effort to prevent the country from acquiring a latent nuclear weapons capability that could be actualized in an emergency to defend itself. “The attacks on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, begun in the George W. Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games, destroyed roughly 1,000 centrifuges and set back the Iranians by a year or so,” according to The New York Times. [46]

Recently, Washington has ratchetted up its military pressure on Iran, sending a carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, “and its accompanying ships as well as what is known as a bomber task force to the region.” [47]  The US warship carries more than 40 F-18 Super Hornets, which are “now conducting ‘persistent presence’ missions in international airspace near Iran,” [48] that is, unremitting patrols along the edge of Iranian airspace with one purpose: intimidation. “The U.S. also is sending the amphibious assault ship USS Arlington to the Middle East. The ship carries U.S. marines, amphibious vehicles and helicopters that can be used in a range of military operations.” [49]

Additionally, “Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East.”  Some US officials dismiss the plans as a scare tactic, [50] a bluff designed to frighten the Iranians. But bluff or not, the intent is to intimidate, and is thus part of the undeclared war on Iran.

If Iran is indeed responsible for disrupting the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf (and it may not be), its actions are only the predictable consequence of the multilayered US aggression. What’s more, attacks on Persian Gulf shipping may be the only practicable means by which Iran can defend itself against a threat to its very existence as a viable independent state. What recourse has Iran to avert the complete collapse of its economy, and the starvation of its citizens, while retaining its independence, but to carry out deniable attacks on Persian Gulf shipping to disrupt the tranquil digestion of US oil company profits and uninterrupted delivery of oil supplies to US allies? Despite the promises of the European Union to rescue Iran from economic collapse by way of a financial mechanism that would allow the country to circumvent the US blockade, Brussels has failed to deliver. “These days, the biggest, baddest weapon in the American arsenal isn’t a missile, or a tank, or a fighter jet. It is America’s economic clout,” observes The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald F. Seib. [51] The Iranians, it seems, are on their own, fated to mount a defense against the economic clout of the world’s largest economy and the military clout of the planet’s biggest war machine.

US chauvinists will retort that while the war on Iran is undeclared and may be reasonably described as terrorism that it is, all the same, justifiable as a measure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, to say nothing of pressuring Tehran to curb its support for Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Syrian government, and to cease its opposition to Israel and Saudi Arabia. There is insufficient space to reply in full here, except to make the following points:

  • If Iran had ever been working on a militarized nuclear program, it abandoned the work as long ago as 2003, according to the US intelligence community. [52]
  • If Iran embarks on a militarized nuclear program, it will be the predictable consequence of ongoing US and Israeli military pressure.
  • If the United States, Israel, Britain, France, and other countries can maintain nuclear arsenals in order, they say, to protect themselves from nuclear blackmail, why should that option be permanently foreclosed to Iran (or any other country whose sovereignty is outraged by more militarily formidable opponents)? If nuclear weapons are to be counted among the military equipment available to imperialist powers and settler colonial states, should they not also be available to states seeking to defend themselves against the formers’ predations?
  • Using pressure to coerce Iran to alter its foreign policy to accommodate US needs is an act of imperialism and a violation of Iran’s independence, to say nothing of its being an incentive to Iran to develop the nuclear weapons Washington claims it seeks to prevent Iran from developing.

Iran’s foreign policy is rooted in the country’s opposition to monarchy and European settler colonialism, along with its intolerance of Western domination of the Muslim world. Since most of Washington’s Arab allies collude in the US tyranny over West Asia, and since most of its Arab allies are monarchies, and since Israel is a settler colonial state, Iran, quite naturally, finds itself at odds with Washington’s satraps in the region, and allied to Syria and movements opposed to Israeli apartheid and US dictatorship. It ought to be clear who the good guys are in this struggle—or at the very least, who they aren’t. Iran may not be on the right side of every progressive struggle, but it is clearly on the right side of this one—a struggle against three of humanity’s most abhorrent institutions: monarchy, settler colonialism, and empire.

1 Quoted in “Iran letter to the UNSG and UNSC on Pompeo provocative statement,” Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran, November 30, 2018.

Mark LandlerJulian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Puts Iran on Notice and Weighs Response to Attack on Oil Tankers,” The New York Times, June 14, 2019.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfrhATD4nM0

4 David E. Sanger and Annie Lowrey, “Iran threatens to block oil shipments, as U.S. prepares sanctions,” The New York Times, December 27, 2011.

5 Benoit Faucon, Costas Paris, and Summer Said, “Gulf of Oman attacks trigger together security on key shipping routes,” The Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2019.

6 David E. Sanger and Edward Wong, “After placing blame for attacks, Trump faces difficult choices on confronting Iran,” The New York Times, June 13, 2019.

7 Michael R. Gordon, “US lays out demands for new Iran deal,” The Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2018.

8 Brett McGurk, “American foreign policy adrift: Pompeo is calling for realism—Trump isn’t delivering,” Foreign Affairs, June 5, 2019.

9 Edward Wong, “Trump pushes Iraq to stop buying energy from Iran,” The New York Times, February 11, 2019.

10 Vivian Yee, “US sanctions cut deep, but Iran seems unlikely to budge,” The New York Times, May 12, 2019.

11 Walter Russel Mead, “Trump’s Iran gambit,” The Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2018.

12 Patrick Cockburn, “The mysterious ‘sabotage’ of Saudi oil tankers is a dangerous moment in Trump’s pumped up feud with Iran,” The Independent, May 13, 2019.

13 David E. Sanger and Gardiner Harris, “’America First’ bears a new threat: military force,” The New York Times, March 24, 2018.

14 Walter Russel Mead, “Trump’s Iran gambit,” The Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2018.

15 Brett McGurk, “American foreign policy adrift: Pompeo is calling for realism—Trump isn’t delivering,” Foreign Affairs, June 5, 2019.

16 Edward Wong and Ben Hubbard, “Pompeo’s anti-Iran tour faces obstacles of a fractious Middle East,” The New York Times, January 14, 2019.

17 Ian Talley, “US toughens stance on future Iran oil exports,” The Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2018.

18 Michael R. Gordon, “US lays out demands for new Iran deal,” The Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2018.

19 Mark Landler, Maggie Haberman and Eric Schmitt, “Trump tells Pentagon chief he does not want war with Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2019.

20 Gerald F. Seib, “Amid the fog, Trump’s real agenda in Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2019.

21 Gerald F. Seib, “The risks in overusing America’s big economic weapon,” The Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2019.

22 Ian Talley and Courtney McBride, “As new Iran sanctions loom, US aims to plug gaps,” The Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2018.

23 Greg Ip, “Trump trade levers test long-term US alliances,” The Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2019.

24 Ian Talley and Courtney McBride, “As new Iran sanctions loom, US aims to plug gaps,” The Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2018.

25 Grep Ip, “Trump trade levers test long-term US alliances,” The Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2019.

26 Edward Wong and Clifford Krauss, “US moves to stop all nations from buying Iranian oil, but China is defiant,” The New York Times, April 22, 2019.

27 Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran is changing, but not in ways Trump thinks,” The New York Times, June 25, 2018.

28 Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran faces worst economic challenge in 40 years, president says,” The New York Times, January 30, 2019.

29 Sune Engel Rasmussen and Michael R. Gordon, “Iran defies US bid to curb its Middle East influence,” The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2018.

30 Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran is changing, but not in ways Trump thinks,” The New York Times, June 25, 2018.

31 Patrick Cockburn, “The mysterious ‘sabotage’ of Saudi oil tankers is a dangerous moment in Trump’s pumped up feud with Iran,” The Independent, May 13, 2019.

32 Edward Wong and Clifford Krauss, “US moves to stop all nations from buying Iranian oil, but China is defiant,” The New York Times, April 22, 2019; Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran’s economic crisis drags down the middle class almost overnight,” The New York Times, December 26, 2018.

33 Patrick Cockburn, “Europe doesn’t have the power to be much more than a spectator in the escalating US-Iran conflict,” The Independent, May 11, 2019.

34 Isabel Coles and Ali Nabhan, “Iranian groups press for rights—and Tehran hits back,” The Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2018.

35 Bob Woodward. Fear: Trump in the White House. Simon & Shuster. 2018. p. 133.

36 Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman, “CIA names the ‘dark prince’ to run Iran operations, signaling a tougher stance,” The New York Times, June 2, 2017.

37 Asa Fitch, “New unrest roils Iran as US ramps up pressure,” The Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2018.

38 Gerald F. Seib, “Amid the fog, Trump’s real agenda in Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2019.

39 Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt, “Pentagon builds deterrent force against possible Iranian attack,” The New York Times, May 10, 2019.

40 Isabel Coles and Ali Nabhan, “Iranian groups press for rights—and Tehran hits back,” The Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2018.

41 Isabel Coles and Ali Nabhan, “Iranian groups press for rights—and Tehran hits back,” The Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2018.

42 Walter Russel Mead, “Trump’s Iran gambit,” The Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2018.

43 Isabel Coles and Ali Nabhan, “Iranian groups press for rights—and Tehran hits back,” The Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2018.

44 Rick Gladstone, “Iran’s missile tests and the nuclear deal,” The New York Times, March 10, 2016.

45 David E. Sanger and Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. had cyberattack plan if Iran nuclear dispute led to conflict,” The New York Times, February 16, 2016.

46 David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. cyberweapons, used against Iran and North Korea, are a disappointment against ISIS,” The New York Times, June 12, 2017.

47 Gordon Lubold and Michael R. Gordon, “US deploys forces to Mideast to deter Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2019.

48 Gordon Lubold, “US commander weighs an expanded Mideast force to counter Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2019.

49 Nancy A. Yousef, “US bolsters its Gulf defense to counter Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2019.

50 Eric Schmitt and Julian E. Barnes, “White House reviews military plans against Iran, in echoes of Iraq war,” The New York Times, May 13, 2019.

51 Gerald F. Seib, “The risks in overusing America’s big economic weapon,” The Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2019.

52 David E. Sanger, “US says Iran could expedite nuclear bomb,” The New York Times, September 10, 2009.

Feature photo | An oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, June 13, 2019. Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked last Thursday, an assault that left one ablaze and adrift. Photo | ISNA

Stephen Gowans is a Canadian-based political activist and foreign policy analyst. He is the author of Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East (Spring 2019); Patriots, Traitors and Empires; and Washington’s Long War on Syria. Visit his personal blog at gowans.blog.

Published with special permission from the author

The post If Iran Is Responsible for the Fuel Tanker Attacks in the Gulf of Oman (And It May Not Be), It Is Only a Reaction to Washington’s Outrageous Conduct in the Middle East appeared first on MintPress News.

Behind the Syrian Network for Human Rights: How an Opposition Front Group Became Western Media’s Go-To Monitor

The Grayzone — The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) portrays itself as a neutral “monitor” of Syria’s bloody war. In recent years, the group has become a go-to source for corporate media outlets.

Major US newspapers, human rights organizations, and even governments have credulously echoed SNHR’s dubious reports. But not once have these institutions questioned what exactly the organization is, who funds it, and what its relationship is to Syria’s armed opposition.

An investigation by The Grayzone reveals that the Syrian Network for Human Rights is far from the impartial arbiter that it has been sold as. In reality, it is a key player in the Syrian opposition. Currently based in Qatar, SNHR is funded by foreign governments and staffed by top opposition leaders.

This “monitoring group” has even openly lobbied for “immediate intervention” in Syria by an “international coalition,” citing NATO’s 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia as a model. These explicit calls for foreign military intervention have been repeated for years by SNHR itself, as well as by the organization’s leaders.

Yet one would never know this side of the SNHR’s activities from corporate media reporting.

 

An ‘independent monitoring group’ run by the Syrian opposition

On May 11, The New York Times published an exposé claiming to provide new details of a “secret, industrial-scale system of arbitrary arrests and torture prisons” in Syria. Filed from Turkey by reporter Anne Barnard, this article centered around the eyebrow-raising claim that 128,000 people have never emerged from Syrian prisons, “and are presumed to be either dead or still in custody.”

The Times’ source for this shocking statistic was the Syrian Network for Human Rights, which Barnard described as an “independent monitoring group that keeps the most rigorous tally.”

SNHR also supplied key data for a June 2 report by Washington Post reporter Louisa Loveluck on the arrests of Syrian refugees who have returned home. The group insisted that “2,000 people have been detained after returning to Syria during the past two years.”

In the past few years, SNHR has been uncritically cited by major news outlets, from The Guardian to The Intercept to The Daily Beast. Western journalists have unquestioningly regurgitated SNHR data to provide statistical heft to gut-wrenching reports on the Syrian government’s alleged abuses.

Even Amnesty International turned to the group for help on a widely promoted report on Syria’s Sednayah Prison. On its website, SNHR boasts that it was the second-most cited source in the US State Department’s 2018 report on the human rights situation in Syria.

When it is cited in mainstream media, SNHR is almost invariably characterized as a neutral observer without any agenda beyond documenting death and abuse. In Barnard’s article, the group was described as “independent,” absurdly implying that it was not affiliated in any way with governments or individuals that have participated in the Syrian conflict.

While there may be little doubt that the Syrian government presides over a harsh police state apparatus, it has also been the target of one of the most expensive and sophisticated disinformation campaigns in recent history.

Seeking to stimulate support among a war-weary Western public for US military intervention, a collection of billionaires and foreign governments has leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars into a high-tech information war waged by NGOs, insurgent-linked civil society groups, and mainstream corporate media.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights has emerged as one of the most important cogs in this operation. Posing as a professional human rights organization, SNHR has functioned as a publicity arm of the Syrian opposition, operating out of Doha, Qatar and collaborating with the opposition’s “embassy” there under the direction of Syrian opposition leaders.

On SNHR’s board of directors sits Burhan Ghalioun, the longtime leader of the Western- and Gulf-backed Syrian National Council, which was founded as an opposition government-in-exile.

Ghalioun’s bio at SNHR’s website fails to acknowledge his role as a leader of the opposition SNC

The Syrian Network for Human Rights has a reputation for warping numbers to support its ulterior regime change agenda, while relentlessly downplaying the crimes of Salafi-jihadist militias, including ISIS and al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.

What’s more, the group’s leadership has openly clamored for Western military intervention, most recently after it issued a dubious report in May on alleged Syrian government chemical attacks that turned out to be sourced to an al-Qaeda affiliate comprised entirely of foreign fighters.

In a report on its website, SNHR acknowledges that it is “funded by states,” though it does not disclose which ones those are.

Given the ideological composition of its leadership and their basing in Qatar, it is easy to deduce that those government funders are the same ones that have bankrolled an Islamist insurgency in Syria to the tune of several billion dollars, costing many thousands of lives and helping to fuel a refugee crisis of titanic proportions.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (@SNHR) is totally nontransparent, but quietly admitted it is funded by "states" https://t.co/T2yFTpxXAx pic.twitter.com/PqWRBQbRKX

— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) September 25, 2017

So why have so many journalists who depended on SNHR omitted vital context like this while attempting to pass the group off as “independent”? Perhaps because providing readers with the full truth about the organization would raise questions in their minds about its credibility – or lack thereof – and expose yet another journalistic narrative designed to trigger Western military intervention.

Citing the Syrian Network for Human Rights as an independent and credible source is the journalistic equivalent of sourcing statistics on head trauma to a research front created by the National Football League, or turning to tobacco industry lobbyists for information on the connection between smoking and lung cancer. And yet this has been standard practice among correspondents covering the Syrian conflict.

Indeed, Western press has engaged for years in an insidious sleight of hand, basing reams of shock journalism around claims by a single, highly suspect source that is deeply embedded within the Syrian opposition – and hoped that no one would notice.

 

Expert: SNHR is ‘more partisan and less objective’ than other pro-opposition monitors

The Syrian Network for Human Rights has spent years systematically whitewashing and downplaying the crimes of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other extremist groups while inflating the numbers of those killed by government forces.

In a typically slanted report in 2017, SNHR claimed that the Syrian government was responsible for over 92 percent of all deaths during the conflict. Meanwhile, the group reported that “extremist Islamic groups” like ISIS and al-Qaeda’s local franchise were responsible for less than 2 percent of those killed. As usual, the organization provided nothing to back up its absurd numbers other than a cartoon graph.

SNHR’s death tolls stand in stark contrast with those of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), another widely cited organization dedicated to tracking casualties in the Syrian conflict.

Based in Coventry, England and run by a single pro-opposition figure, Rami Abdulrahman, the SOHR has received funding from the British Foreign Office to monitor deaths in Syria.

But unlike SNHR, SOHR has asserted that the death toll among government forces has been almost equal to that of opposition fighters, with over 60,000 dying to beat back a foreign-backed insurgency.

Even the explicitly pro-opposition, UK-based "monitoring group" SOHR is acknowledging that more than 1/3rd of the people who have been killed in the war in Syria are pro-government forces — roughly equal to the number of rebels who have been killed.https://t.co/oTcJfwApR7 pic.twitter.com/rH4Zq8JG2g

— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) March 12, 2018

Because numbers like these undermine the one-sided narrative fashioned by Western media and NGOs dedicated to regime change, many have turned to SNHR instead for more politically convenient statistics spun out through graphics simple enough for a child to digest.

“SOHR is more reliable than SNHR, which is closely associated with the Syrian opposition,” explained Joshua Landis, professor of international and area studies at the University of Oklahoma and a leading expert on Syrian affairs, in an interview with The Grayzone.

“SOHR is also associated with the opposition, but the head is sympathetic to the Kurdish opposition which perhaps makes him a bit more even handed than either of the main antagonists, who have been known to play fast and loose with the facts,” he said.

Landis emphasized that “SNHR is more partisan and less objective” than the pro-opposition SOHR, adding that “it is impossible to know what the real statistics are for the obvious reasons.”

Indeed, the United Nations stopped tabulating deaths in the Syrian conflict in 2014, citing the difficulty it had in obtaining even remotely accurate numbers.

 

Another chemical “red line” deception?

Not only has the Syrian Network for Human Rights conjured up ridiculously slanted death toll numbers, it recently made suspicious claims of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government in an overt bid to trigger US military intervention.

On March 27, as Syrian forces closed in on the province of Idlib, the home of the rebranded al-Qaeda affiliate known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), SNHR claimed that the Syrian government used a missile launcher to fire “poison gas” at an HTS position in the eastern suburbs of Latakia. The attack “caused breathing difficulty, redness of the eyes and tearing” among the targets, according to SNHR.

The US State Department seemed to echo the suspicious information reported by SNHR to claim without concrete evidence on March 19 that it had received “indications of any new use of chemical weapons by the regime.”

SOHR issued a report of its own, however, that undercut the claims by SNHR and the US. According to SOHR, “the Turkestani [Islamic] party is the source and basis of the news adopted by the United States of America about the shelling by the regime forces using chlorine gas.” The SOHR noted that one Turkestani Islamic Party fighter who claimed to have been attacked by chemical gas had asthma.

The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) is comprised largely of Uyghur Muslim militants from China’s Xinjiang region who are allied with HTS in Syria and Al Qaeda on a global level. TIP leadership has called on foreign Muslims to wage jihad in Syria, publishing an online recruitment video in 2018 that celebrated the 9/11 attacks as holy retaliation against a decadent United States awash in homosexuality and sin.

A photo showing Chinese Uyghur children, “little warriors of jihad,” published online by the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) terrorist group in Syria

Fadel Abdul Ghani, the chairman of the opposition-linked SNHR, suggested openly in his group’s dubious report of chemical weapons use that his intention was to see the US intervene in support of Islamist extremist militias like HTS and TIP.

“The US president, the French president and the British Prime Minister have threatened the Syrian regime that if chemical weapons are used again, there will be a decisive response,” Abdul Ghani stated. “Syrian society is still waiting for these leaders to fulfill the promises made, and to hold the Syrian regime to account in a serious and effective way.”

Abdul Ghani has openly advocated for US military intervention for years, telling The Atlantic in 2013 that any civilian deaths by American airstrikes were preferable to the preservation of Assad’s rule. “If Assad continues without any intervention, everyday we will keep losing 100 to 120 people,” Abdul Ghany said. “We have no choice. If we don’t try to take out Assad’s missiles and tanks, he will continue using them against civilians.”

In May 2019, SNHR once again made a public call for foreign military intervention, based on dubious claims of a chemical weapons attack.

On May 27, the ostensible monitoring group published a report subtly entitled “The Syrian Regime Uses Chemical Weapons Again in Latakia and the United States, France, Britain and the Civilized Countries of the World Must Fulfill Their Promises.”

The intention of the report was made as explicit as it could be. The subtitle read, “Immediate Intervention Must Be Made Through an International Coalition to Protect Civilians in Syria Like the NATO Intervention in Kosovo.”

SNHR disposed of any pretense of being an impartial observer and clearly invoked NATO’s 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, which ultimately balkanized and destroyed the state, as an example that should be repeated in Syria.

 

A pro-Tory, Qatar-based arm of the opposition

Wael Aleji, the SNHR’s spokesperson, has not been shy with his views either. On Twitter, Aleji has likened the UK Labour Party of anti-war leftist Jeremy Corbyn to Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party, and praised a vitriolic piece by neoconservative pundit Nick Cohen branding Corbyn as “Hezbollah’s man in London.”

Aleji not only endorsed UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to support US airstrikes on Syrian in 2018, he has explicitly identified himself as a member of the UK’s Conservative Party.

@David_Cameron well done Mr. Prime Minister, so proud of you and our party. Keep Syria in mind

— Wael Aleji (@waelaleji) May 8, 2015

While SNHR previously identified its location as England, its office there is currently listed as “dormant.” Little is known about who supports the group — although, again, it acknowledges on its own about page that it is “funded by states.”

The organization has openly collaborated with the opposition Syrian National Council’s “embassy” in Doha, Qatar to launch a traveling art exhibition promoting its work around the country. Qatar is the Gulf monarchy that heavily funded Islamist insurgent groups in Syria, including Jabhat al-Nusra, the local affiliate of al-Qaeda that rebranded as HTS.

Many of the Syrian exiles on the SNHR’s board of directors are based in Qatar, occupying positions at Doha University and other government institutions.

Another leading figure on the SNHR board, former chairman of the Syrian National Council Burhan Ghalioun, once courted the Westwith promises to end Syria’s relationship with Iran and Palestinian resistance forces if it helped install him and his exiled council as the country’s new rulers.

With figures like Ghalioun on the SNHR’s board, it should be hard to dispute that the organization acts as a de facto arm of the Syrian opposition. And yet reporters like the New York Times’ Anne Barnard have overlooked these inconvenient facts to describe the group as “independent.”

The SNHR did not respond to an interview request from The Grayzone.

 

Regime change journalism, hosted by Democracy Now, endorsed by Hillary Clinton

As a former Beirut bureau chief for the New York Times who now enjoys a fellowship at the notoriously hawkish Council on Foreign Relations, Barnard would be hard to describe as a progressive muckraker. Yet her curiously sourced report on Syrian prisons earned her an invite nonetheless from progressive news program Democracy Now.

Barnard told Democracy Now host Amy Goodman that the Syrian government was “vacuuming up people literally including followers of Gandhi,” suggesting that the rebellion was entirely peaceful while ignoring evidence that the opposition engaged in lethal violence just weeks into the revolt.

In a subsequent question-and-answer session at Reddit, Barnard described a militarized Syrian insurgency that saw the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra assume a leading role in taking over large swaths of the country as “a movement for reform and democracy.”

Barnard appeared upset that the United States had failed to intervene directly to affect regime change. “President Barack Obama spoke loudly, calling for Mr. al-Assad’s ouster,” she said, “but carried a small stick. He backed off from even symbolic enforcement of the red line he had set.”

Barnard’s article ultimately earned an endorsement from former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called it “a remarkable piece of journalism.”

This might be a first for me. https://t.co/EzXCdPVa8p

— Anne Barnard (@ABarnardNYT) May 14, 2019

To gather data documenting the staggering human toll of Syria’s “secret prison network” the New York Times reporter turned to the SNHR, calling it an “independent human rights group” that keeps “the most meticulous count” of prison deaths.

In an interview with the New Yorker, Barnard vouched for the credibility of SNHR and the rigor of its research methods. “Their numbers are actual counts of reports that they get,” she said. “They have people on the ground and people outside Syria, and they basically just take phone calls, and they also have a form on their Web site that you can fill in. They go through the detailed report to them, they verify what they can, and they take this actual tally.”

After opening her piece with bracing testimony from a Syrian who described himself as a former prisoner, Barnard introduced a staggering statistic to demonstrate the scope of brutality by the Syrian government: “Nearly 128,000 have never emerged [from Syrian prisons], and are presumed to be either dead or still in custody, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, an independent monitoring group that keeps the most rigorous tally.”

Nearly 14,000 were “killed under torture,” she wrote, citing the same SNHR report.

Again, there is little debate that the Syrian government has used brutal methods to counter an extremist insurgency that has been funded, armed, and trained with billions of dollars from numerous foreign nations. What is in dispute are the actual numbers — and the magnitude — of deaths and victims of these tactics. And SNHR’s have been comically absurd.

SNHR claimed in the blog post linked by the New York Times that nearly 14,000 people were tortured to death by Syrian government forces, yet it provided no evidence or documentation beyond a single cartoon chart. At the same time, the group claimed that only 32 people were tortured to death by the genocidal extremists in ISIS, and just 21 by the rebranded al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

The notion that ISIS and al-Qaeda tortured only 53 people to death in Syria over eight years is risible. However, Barnard and her editors at the Times seem to have accepted this claim as indisputable truth, regurgitating it without a hint of skepticism.

Barnard did not respond to emailed questions about the SNHR

 

Providing sourcing for US State Department, Amnesty, and The Intercept

The New York Times is not the only mainstream institution to have depended heavily on dubious allegations by the Syrian Network for Human Rights. The group brags that it came in second place for citations in the US State Department’s 2018 report on the human-rights situation in Syria.

SNHR’s report on human-rights violations by the Kurdish-led anti-ISIS coalition was promoted enthusiastically by the Daily Beast’s Roy Gutman, a longtime critic of the Kurdish YPG. However, unlike virtually every other mainstream reporter, Gutman at least hinted at SNHR’s alignment with the Syrian opposition, noting that it was a “Qatar-based human rights group, echoing the position of the Turkish government…”

In September 2018, The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain and Mariam Elba relied on SNHR for numbers of those disappeared into “the sprawling prison network maintained by the Assad government.” (Oddly, the number of secret detainees they cited was 82,000, which means that the Syrian government would have had to have disappeared a whopping 46,000 people in an eight-month period to reach the figure Barnard quoted in the New York Times.)

It was one of many instances in which The Intercept cited SNHR as a credible “watchdog group” without disclosing its seamless ties to the Syrian opposition and the state backers of the Islamist insurgency.

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, there are at a minimum 95,000 forcibly disappeared persons in Syria, with almost 82,000 of these people having disappeared into the sprawling prison network maintained by the Assad government. https://t.co/4zDUJv0thc

— The Intercept (@theintercept) September 10, 2018

The Syrian Network for Human Rights has also been a go-to sourcefor The Guardian, which relied on the group and various other opposition-tied outfits like the Violations Documentation Center to claim that Russian airstrikes in Syria have been more deadly than those by the US-led coalition, which is reported by those groups to have killed 1,600 civilians in Raqqa alone. (The Guardian referred to SNHR merely as “a UK-based organization.”)

In her article for the New York Times, Barnard relied on a widely discussed 2017 Amnesty International report to claim that Syria’s Saydnaya Prison was a “mass execution center” where “thousands were hanged after summary trials.” That report, headlined with the tabloid title “Human Slaughterhouse” and supplemented with CGI-style storytelling graphics, also relied heavily on unsourced claims provided by SNHR.

According to Amnesty, anywhere from 5,000 to 13,000 prisoners were summarily executed at Saydnaya. However, the international NGO provided no data to support this claim, conceding in a footnote on page 17 of its report that its data was based entirely on hypothetical calculations.

The footnote where Amnesty admits that its Saydnayah death toll is based on hypothetical mathematical calculations

Later, on page 40, Amnesty acknowledged that “the exact number of deaths in Saydnaya is impossible to specify.” The NGO then revealed that it documented only 375 deaths at the prison over a five-year period, and thanks to allegations “verified” by SNHR.

Like virtually every other organization that depended on SNHR’s claims, Amnesty referred to the SNHR simply as a “monitoring group,” not noting its intimate connection to the Syrian opposition.

In Barnard’s New York Times report, SNHR was cited alongside an interconnected array of NGOs and individuals with documented ties to the Syrian opposition. As with SNHR, absolutely no context was provided to inform readers about the political agenda of these organizations, or about the direct support they received from states that have fueled the extremist insurgency in Syria.

Through omissions like these, regime change propaganda has been carefully repackaged as news that’s fit to print.

Part two of this investigation will examine another widely cited, opposition-tied source that has been widely cited by US mainstream media in coverage of Syria. It is the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA). With a tightly-knit coterie of lawyers, faceless Salafi-jihadist insurgents, and an intelligence network spanning from Washington to Doha, this group of so-called “document hunters” is honing the latest tactic in the West’s regime-change toolbox.

Feature photo | U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters use their video camera through a hole in a wall in Raqqa, Syria, July 17, 2017. Hussein Malla | AP

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of several books, including best-selling Republican GomorrahGoliathThe Fifty One Day War, and The Management of Savagery. He has produced print articles for an array of publications, many video reports, and several documentaries, including Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded The Grayzone in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.

Source | Grayzone

The post Behind the Syrian Network for Human Rights: How an Opposition Front Group Became Western Media’s Go-To Monitor appeared first on MintPress News.

Mike Pompeo Has a Hard Time Kicking Old Habits

“I was the CIA director. We lied, We Cheated, We Stole”.  – Mike Pompeo

It appears that Mike Pompeo has a hard time kicking his old habits.  He appears to be as smug about lying as a CIA operative as he is as Secretary of State.  Categorically blaming the Iranians for the recent oil attack tankers has left allies scratching their heads; and perhaps leaving foes thinking: “Thank God my enemy is so stupid”!   

On June 13, 2019, as Ayatollah Khamenei was holding talks in Tehran with Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, two oil tankers carrying oil to Japan were attacked.  As investigations into the incident were just beginning, Pompeo had already concluded his assessment and had it ready for the press. Much to the audible surprise of the world, and without any proof or supporting documents, he laid the blame firmly at Iran’s feet citing “intelligence”.  

To his relief, in no time at all, US officials claimed that they had managed to get their hands on videos and pictures.  They presented a grainy video alleging to show an Iranian navy boat removing mines from the damaged Japanese ship.  It is easy to understand why the grainy video’s existence was necessary.

Precisely a month prior, on May 13th,  four oil tankers were damaged in the region.   The United States blamed Iran without any evidence.  Saudi Arabia followed suit. The rest of the world was skeptical and doubts floated about the about the accuracy of US claims.  This time around, Pompeo was saved by the video – although not for long! The Japanese vessel owner disputed the presence of mines damaging his vessel (as suggested in the blurry video).

Even allies were skeptical.  To enforce its position and allegations against Iran,  the Trump administration made its argument based on misinterpreting what Iran had said about the oil embargo.   Following Trump’s announcement on April 22nd that America would not renew US waivers for countries which imported oil from Iran, in essence, imposing an oil embargo, on April 25the Iranian government retorted by condemning America’s illegal demands and stated that no other country could take its share of the oil market.

The Trump team would like us to believe that what Iran meant was the sabotage of the oil tankers.   This is far from true. Iran was referring to its legal right under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which legally allows it to impede the passage of oil shipments through its territorial waters – the Strait of Hormuz.

While UNCLOS stipulates that vessels can exercise the right of innocent passage, and coastal states should not impede their passage, under the UNCLOS framework, a coastal state [Iran] can block ships from entering its territorial waters if the passage of the ships harms “peace, good order or security” of said state, as the passage of such ships would no longer be deemed “innocent”.   

Given Iran’s recourse to international law, American diplomacy at its all time low, and the rally behind Iran – if only verbally – it makes absolutely no sense for Iran to blow up oil tankers and turn the world opinion in favor of  Trump and his the warmongering advisors – Pompeo and Bolton.

But tankers were blown up.   What other motivation were there?  

Perhaps NOPEC – No to Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act.   In February, House passed a Bill that would cripple OPEC.   The Bill would prohibit OPEC from coordinating production and influencing prices.  While the Bill was said to provide a useful leverage for the White House, Persian Gulf Arab states sent their warnings to Wall Street.  

On April 5th, Saudi Arabia even threatened to drop Dollar for oil trades in order to discourage US from passing the NOPEC Bill.  The Saudi threat came on the heels of UAE cautions the prior month that if such bill passed, it would in effect, break up OPEC.  

Perhaps this was the reason behind Saudi Arabia’s lack of cooperation.   After Trump announced his Iran oil embargo, a senior US administration assured the world at large that Trump was confident Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would fill any gap left in the oil market.  He was mistaken. On April 29th, the Saudi Energy Minister, Khaled el-Falih made it clear that Saudi Arabia would not “rush to boost oil supply to make up for a loss of Iranian crude”.  

After the May 13th incident, apparently America’s accusations did not carry any weight around the world, but they did have an impact on the jittery Saudis.   On June 3rd, Bloomberg reported that over the last month, the Saudis  raised their oil production to replace lost Iranian oil.    The oil market was satisfied and America could continue to put pressure on friend and foe to stop buying Iranian oil – there would be no shortages.

What then explains the second tanker incidents of June 13th?

Perhaps the motive is two-fold.  Firstly, the United States would reinforce its unfounded allegations that Iran is a ‘bad actor’ and discourage and dissuade the international community from cooperation with Iran.  And secondly, the hike in the price of oil as a result of the tanker attacks no doubt sent a sigh of relief to shale oil producers in the United States. A drop in oil prices would greatly harm or bankrupt US shale-focused, debt-dependent producers.

Not on Trump’s watch.  

Although many states in the US and some countries in the world have banned shale oil production due to its adverse effects on the environment, specifically water, the United States’ goal is to be the biggest producer and supplier of oil depending on its shale oil production.  Currently, according to the latest US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the United States is a net importer of oil.   With low oil prices, a halt or slowing of shale, the trend would continue to be an importer.

Having Saudi Arabia cower to US demands, demonizing Iran, intimidating allies and non-allies with fear of conflict in the region in order to press further demands on Iran, increase in the price of oil, and the weapons that would be purchased by US allies in the nervous neighborhood, seems like a win-win situation for America.  For now.

Feature Photo | Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with coalition forces at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, July 9, 2018. Andrew Harnik | AP

Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich is an independent researcher and writer with a focus on U.S. foreign policy.

The post Mike Pompeo Has a Hard Time Kicking Old Habits appeared first on MintPress News.

Amid Sudan’s Brutal Crackdown, Trump Admin Appoints Envoy Who Helped Worsen War in South Sudan

KHARTOUM, SUDAN — Late Thursday evening, less than two weeks after murdering more than 100 civilian protesters, Sudan’s ruling military council tried to save face by telling a group of international reporters that those responsible for the slaughter had “deviated” from the official military plan to disperse protesters. Gen. Shams Eddin Kabashi, spokesman for the ruling military council, called the murders “painful and outrageous” and promised accountability while also downplaying the death toll, claiming that only 61 protesters were killed while the opposition has claimed the number of deaths surpassed 100.

“We feel sorry for what happened…We will show no leniency and we will hold accountable anyone, regardless of their rank, if proven to have committed violations,” the Associated Press quoted Kabashi as saying.

However, Kabashi failed to comment on recent reports that the official military plan had been discussed in advance with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates — all authoritarian governments that back the current head of Sudan’s military council, Lt. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Abdelrahman — and the fact that that very plan had involved removing protesters from their encampment by brute force.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the Trump administration, after being accused of inaction by the international community, also attempted to save face by appointing a new envoy to Sudan — Donald Booth, who was described by numerous media outlets simply as a “veteran diplomat,” despite his role in fomenting the war in South Sudan that has left nearly 400,000 dead. Booth’s appointment, much like the Sudanese military council’s own recent statements, appears aimed at mollifying international outrage while doing little to change the actual situation.

This outcome, though undeniably unfortunate, is hardly surprising given that the U.S. and its top two regional allies — Israel and Saudi Arabia — actively sought to remove the former leader of Sudan, Omar Bashir, and replace him with a regime more friendly to Saudi, Israeli and American interests.

 

A slaughter according to plan

On June 3, the Sudanese military ruling council — led by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Abdelrahman, who shares close ties to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — approved a plan to clear a large encampment of protesters. In enacting that plan, Sudanese security forces used live ammunition, set tents on fire to force protesters out of the area, and killed an estimated 108 people and injured over 500 more, according to the Sudanese Doctors Central Committee, which is associated with the protesters.

The protesters had organized the encampment weeks prior as part of an effort to pressure the ruling military council to participate in the formation of a new civilian, transitional government and prevent the country from being ruled indefinitely by the military. The Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a coalition of political groups that represent the protesters, had been in talks with the military council to form such a transitional government, but those talks fell through in mid-May over disagreements over which faction — military or civilian — would hold the most influence.

Just three days after the massacre, Middle East Eye reported that Lt. Gen. Abdelrahman had discussed the violent removal of protesters from this encampment prior to the brutal crackdown while visiting the leadership of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. An anonymous Sudanese military expert told MEE:

The breaking up of the sit-in was one of the main points on the agenda that was discussed… Unless he [Lt. Gen. Abdelrahman] got the green light from his regional allies, he would not have been able to commit such a crime.”

The prospect of Abdelrahman seeking Saudi, UAE and Egyptian approval to consolidate control over Sudan’s government seems likely given that he “oversaw Sudanese troops fighting in the Saudi-led Yemen war and has close ties to senior Gulf military officials,” according to the Associated Press, and quickly received public support from these same three governments after taking charge of the ruling military council soon after the ouster of Bashir.

In addition, following Abdelrahman’s rise to power, Sudan’s military council has been offered $3 billion in “assistance” from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, an offer that analysts have widely described as coming with “strings attached.”

Given this context, the recent claims by the military council’s spokesman that the murder of civilian protesters was a “deviation” from the official plan appears to be merely an attempt to mollify the international outrage that followed the bloodshed just enough to prevent an international push to force the military council to give power to a civilian government, as protesters have demanded.

 

The new U.S. envoy brings his baggage

As international outrage over the murder of civilian protesters in Sudan grew, the U.S. government came under fire from critics for being “missing in action” while allowing Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt to greatly influence current events in Sudan. In a move that was interpreted by some analysts as a response to that criticism, the Trump administration announced last Wednesday that it would appoint a new special envoy to Sudan in a bid to help “stabilize” the country.

That special envoy, Donald Booth, was described by the mainstream press as a “seasoned former ambassador with extensive experience in Africa” and a “veteran diplomat.” However, those reports failed to note that Booth, who served in both the Bush and Obama administrations, was widely criticized for his role in helping destabilize and foment the civil war in South Sudan, a war for which the U.S. government holds a large share of responsibility.

South Sudan’s military parade at the country’s anniversary celebrations, at the John Garang mausoleum in Juba, South Sudan, Monday, July 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Shannon Jensen)

After the Obama administration oversaw and greatly influenced the partition of Sudan into Sudan and South Sudan in 2011, it appointed Donald Booth to be the U.S. special envoy to South Sudan in 2013. In this role, Booth was a key driver of the Obama-era policy of taking sides in the South Sudan civil war, a war that the U.S. helped to initiate and a war that Booth’s policies helped to foment. Booth helped keep the Obama administration firmly in support of South Sudan President Salva Kiir despite his ethnic cleansing campaign and the documented war crimes committed by forces under his control since the conflict began. The UN warned in 2017, two months after Booth had left his post as special envoy to South Sudan, that the Kiir-led government Booth had vociferously supported was planning to commit genocide against ethnic minorities.

While the other faction in South Sudan’s war — led by former Vice President of South Sudan Riek Machar — is hardly free of similar charges, the U.S.’ clear preference for Kirr over Machar has helped to swell the violence, which has produced an estimated (though likely severely underestimated) death toll of nearly 400,000.

According to Jon Temin, a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff during the final years of the Obama administration, the administration’s decision — in which Booth was a major player — to not impose an arms embargo early on in the conflict and its decision to side so consistently with President Kiir led to much of the worst violence of the conflict, which different policies could have prevented. “The United States, at multiple stages, failed to step back and broadly reassess policy,” Temin claimed in a report published last year.

Booth’s appointment to be the new special envoy to Sudan seems illogical in light of his documented history of incompetence and support for brutal regimes in the region that are backed by the U.S. and U.S. allies. However, this dichotomy has become somewhat of a trend for the Trump administration, given the recent appointment of Elliott Abrams to be special envoy to Venezuela to help “restore democracy” despite Abrams’ history of arming genocidal paramilitary groups in the region and disguising weapons shipments as “humanitarian aid.”

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, center, waves from the back of a truck during a visit to North Kordofan, Sudan, Thursday, April 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Abd Raouf)

The U.S. is likely unwilling to push for civilian rule of Sudan unless it feels confident that Washington will be able to influence the country’s policies in a way that it was unable to during the decades-long rule of Omar Bashir. MintPress reported soon after Bashir’s overthrow in April that the U.S. had been seeking Bashir’s removal from power since at least the George W. Bush administration and that weakening Bashir’s government was a major factor in the U.S.-brokered partition of Sudan into Sudan and South Sudan under the Obama administration.

Following the failure of that partition to weaken and depose Bashir, the U.S. targeted his government largely by covert means, particularly through “soft power” organizations aimed at “democracy promotion,” such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Notably, according to the U.S. government’s own figures, funding of USAID’s activities in Sudan did not begin until after the 2011 creation of South Sudan.

During the failed U.S.-backed color revolution of 2013, USAID funding for activities in Sudan spiked from $93 million the year prior to $135 million. Notably, last year — as Sudan’s efforts to move away from the Saudi-led bloc became more clear — USAID’s funding of activities in Sudan reached an all-time high of nearly $197 million.

 

Washington carries water for its desert allies

In addition to the U.S.’ own interest in seeing Bashir’s removal from power and his replacement with a government more friendly to U.S. interests, Bashir’s ouster and subsequent replacement with a military council was an outcome sought by top U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel.

There were a variety of reasons for this. In the months prior to his overthrow, Bashir began to switch from a years-long alliance with Saudi Arabia and the UAE to an alliance with Qatar and Iran, while also opposing the Saudi-led effort to dominate the mineral wealth of the Red Sea, from which it had excluded Sudan. Not only that, but Bashir had begun reevaluating the country’s role in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, where Sudanese mercenary forces play a crucial role and where withdrawal of those forces could compel the Saudi-led Coalition to end the genocidal conflict.

In addition, there is clear evidence that Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, was involved in the April overthrow of Omar Bashir: Salah Gosh, then-chief of Sudanese intelligence, and Yossi Cohen, head of the Mossad, had met on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference as part of a plan led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Israel to oust Bashir. After Bashir was overthrown, Gosh was one of the interim leaders of the military council currently controlling Sudan.

Israel sought Bashir’s ouster chiefly because he was one of the only Saudi-aligned leaders who opposed normalizing relations with Israel. In fact, Bashir openly stated in January, several weeks after the protests that would eventually oust him had begun, that he had been advised that he could ensure the stability of his rule were he to agree to normalize relations with Israel, suggesting that foreign interests eager to see those ties materialize were involved in Sudan’s protests. Days after that statement, Bashir rejected an offer to fly to Tel Aviv and publicly declared his strong opposition to “any possibility” of forging ties with Israel. Bashir had long held a reputation as an advocate for Palestinian causes and as a strong critic of Zionism.

Furthermore, the main reasons for Israel and Saudi Arabia’s interests in pushing for Bashir’s overthrow — reducing Sudanese support for Palestinian rights and preventing a Sudanese withdrawal from the war in Yemen, respectively — are objectives openly supported by the Trump administration. Thus, the Trump administration is likely uninterested in seeing Sudan’s military council transfer power to a civilian government if it feels that such a transfer would interfere with these key Israel and Saud interests in Sudan — especially since Bashir’s overthrow is also a long-time U.S. objective in its own right.

Given that, in the pursuit of similar interests, Israel and the Saudis have backed authoritarian regimes elsewhere in Africa — such as in Egypt and Libya — the Trump administration is likely to do only the bare minimum in order to manage international outrage at the growing list of atrocities committed by Sudanese security forces. Trump’s clear goal is to ensure that power in Sudan stays firmly in the hands of those who will serve the interests of the U.S.’ top regional allies, even if it means scuttling all hopes of a future, democratic Sudan.

Feature Photo | Sudanese Soldiers

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

The post Amid Sudan’s Brutal Crackdown, Trump Admin Appoints Envoy Who Helped Worsen War in South Sudan appeared first on MintPress News.

Pompeo Gulf of Oman Narrative Torpedoed by Vessel’s Japanese Owner

WASHINGTON — Just a day before the Trump administration blamed Iran for an attack on two oil tankers connected to Japan in the Gulf of Oman, without offering a shred of evidence, members of Congress revealed that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had privately briefed them on possible justifications for a war on Iran.

The two oil tankers were targeted as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Iran, the first time a Japanese leader had gone to the country since its revolution 40 years ago. Abe was to act as a mediator between Washington and Tehran. This followed threats from the United States to sanction Japan, the world’s fourth-largest consumer of oil, for trading with Iran.

Reuters reports: “Japan was one of the main buyers of Iranian oil until last month, when Washington ordered all countries to halt all Iranian oil imports or face sanctions of their own.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that “suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning.”

His U.S. counterpart, Pompeo, held a four-minute briefing on Friday about the incident, refusing to take any questions. It was just the latest pie-in-the-sky narrative from the former CIA director, who recently admitted that during his time at the agency, “We lied, we cheated, we stole.”

Reported attacks on Japan-related tankers occurred while PM @AbeShinzo was meeting with Ayatollah @khamenei_ir for extensive and friendly talks.

Suspicious doesn't begin to describe what likely transpired this morning.

Iran's proposed Regional Dialogue Forum is imperative.

— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) June 13, 2019

Meanwhile, the U.S. government’s contention that the oil tankers were attacked with mines appears to be falling apart just one day later. The owner of one of the tankers said on Friday that “flying objects” were observed just before the fire broke out. The U.S., meanwhile, released video on Friday which they say shows Iranian vessels removing an unexploded mine.

Yet the owner of the vessel maintains that there were no mines — or torpedos — involved, denying that such could have been the case because the damage to the ship was above the waterline. He went so far as to call the whole notion of mines being responsible “false.”

Iranian vessels, it should be noted, rescued the crewmen on Thursday.

Remember the Maine, Operation Northwoods, Gulf of Tonkin, Kuwaiti incubator babies, Saddam’s WMD’s, Qaddafi soldiers’ Viagra spree, Last Messages From Aleppo, Douma, burning aid on Colombia-Venezuela bridge, and now today’s attacks in the Gulf of Oman. https://t.co/jnoIcXxUAS

— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) June 13, 2019

 

How to go to war without consent from Congress

Just one day prior to the alleged attacks, members of Congress were negotiating the defense budget when it was revealed that Pompeo had privately briefed them on potential justifications for a war with Iran, justifications that would render Congress’ control of war powers obsolete.

“The notion that the administration has never maintained that there are elements to the 2001 AUMF [Authorization for Use of Military Force] that would authorize their hostilities toward Iran is not consistent with my understanding of what they said to us,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said.

“We were absolutely presented with a full formal presentation on how the 2001 AUMF might authorize war on Iran,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI).

“Secretary Pompeo said it with his own words,” Slotkin added.

On Wednesday, Congress members were debating whether to add language to the defense budget bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), that would explicitly say the 2001 AUMF could not be used to justify war with Iran.

Congress is supposed to provide consent before the White House is allowed to go to war, a power that has largely been usurped since the War on Terror began. That’s largely because of the 2001 AUMF, which authorizes the president to:

use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

Under President Barack Obama, the AUMF was expanded to include the administration’s anti-ISIS campaign, despite the fact that ISIS did not even exist when the World Trade Center was attacked.

Is it only a matter of time before the 2001 AUMF is stretched to absurd lengths again, this time with IRGC? US courts have found Iran at fault for 9/11, and this document authorizes force against that. With the terrorist designation, Bolton has all he needs to justify a hot war.

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) April 8, 2019

 

Following the State Department’s designation of Iran’s military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as a terrorist organization in April, MintPress News reported:

Notably, the CIA opened a new ‘mission center’ on Iran in June 2017 — when Pompeo was CIA director — aimed at ‘turning up the heat’ on Iran and making the country a ‘higher priority’ for American spies. Now, just under two years later, the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group allows those clandestine operations to become ‘more robust’ and more overt thanks to the years-long expansion of the 2001 AUMF.”

The Trump administration has on several occasions attempted to link Iran to al-Qaeda, which might be true if we were living in the Twilight Zone. Iran, a Shia-led country, has longstanding hostilities with the Sunni extremist group and Iranian-backed forces have battled them on multiple fronts over the years. Despite the overwhelming lack of evidence, Trump himself has sought to tie the country to al-Qaeda and U.S. courts have ruled that Iran is responsible for 9/11, rulings which are similarly surreal.

Yet the Trump administration is reputed to deal in the land of alternative facts. According to Rep. Slotkin, during Pompeo’s briefing he “referenced a relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda.”

Given the post-truth playing field Trump likes to play ball on, compounded with the extreme hawkishness of his lackeys John Bolton and Pompeo, the threat of war with Iran has never been higher, and it appears the administration is bent on circumventing congressional approval. If the plan goes ahead, it would mark the most serious instance of blowback in the post 9/11 era and create a quagmire worse than Iraq, since Iran’s military is far stronger than the army of Saddam Hussein. Perhaps this is another instance of brinkmanship by the administration, or perhaps Pompeo sees it as making good on his vow to “continue to fight these battles… until the rapture.”

Feature photo | Gulf of Oman Tanker Attack

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

 

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American Gov’t, NGOs Fuel and Fund Hong Kong Anti-Extradition Protests

HONG KONG — Protesters in Hong Kong attempted to storm the parliament on Tuesday in opposition to an amendment to the autonomous territory’s extradition law with mainland China. The protest’s messaging and the groups associated with it, however, raise a number of questions about just how organic the movement is.

Some of the groups involved receive significant funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA soft-power cutout that has played a critical role in innumerable U.S. regime-change operations.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed in on the bill, which is being considered in Hong Kong’s parliament, arguing that, should it pass, Congress would have to “no choice but to reassess whether Hong Kong is ‘sufficiently autonomous’ under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework.”

The State Department has also weighed in, saying it could “could undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and negatively impact the territory’s long-standing protection of human rights, fundamental freedoms and democratic values.”

UK media cheerlead Hong Kong protesters who fear China will use 'non-political crimes to prosecute critics'. The same media that's spent 9 years cheerleading persecution, torture of whistleblowing platform founder Julian Assange for non-political crimes https://t.co/KuYyF0L5dS

— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) June 12, 2019

The Canadian and British foreign ministries have also thrown their weight behind those opposing the bill.

By all indications, protesters are just getting started. On Wednesday, some told international media that they would try to storm parliament again. Protesters have been met with the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by police.

The protesters appear to be trying to raise awareness among Western audiences, using the “AntiExtraditionLaw” hashtag and signs in English. In one photograph, a group holds dozens of the old Hong Kong flags, when the territory was under the control of the British crown, while bearing a sign that accuses China of “colonialism.”

 

Major protests greet a minor change in law

The amendment to the extradition law would “allow Hong Kong to surrender fugitives on a case-by-case basis to jurisdictions that do not have long-term rendition agreements with the city.” Among those jurisdictions are mainland China and Taiwan. Ian Goodrum, an American journalist who works in China for the government-owned China Daily newspaper, told MintPress News:

It’s unfortunate there’s been all this hullabaloo over what is a fairly routine and reasonable adjustment to the law. As the law reads right now, there’s no legal way to prevent criminals in other parts of China from escaping charges by fleeing to Hong Kong. It would be like Louisiana — which, you’ll remember, has a unique justice system — refusing to send fugitives to Texas or California for crimes committed in those states.

Honestly, this is something that should have been part of the agreement made in advance of the 1997 handover. Back then bad actors used irrational fear of the mainland to kick the can down the road and we’re seeing the consequences today.”

Reminder that there is a Hong Konger wanted in Taiwan for murdering his pregnant girlfriend that cant be extradited to stand trial
That's what these Hong Kongers are protesting to keep https://t.co/dqDnt6OvKX

— Wes, B.A. (@ZhouChauster) June 11, 2019

 

The U.S. agenda ripples through major NGOs

Like the U.S. government, the NGO-industrial complex appears to be wholly on-board. Some 70 non-governmental organizations, many of them international, have endorsed an open letter urging for the bill to be killed. Yet it is signed only by three directors: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor (HKHRM).

The protests mark the latest flare-up in longstanding tensions over Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland. In 2014, many of the groups associated with the current movement held an “Occupy” protest of their own over issues of autonomy.

A police officer blows the whistle to the protesters as they remove the barricades at an occupied area in Mong Kok district of Hong Kong Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. Hong Kong authorities cleared street barricades from a pro-democracy protest camp in the volatile Mong Kok district for a second day Wednesday after a night of clashes in which police arrested 116 people.

Ironically, the issue of autonomy is not just of importance to Hong Kongers, but to the United States government as well. And it’s not all just harshly worded statements: the U.S. government is pumping up some of the organizers with loads of cash via the NED.

Something about the Hong Kong protests' messaging seems tailor-made for Western audiences. Most signs I am seeing also happen to be in English pic.twitter.com/YP71XXCCOJ

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) June 12, 2019

Maintaining Hong Kong’s distance from China has been important to the U.S. for decades. One former CIA agent even admitted that “Hong Kong was our listening post.”

As MintPress News previously reported:

The NED was founded in 1983 following a series of scandals that exposed the CIA’s blood-soaked covert actions against foreign governments. ‘It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA,’ NED President Carl Gershman told the New York Times in 1986. ‘We saw that in the Sixties, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.’

Another NED founder, Allen Weinstein, conceded to the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, ‘A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.’”

The NED has four main branches, at least two of which are active in Hong Kong: the Solidarity Center (SC) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The latter has been active in Hong Kong since 1997, and NED funding for Hong Kong-based groups has been “consistent,” says Louisa Greve, vice president of programs for Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. While NED funding for groups in Hong Kong actually dates back to 1994, 1997 was the year the territory was transferred from control by the British.

In 2018, NED granted $155,000 to SC and $200,000 to NDI for work in Hong Kong, and $90,000 to HKHRM, which is not itself a branch of NED but a partner in Hong Kong. Between 1995 and 2013, HKHRM received more than $1.9 million in funds from the NED.

The MacDonalds in Admiralty station concourse is doing a roaring trade again. Any good protest in the west, first thing we’d do is put a bin through the window. Here, it’s the protest site canteen. It was a 24 hr Maccy D’s in 2014 though, wonder if they’ll open late for us.

— Hong Kong Hermit (@HongKongHermit) June 12, 2019

Through its NDI and SC branches, NED has had close relations with other groups in Hong Kong. NDI has worked with the Hong Kong Journalist Association, the Civic Party, the Labour Party, and the (Hong Kong) Democratic Party. It isn’t clear whether these organizations have received funding from the NED. SC has, however, given $540,000 to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions in the course of just seven years.

The coalition cited by Hong Kong media, including the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Free Press, as organizers of the anti-extradition law demonstrations is called the Civil Human Rights Front. That organization’s website lists the NED-funded HKHRM, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, the Hong Kong Journalists Association, the Civic Party, the Labour Party, and the Democratic Party as members of the coalition.

It is inconceivable that the organizers of the protests are unaware of the NED ties to some of its members. During the 2014 Occupy protests, Beijing made a big deal out of NED influence in the protests and the foreign influence they said it represented. The NED official, Greve, even told the U.S. government’s Voice of America outlet that “activists know the risks of working with NED partners” in Hong Kong, but do it anyway.

Feature photo | A protester bleeds from his face as he tries to stop a group of taxi drivers from trying to remove the barricades which are blocking off main roads, near a line of riot police at an occupied area, in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014. Hong Kong student leaders and government officials talked but agreed on little Tuesday as the city’s Beijing-backed leader reaffirmed his unwillingness to compromise on the key demand of activists camped in the streets now for a fourth week.

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

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Robert Fisk: Sudan Protesters Were Right to Fear the Arrival of Saudi and UAE Money

The Sudanese democracy demonstrators were the first to protest at Saudi Arabia’s interference in their revolution. We all knew that the Saudis and the Emiratis had been funnelling millions of dollars into the regime of Omar al-Bashir, wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court and now chucked out of power by a Sisi-like military cabal. But it was the sit-in protesters who first thought up the slogan: “We do not want Saudi aid even if we have to eat beans and falafel!”

It was shouted, of course, along with the more familiar chants of ‘revolution of the people”.

Few noticed this little development – save, to give it credit, The Washington Post– but the dozens of waterlogged bodies being dragged from the Nile should focus our attention on the support which the Emiratis and especially the Saudis are now lavishing upon the pseudo-transitional military government in Sudan.

We should not be surprised. The frequent judicial head-chopping of Saudi prisoners after travesty trials, then the chopped-up remains of an executed Saudi journalist and now the decaying Sudanese corpses sloshing along the longest river in Africa – along with the Saudi-Emirati assault on Yemen and the subsequent slaughter – possess a kind of gruesome familiarity. Political problems resolved by cruel death.

What the hundreds of thousands of protesters, now hiding from the ruthlessness of the killer-militias unleashed by the new and supposedly temporary regime, want to know is simple – and it’s not whether Omar al-Bashir will go for trial

The protesters want answers about the true nature of the relationship between the Gulf states and two men: the “Rapid Support Forces” commander, the frightening Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo – aka “Hemeti” – and Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, the theoretical head of the military council which took over the country after they overthrew Bashir. Both men recently visited the Gulf states – and the Sudanese who were camped out in their capital want to know why Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates promised $3bn (£2.7bn) in aid to the transitional government.

Hence their preference for beans and falafel – the chickpea-filled patty which probably originated in Egypt – rather than Saudi cash. But talking of Egypt, the Sudanese also realise that their own new and revolutionary experience in demanding Bashir’s overthrow along with civilian rulers who will arrange democratic elections has some remarkable parallels with the experience of Cairo’s demonstrators after 2011.

Mubarak was the “Omar Bashir” of Egypt, of course, and General Mohamed Tantawi, Egyptian head of the supreme council of the armed forces military council, the Scaf (the job of which was to safeguard future elections, needless to say), played the role of Burhan, now head of Sudan’s military council. Real elections did give Egypt almost a year of rule by the freely elected if deeply flawed Muslim Brotherhood-dominated presidency of Mohamed Morsi – until General, soon to be Field Marshal, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi staged a military coup, restored dictatorship and received – surprise, surprise – vast economic assistance from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who staged the revolution against Mubarak have either been killed, fled, gone to ground or been arrested by the Egyptian security services. So no wonder would-be Sudanese revolutionaries – even though they would see their role as mere protesters for democracy – are fearful that they will soon suffer the same fate, and that those generous Gulf monarchies are about to strike again with more support for Burhan and his unpleasant companion.

Sisi himself chaired an emergency session of the African Union which gave Burhan’s military council three more months to arrange its “handover” to civilian power. If the Saudis helped Sisi in Egypt with their immense wealth, why not Burhan? What was the $3bn for, other than to prop up Burhan’s own regime – brought to power by national protests over Sudan’s bankrupt economy.

Sudan, specifically militias led by the disreputable and extremely dangerous Dagolo – more than 10,000 men, some of them guilty of war crimes in Darfur – have been fighting for the Saudis against the Houthis in Yemen. And Dagolo, according to Al Jazeera, met the Saudi crown prince early in May and promised to support the kingdom against “all threats and attacks from Iran and Houthi militias”. He would continue, he allegedly promised, to send Sudanese forces to help Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

Burhan recruited many of the Sudanese who went to fight in Yemen – a large number of whom had been under Dagolo’s command. So is it any surprise that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman would want to continue his relationship with Dagolo? Anything would be better than parliamentary democracy in Sudan – especially of the Muslim Brotherhood kind which ruled Egypt after Mubarak.

Amid this potential act of “backstabbery” towards the protesters, the US has found itself in an even more embarrassing situation than it did in Egypt. The then-secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, continued to support the fading Mubarak regime until Barack Obama finally decided that his days were numbered. Then he welcomed Mohamed Morsi – but didn’t know whether to call Sisi’s subsequent coup a coup. To his credit, John McCain immediately said that it was.

Now, save for vague suggestions from the Trump administration that it condemns violence in Sudan, there has been no serious policy statement on the massive upheaval in the country. The US wants democracy in Sudan – presumably, because that is what its own government supposedly stands for in all nations – but everyone knows that Trump, in his perverse view of the world, regards the Saudi crown prince as a trusted ally – despite the murder of Jamal Kashoggi – and Sisi as “a great guy”.

As one former US assistant secretary of state told Foreign Policy magazine: “The leaders and governments of Saudi Arabia, [the] UAE and Egypt do not share our fundamental democratic values, and their views on what should happen in Sudan diverge significantly from the policies the United States should be pursuing.”

The EU, naturally enough, is keen as mustard on democratic elections, but – though it does not say so – is rather worried that the old ruling party, with its political machinery still in place – might win. Either way, the Gulf states and Egypt don’t want democracy in Sudan.

Are they so powerful that they can ensure the revolution will fail? Or so frightened of the influence of a Sudanese democracy on their own autocracies that the revolution must fail? The heaps of corpses stacked up in Cairo after Sisi crushed Morsi and the Brotherhood, the beheading of Shiite militants in Saudi Arabia, the chopping-up of Jamal Kashoggi and the Nile-dumping of Sudanese protesters show clearly that the forces which want to crush any revolution in Sudan will brook no opposition.

Feature Photo | A protester wears a Sudanese flag in front of burning tires and debris on road 60, near Khartoum’s army headquarters, in Khartoum, Sudan, June 3, 2019. At least 13 people have been killed Monday in the military’s assault on the sit-in outside the military headquarters in the capital, Khartoum. The protesters have announced they are suspending talks with the military regarding the creation of a transitional government. Photo | AP

Robert Fisk is the multi-award winning Middle East correspondent of The Independent, based in Beirut. He has lived in the Arab world for more than 40 years, covering Lebanon, five Israeli invasions, the Iran-Iraq war, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Algerian civil war, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the Bosnian and Kosovo wars, the American invasion and occupation of Iraq and the 2011 Arab revolutions.

Source | The Independent

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American Gov’t, NGOs Fuel and Fund Hong Kong Anti-Extradition Protests

HONG KONG — Protesters in Hong Kong attempted to storm the parliament on Tuesday in opposition to an amendment to the autonomous territory’s extradition law with mainland China. The protest’s messaging and the groups associated with it, however, raise a number of questions about just how organic the movement is.

Some of the groups involved receive significant funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA soft-power cutout that has played a critical role in innumerable U.S. regime-change operations.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed in on the bill, which is being considered in Hong Kong’s parliament, arguing that, should it pass, Congress would have to “no choice but to reassess whether Hong Kong is ‘sufficiently autonomous’ under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework.”

The State Department has also weighed in, saying it could “could undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and negatively impact the territory’s long-standing protection of human rights, fundamental freedoms and democratic values.”

UK media cheerlead Hong Kong protesters who fear China will use 'non-political crimes to prosecute critics'. The same media that's spent 9 years cheerleading persecution, torture of whistleblowing platform founder Julian Assange for non-political crimes https://t.co/KuYyF0L5dS

— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) June 12, 2019

The Canadian and British foreign ministries have also thrown their weight behind those opposing the bill.

By all indications, protesters are just getting started. On Wednesday, some told international media that they would try to storm parliament again. Protesters have been met with the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by police.

The protesters appear to be trying to raise awareness among Western audiences, using the “AntiExtraditionLaw” hashtag and signs in English. In one photograph, a group holds dozens of the old Hong Kong flags, when the territory was under the control of the British crown, while bearing a sign that accuses China of “colonialism.”

 

Major protests greet a minor change in law

The amendment to the extradition law would “allow Hong Kong to surrender fugitives on a case-by-case basis to jurisdictions that do not have long-term rendition agreements with the city.” Among those jurisdictions are mainland China and Taiwan. Ian Goodrum, an American journalist who works in China for the government-owned China Daily newspaper, told MintPress News:

It’s unfortunate there’s been all this hullabaloo over what is a fairly routine and reasonable adjustment to the law. As the law reads right now, there’s no legal way to prevent criminals in other parts of China from escaping charges by fleeing to Hong Kong. It would be like Louisiana — which, you’ll remember, has a unique justice system — refusing to send fugitives to Texas or California for crimes committed in those states.

Honestly, this is something that should have been part of the agreement made in advance of the 1997 handover. Back then bad actors used irrational fear of the mainland to kick the can down the road and we’re seeing the consequences today.”

Reminder that there is a Hong Konger wanted in Taiwan for murdering his pregnant girlfriend that cant be extradited to stand trial
That's what these Hong Kongers are protesting to keep https://t.co/dqDnt6OvKX

— Wes, B.A. (@ZhouChauster) June 11, 2019

 

The U.S. agenda ripples through major NGOs

Like the U.S. government, the NGO-industrial complex appears to be wholly on-board. Some 70 non-governmental organizations, many of them international, have endorsed an open letter urging for the bill to be killed. Yet it is signed only by three directors: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor (HKHRM).

The protests mark the latest flare-up in longstanding tensions over Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland. In 2014, many of the groups associated with the current movement held an “Occupy” protest of their own over issues of autonomy.

A police officer blows the whistle to the protesters as they remove the barricades at an occupied area in Mong Kok district of Hong Kong Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. Hong Kong authorities cleared street barricades from a pro-democracy protest camp in the volatile Mong Kok district for a second day Wednesday after a night of clashes in which police arrested 116 people.

Ironically, the issue of autonomy is not just of importance to Hong Kongers, but to the United States government as well. And it’s not all just harshly worded statements: the U.S. government is pumping up some of the organizers with loads of cash via the NED.

Something about the Hong Kong protests' messaging seems tailor-made for Western audiences. Most signs I am seeing also happen to be in English pic.twitter.com/YP71XXCCOJ

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) June 12, 2019

Maintaining Hong Kong’s distance from China has been important to the U.S. for decades. One former CIA agent even admitted that “Hong Kong was our listening post.”

As MintPress News previously reported:

The NED was founded in 1983 following a series of scandals that exposed the CIA’s blood-soaked covert actions against foreign governments. ‘It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA,’ NED President Carl Gershman told the New York Times in 1986. ‘We saw that in the Sixties, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.’

Another NED founder, Allen Weinstein, conceded to the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, ‘A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.’”

The NED has four main branches, at least two of which are active in Hong Kong: the Solidarity Center (SC) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The latter has been active in Hong Kong since 1997, and NED funding for Hong Kong-based groups has been “consistent,” says Louisa Greve, vice president of programs for Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. While NED funding for groups in Hong Kong actually dates back to 1994, 1997 was the year the territory was transferred from control by the British.

In 2018, NED granted $155,000 to SC and $200,000 to NDI for work in Hong Kong, and $90,000 to HKHRM, which is not itself a branch of NED but a partner in Hong Kong. Between 1995 and 2013, HKHRM received more than $1.9 million in funds from the NED.

The MacDonalds in Admiralty station concourse is doing a roaring trade again. Any good protest in the west, first thing we’d do is put a bin through the window. Here, it’s the protest site canteen. It was a 24 hr Maccy D’s in 2014 though, wonder if they’ll open late for us.

— Hong Kong Hermit (@HongKongHermit) June 12, 2019

Through its NDI and SC branches, NED has had close relations with other groups in Hong Kong. NDI has worked with the Hong Kong Journalist Association, the Civic Party, the Labour Party, and the (Hong Kong) Democratic Party. It isn’t clear whether these organizations have received funding from the NED. SC has, however, given $540,000 to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions in the course of just seven years.

The coalition cited by Hong Kong media, including the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Free Press, as organizers of the anti-extradition law demonstrations is called the Civil Human Rights Front. That organization’s website lists the NED-funded HKHRM, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, the Hong Kong Journalists Association, the Civic Party, the Labour Party, and the Democratic Party as members of the coalition.

It is inconceivable that the organizers of the protests are unaware of the NED ties to some of its members. During the 2014 Occupy protests, Beijing made a big deal out of NED influence in the protests and the foreign influence they said it represented. The NED official, Greve, even told the U.S. government’s Voice of America outlet that “activists know the risks of working with NED partners” in Hong Kong, but do it anyway.

Feature photo | A protester bleeds from his face as he tries to stop a group of taxi drivers from trying to remove the barricades which are blocking off main roads, near a line of riot police at an occupied area, in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014. Hong Kong student leaders and government officials talked but agreed on little Tuesday as the city’s Beijing-backed leader reaffirmed his unwillingness to compromise on the key demand of activists camped in the streets now for a fourth week.

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post American Gov’t, NGOs Fuel and Fund Hong Kong Anti-Extradition Protests appeared first on MintPress News.

This Is Not Journalism: Univision Warps Reality to Push US War Agenda

MIAMI — Univision’s Jorge Ramos, sometimes called the “Walter Cronkite of Latin America,” flagrantly lied about his interview with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in February, the recording, which was leaked to Univision itself, reveals. The network’s reporting on other issues surrounding Venezuela is also characterized by unprofessionalism and overreaching, according to an account by one activist.

MintPress News previously reported on the discrepancies in Jorge Ramos’ account of what happened during his U.S. government-approved interview with Maduro.

Ramos said he was detained after the interview and was unable to release it because his equipment was confiscated. Last week, however, Univision published the full interview.

Analyzing the footage in comparison with Ramos’ account of what happened reveals not just discrepancies, but outright lies. Ramos took to the New York Times op-ed section after he returned to the United States, saying that it was a video he took of Venezuelans dumpster diving that “broke” Maduro and caused him to end the interview, confiscate his equipment, and detain him for three hours.

The day before I had recorded on my cellphone three young men looking for food on the back of a garbage truck in a poor neighborhood minutes away from the presidential palace. I showed those images to Mr. Maduro. Each frame contradicted his narrative of a prosperous and progressive Venezuela 20 years after the revolution. That’s when he broke.

About 17 minutes into the interview, Mr. Maduro stood up, comically tried to block the images on my iPad and declared that the interview was over.”

The video from Univision directly contradicts that narrative, however. Ramos told Maduro that “Your revolution has failed terribly.” Maduro begins to try to counter the claim by talking about Venezuela’s public safety net which includes free housing for millions, and more. Ramos then cuts Maduro off, who then wipes his forehead in frustration.

WATCH: Univision's Jorge Ramos lied about his interview with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. He said in a NYT op-ed that Maduro cut the interview off after he showed him footage of Venezuelans dumpster diving, but Ramos actually tried to show him it after the interview ended pic.twitter.com/y8IAaY2mTc

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) June 8, 2019

Looking at his laptop, Ramos then tells Maduro: “Let me show you the video of what I saw yesterday.”

That’s when Maduro ends the interview, telling Ramos “this interview doesn’t make any sense.” Maduro is already standing up and had already told Ramos “see you later” by the time Ramos took his laptop off his lap and attempted to show Maduro the video.

The blatant lie told by Ramos in the New York Times is part of a larger trend in Univision’s coverage, which reaches 60 percent of American households and makes Univision the largest Spanish-language network in the U.S.

 

Directing sources to lie

Following the stand-off over the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, one activist — who is unaffiliated with any of the groups that supported international law and the democratically-elected government of Venezuela’s claim over the embassy in Washington — showed up to support the Embassy Protection Collective’s attempt to keep the building out of the hands of Juan Guaido, the self-declared president of Venezuela.

The activist was carrying a flag of a socialist government allied with Venezuela when he was approached by a Univision reporter, the activist told MintPress News, initially off-the-record.

In an apparent attempt to tie the anti-war women’s group CODEPINK to supporters of the socialist government, the reporter asked the activist whether she could interview them and asked whether she could identify them as a member of CODEPINK.

The activist declined to identify as a member of the organization because they are not one, but agreed to the interview. The reporter took down the activist’s phone number and told them that she needed to check with her producer.

Later on, the activist got a phone call from the producer, who asked if they were a member of CODEPINK. The activist answered in the negative, and so the producer asked whether they would identify as a member of the group anyways. Once the activist refused again, Univision cancelled the interview.

Univision is a powerhouse in Spanish media, as is Ramos, while the embassy standoff was a major proxy conflict in the larger coup attempt. These narratives paint a grim portrait of the lengths to which Univision will go in violation of standard journalistic ethics in order to get a story that could help manufacture consensus in the U.S. for further conflict with Venezuela.

Feature photo | Univision’s Jorge Ramos shows a video he says his crew shot the previous day showing Venezuelan youth picking food scraps out of the back of a garbage truck in Caracas, during an interview at a hotel in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 25, 2019. According to Ramos, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro cut short an interview when he showed Maduro the same footage during the interview at Miraflores presidential palace, before leaving two hours later without having his crew’s equipment returned. Photo | AP

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post This Is Not Journalism: Univision Warps Reality to Push US War Agenda appeared first on MintPress News.

Yemeni Party Leader Dies as Saudi Airport Blockade Prevents His Travel Abroad for Treatment

SANA`A, YEMEN — Mohamed Abdel Rahman al-Rubai, the Secretary-General of the Union of Popular Forces (a long-standing Yemeni political party), died on Sunday in his home in Yemen’s capital Sana`a, when his doctors were unable to transfer him for treatment abroad owing to the closure of Sana`a International Airport by the Saudi-led Coalition. The Coalition has closed the airport since 2016 and its devastating blockade of Yemen’s ports is now in its fifth year.

Sana`a International Airport; June 11, 2019. (MintPress News — by Sultan Farage)

Al-Rubai, a high-ranking politician and parliamentarian, refused to support Coalition but did not call for resistance or fighting it. The Coalition nevertheless prevented him from traveling abroad for treatment. As in al-Rubai’s case, travel outside Yemen has become a distant dream for thousands of Yemenis stranded by the war in the country, as the Coalition has blocked even humanitarian flights from Sana`a Airport.

In the wake of al-Rubai`s unnecessary death, Mohammed Abdulsalam, a spokesman for Yemen’s Houthi Ansar Allah movement, said:

We had repeatedly informed the United Nations about the health condition of al-Rubai, who required treatment abroad. Unfortunately, the world body gave in to Saudi Arabia’s demands, and could not do anything to lift the siege on Sana`a Airport.”

The Saudi-UAE forces have blocked all Yemeni airports except for Aden and Sayoun airports, which often stop working. The two airports receive only Yemeni Airlines and Balqis Airlines planes – five planes in total. Al-Rayyan Airport in the city of Mukalla — the capital of Hadramout, in the southeast of Yemen — has been closed by UAE forces, which use it as a secret prison to arrest and torture its Yemeni opponents.

The five planes operating in Yemen through Aden and Sayoun airports in the south of the country are supposed to serve thousands of Yemenis, but the flights are mostly dominated by Coalition leaders, who cancel trips without any prior warning. In the last month, the Coalition canceled three flights of Bilqis and six flights of Yemen State Airlines, including three flights for Saturday and Sunday. A source in the Yemeni Airlines told Mint Press that the Coalition cancels flights without giving reasons.  

Mutasim al-Adini, head of the Yemeni regional airport office, told al Jazeera

“We send messages to the Coalition, every time there is a cancellation, that the cancellation of flights causes suffering to passengers, including humanitarian cases and patients in critical cases, but we do not receive any response.”

Moreover, the Coalition does not allow Yemen to operate Sana`a Airport as a domestic airport nor does it allow local airlines to operate flights to Aden and Sayoun airports or any other airports. Residents in northern areas wanting to travel abroad need to think hard before they make the decision to travel through Coalition-controlled areas, where they face humiliating and dangerous checkpoints, high costs, and great distance that often kills patients before they arrive.

 

A daily roll of unnecessary death

Alarming statistics from the Ministry of Health in Sana`a indicate that at least 20 to 30 patients die every day because of the closure of the airport, while there were 40,000 patients who needed to travel for treatment, who have already died. The closure of Sana`a Airport effectively seals Yemen off from the rest of the world, and dooms the 250,000 patients who need to travel abroad to treatment, while hospitals that are still operating within Yemen urgently require more medicine and medical supplies.

Doctors demanding the lifting of the siege on Sana`a International Airport; June 11, 2019. (MintPress News — Sultan Farage)

The airports blockade coincides with ongoing airstrikes on Sana`a and other parts of Yemen, which continuously put the lives of Yemeni civilians at serious risk. Since the beginning of this month, there have already been dozens of civilian casualties, including children, from renewed aerial bombardments.

Moreover, many doctors have fled the country, with deadly diseases spreading and health centers destroyed, shut down, or crippled by loss of their government funding in the economic war.

Mariem Ahmed Jabber, a 45-year-old mother of five, was in the last days of pregnancy, living in the village of al Dareb, in the  northern province of Amran. Mariem had a heart valve disease and needed to be operated on outside of Yemen but could not travel abroad because of the airports blockade. “Doctors have told us that it is difficult to have a heart catheter for a pregnant woman, so we have to travel to Jordan,” Nashan Jabber, son of Mariem, told MintPress.

Like Mariem, all Yemenis awaiting critical medical treatment abroad must find alternative routes to leave the country, including smuggling. Reaching other places also involves driving for 20 hours to reach Oman, which receives wounded Yemeni patients, at a cost of around $200 and usually travelling through areas where active fighting is taking place. And that is just the beginning of the ordeal.

 

Invalidating passports means taking lives

In March 2017, the government of the ousted former President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, on direct order from the Coalition, announced the cancellation of the services provided by the Immigration and Passports in the capital Sana`a and the invalidity of all documents — including passports, entry visas for foreigners, residence permits, refugee cards, naturalization certificates and marriage licenses — issued by it. This means that millions of Yemenis, especially in the north, have no identity and can not travel unless they get a new identity from Coalition authorities in Aden.

Mariem, who died from her illness in the months after the March 2017 announcement, had a passport issued in 2012 by Immigration and Passports in Sana`a before the Houthis seized control of the Capital and renewed in 2016. “My mother`s health did not allow her to travel to Aden to obtain a new passport,” Nashawan Jabber told MintPress.

 

Targeting Saudi-Coalition airports

Nashwan remembers well his mother’s words that “Saudi Arabia does not want good for all Yemenis.” Now he has volunteered as a Yemeni fighter and decided to join the Jizan front. Like many of his Yemeni brothers, he believes that the siege on Yemen can be lifted only “if the venom is turned outward … to those [Saudis-UAE] truly deserving of it.”

As a result of mounting pressure, the Houthi Ansarullah movement announced on Sunday the airports of countries involved in the devastating military war and blockade against Yemen will be targeted as long as the embargo imposed on Sana`a International Airport remains in place.

Mohammad Abdulsalam, spokesman for the Houthis, said the blockade on Sana`a International Airport is something that cannot be tolerated at all and the Saudi aggressors must know that their airports are within firing range.

The Yemeni army has already begun targeting airports of Saudi Arabia. On Wednesday, Yemeni forces struck the Abha Airport with a cruise missile and brought a halt to air traffic in the area. The cruise missile — which the advanced U.S. systems defense provided to the Saudi regime had failed to intercept — directly hit the airport’s air traffic control tower and put it out of service.

Saudi Arabia has confirmed the Abha strike. The spokesman for the Saudi-led Coalition, Turki al-Maliki, said a Yemeni missile hit the airport’s arrivals hall, causing material damage. He claims that the attack wounded 26 civilians of different nationalities.

On Monday, Yemeni forces launched drone attacks on the King Khaled Air Base in Khamis Mushayt in Saudi Arabia’s southwestern Asir region. The Qasif-2K combat drones targeted advanced weapon stores, radar and control rooms, according to a military source speaking to MintPress

On Sunday, Yemen’s army launched drone attacks on the airport in Saudi Arabia’s southwestern Jizan region. The attacks by Qasif-2K combat drones targeted drone bunkers and stations at the Jizan airport, a source told MintPress. There have been no Saudi comments on the attacks so far.

A military source told MintPress that the attacks will continue until the lifting of the restriction on Sana`a Airport. “King Khalid International Airport, Dubai International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport will be targeted,” he added. Houthis have always targeted airports in Saudi Arabia and the UAE with ballistic missiles and drones, but this is the first time that multiple drones have been used in one attack.

The reopening of Sana`a Airport was part of the negotiations that took place in Sweden last year, but Saudi Arabia has refused to implement an agreement that would ease human suffering.  Despairing patients ask Yemen’s army to hit Coalition airports as their last hope to lift the siege on Sana`a International Airport. “The attacks on the countries of the Saudi-led aggression sure would be the most efficient way to end the blockade,” Nashwan said.

Feature photo | Bare shelves in a government hospital’s drug store in Sanaa, Yemen, August 16, 2017. Khaled Abdullah | Reuters

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post Yemeni Party Leader Dies as Saudi Airport Blockade Prevents His Travel Abroad for Treatment appeared first on MintPress News.

US Ambassador Quietly Delivers West Bank to Israel in NY Times Interview

JERUSALEM, PALESTINE — In a highly provocative statement — one that was most likely well planned — United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in an interview this week to the New York Times that “Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”

Responses to this statement were quick to pop up, with the Israeli “Left” condemning and the Right expressing their agreement. Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gil’ad Erdan said:

The Trump administration’s view, which was expressed by Ambassador Friedman, is the only one that might bring about change and make the Palestinians understand that boycotting Israel and the United States and supporting terror and incitement won’t achieve anything.”

Erdan continued: “For years the Palestinians were told that time is in their favor and therefore (in addition to many other reasons) they refused.”

Bezalel Smutrich, chairman of the “National Unity” Party said that it seems the Americans finally understand that Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Smariah will “uproot the Arab desire for an independent state,” and that this desire is what is “fueling terrorism and the violent struggle for over one hundred years.”

It seems interestng that the Zionist perception is that more opression and more exclusion will convince the Palestinians to stop fighting for their rights.

On the Israeli Left the responses were quite strong. Ofer Cassif, of Hadash-Ta’al Party, tweeted “Neither the government of Israel nor the U.S. administration can hide the truth – the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem are occupied Palestinian territories that will be released and lawfully returned to their owners as part of a just peace deal.”

לא יקום ולא יהיה! לא ממשלת ישראל ולא ממשל ארה"ב יסתירו את האמת: הגדה המערבית, רצועת עזה וירושלים המזרחית הם שטחים פלסטינים כבושים שישוחררו ויוחזרו כחוק לבעליהם במסגרת הסכם שלום צודק.

— Ofer Cassif עופר כסיף (@ofercass) June 8, 2019

Cassif went as far as publishing a letter he wrote to Ambassador Friedman, which was also turned into an ad saying, “We are not a US Protectorate.”

Mtanes Shehadeh, head of Balad Party, also tweeted, saying that permanent Israeli sovereignty of Palestinian territories would be a violation of International law.

ממשלת ישראל וממשל טראמפ חושבים שהם יכולים לכפות על העם הפלסטיני ועל האזור הסדרים הזויים וחד צדדיים, ולהפר את החוק הבינלאומי בכזאת קלות.
סיפוח הוא פשע מלחמה, ולישראל אין ולא תהיה שום ריבונות במ"מ אחד מהשטחים הכבושים.

— Mtanes Shihadeh (@MtanesShihadeh) June 10, 2019

 

The truth hurts

It is true everywhere that the truth hurts, but perhaps nowhere as much as in Palestine. In this particular case the truth is that if one accepts the legitimacy of Israel in the Galilee, the Naqab, Jerusalem or any other part of Palestine, then there is no room to draw an artificial line and say “this is as far as it goes and Israel has no right to Judea and Samaria.” Not to even mention the fact that the line that is used here — the “Green Line” that delineates the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — was drawn by Israel, based on Israeli interests when the Zionist state was established. And then — in 1967, when it no longer suited Israel’s needs — it was de facto eliminated by Israel.

When the cease fire lines were drawn in 1949, lines that defined the state of Israel and are known as the pre-1967 borders, it was Israel that decided what parts of Palestine would be included within the newly established Zionist state. It was clear to the Israeli military and politicians that these were not permanent boundaries. Israel’s first foreign minister, Moshe Sharet, mentions in his memoirs an occasion when important Jewish leaders came for a visit to Jerusalem. They were invited to a gathering where several speakers presented, one of whom was my father, then a young lieutenant colonel. Sharet notes with great pleasure how the young Peled made it clear that the eastern boundary of the State of Israel needed to be the Jordan River. He added that the military is prepared for the day when the government will give the order to complete that task.

It was about ten years later, and almost exactly 52 years ago, that my father was now one of the Israeli army’s generals and the job was completed. Israel’s eastern boundary was pushed all the way to the Jordan River and Judea and Samaria came within the boundaries of the state. Needless to recall here that Jewish settlements in these areas were built almost immediately and any talk of giving them up was considered treasonous.  

Just as we either accept racism as legitimate or we reject it, we either accept the legitimacy of Zionism or we reject it. There is no room for a middle way. If any proof is still needed that as long as Zionists control Palestine Palestinians will enjoy no rights, the past seven decades supply ample proof. As long as there is an “Israel,” Palestinians will continue to suffer from forced exile, arbitrary detention, and ongoing killing of civilians.

Is David Friedman, the former Trump lawyer and major supporter of settlements, right? No! However, if one accepts the legitimacy of the Zionist state then one might as well accept Ambassador Friedman’s statement and Israeli sovereignty over all of Palestine. The Zionist state claims all of Palestine to be “The Land of Israel,” and has in fact taken over and settled all of Palestine.

Consecutive Zionist governments have made it clear that there is no West Bank, only an area of The Land of Israel called Judea and Samaria. Israel makes it clear that settling Jewish people anywhere in the Land of Israel is a right that is not negotiable. No single form of opression by Israel will end until the entire system of Zionist occupation and oppression is brought to an end. It is like trying to put out fires while allowing the arsonist to keep pouring fuel into them. The arsonist is the Zionist state.

 

Not a random statement

David Friedman’s statement was not random and was not made out of the clear blue sky — he does, after all, represent the United States government. The statement is well timed and goes along with policies we have seen enacted by the Israeli government and supported by the Trump administration: recognition of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel; defunding UNRWA; closing the Palestinian mission in Washington, and in fact deporting the head of the mission along with his family; the recognition of Israeli sovreignty over the Syrian Golan Heights; and the proposed state of “New Palestine.”

All of these point to the inevitable recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, and are part of the grand, so-called Deal of the Century.

Feature photo | President Donald Trump, left, turns to give a pen to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, after signing a proclamation in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, Monday, March 25, 2019. Trump signed an official proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Other attending are, from left, White House adviser Jared Kushner, U.S. special envoy Jason Greenblatt, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Israeli Ambassador to the U. S. Ron Dermer, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

The post US Ambassador Quietly Delivers West Bank to Israel in NY Times Interview appeared first on MintPress News.

How NeoCon Billionaire Paul Singer Is Driving the Outsourcing of US Tech Jobs to Israel

WASHINGTON — With nearly 6 million Americans unemployed and regular bouts of layoffs in the U.S. tech industry, major American tech companies like Google, Microsoft and Intel Corporation are nonetheless moving key operations, billions in investments, and thousands of jobs to Israel — a trend that has largely escaped media attention or concern from even “America first” politicians. The fact that this massive transfer of investment and jobs has been so overlooked is particularly striking given that it is largely the work of a single leading neoconservative Republican donor who has given millions of dollars to President Donald Trump.

To make matters worse, many of these top tech companies shifting investment and jobs to Israel at record rates continue to collect sizable U.S. government subsidies for their operations while they move critical aspects of their business abroad, continue to layoff thousands of American workers, and struggle to house their growing company branches in Israel. This is particularly troubling in light of the importance of the tech sector to the overall U.S. economy, as it accounts for 7.1 percent of total GDP and 11.6 percent of total private-sector payroll.

Furthermore, many of these companies are hiring members of controversial Israeli companies — known to have spied on Americans, American companies, and U.S. federal agencies — as well as numerous members of Israeli military intelligence as top managers and executives.

This massive transfer of the American tech industry has largely been the work of one leading Republican donor — billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer, who also funds the neoconservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Islamophobic and hawkish think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), and also funded the now-defunct Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI).

Singer’s project to bolster Israel’s tech economy at the U.S.’ expense is known as Start-Up Nation Central, which he founded in response to the global Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to use nonviolent means to pressure Israel to comply with international law in relation to its treatment of Palestinians.

This project is directly linked to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in recent years has publicly mentioned that it has been his “deliberate policy” to have former members of Israel’s “military and intelligence units … merge into companies with local partners and foreign partners” in order to make it all but impossible for major corporations and foreign governments to boycott Israel.

In this report, MintPress identifies dozens of former members of an elite Israeli military intelligence unit who now hold top positions at Microsoft, Google and Facebook.

Singer’s nonprofit organization has acted as the vehicle through which Netanyahu’s policy has been realized, via the group’s close connections to the Israeli PM and Singer’s long-time support for Netanyahu and the Likud Party. With deep ties to Netanyahu, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and controversial tech companies — like Amdocs — that spied on the American government, this Singer-funded organization has formed a nexus of connections between the public and private sectors of both the American and Israeli economies with the single goal of making Israel the new technology superpower, largely at the expense of the American economy and government, which currently gives $3.2 billion in aid to Israel annually.

 

Researched and developed in Israel

In recent years, the top U.S. tech companies have been shifting many of their most critical operations, particularly research and development, to one country: Israel. A 2016 report in Business Insider noted that Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple had all opened up research and development (R&D) centers in recent years, with some of them having as many as three such centers in Israel, a country roughly the size of New Jersey. Other major tech companies that have also opened key operation and research centers in Israel include Sandisk, Nvidia, PayPal, Palantir and Dell. Forbes noted last year that the world’s top 10 tech companies were now “doing mission-critical work in Israel that’s core to their businesses back at HQ.”

Yet, some of these tech giants, particularly those based in the U.S., are heavily investing in their Israeli branches while laying off thousands of American employees, all while receiving millions of dollars in U.S. government subsidies funded by American taxpayers.

For example, Intel Corporation, which is the world’s second largest manufacturer of semiconductor computer chips and is headquartered in California, has long been a major employer in Israel, with over 10,000 employees in the Jewish state. However, earlier this year, Intel announced that it would be investing $11 billion in a new factory in Israel and would receive around $1 billion in an Israeli government grant for that investment. Just a matter of months after Intel announced its major new investment in Israel, it announced a new round of layoffs in the United States.

Yet this is just one recent example of what has become a trend for Intel. In 2018, Intel made public its plan to invest $5 billion in one of its Israeli factories and had invested an additional $15 billion in Israeli-created autonomous driving technology a year prior, creating thousands of Intel jobs in Israel. Notably, over that same time frame, Intel has cut nearly 12,000 jobs in the United States. While this great transfer of investment and jobs was undermining the U.S. economy and hurting American workers, particularly in the tech sector, Intel received over $25 million dollars in subsidies from the U.S. federal government.

A similar phenomenon has been occurring at another U.S.-based tech giant, Microsoft. Beginning in 2014 and continuing into 2018, Microsoft has laid off well over 20,000 employees, most of them Americans, in several different rounds of staff cuts. Over that same time period, Microsoft has been on a hiring spree in Israel, building new campuses and investing billions of dollars annually in its Israel-based research and development center and in other Israeli start-up companies, creating thousands of jobs abroad. In addition, Microsoft has been pumping millions of dollars into technology programs at Israeli universities and institutes, such as the Technion Institute. Over this same time frame, Microsoft has received nearly $197 million in subsidies from the state governments of Washington, Iowa and Virginia.

Though Israeli politicians and tech company executives have praised this dramatic shift as the result of Israel’s tech prowess and growing reputation as a technological innovation hub, much of this dramatic shift has been the work of the Netanyahu-tied Singer’s effort to counter a global movement aimed at boycotting Israel and to make Israel a global “cyber power.”

 

Start-Up Nation Central and the Neocons

Paul Singer | AP photo archive

In 2009, a book titled Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, written by American neoconservative Dan Senor and Jerusalem Post journalist Saul Singer (unrelated to Paul), quickly rose to the New York Times bestseller list for its depiction of Israel as the tech start-up capital of the world. The book — published by the Council on Foreign Relations, where Senor was then serving as Adjunct Senior Fellow — asserts that Israel’s success in producing so many start-up companies resulted from the combination of its liberal immigration laws and its “leverage of the business talents of young people with military experience.”

“The West needs innovation; Israel’s got it,” wrote Senor and Singer. In a post-publication interview with the blog Freakonomics, Senor asserted that service in the Israeli military was crucial to Israel’s tech sector success, stating that:

“Certain units have become technology boot camps, where 18- to 22-year-olds get thrown projects and missions that would make the heads spin of their counterparts in universities or the private sector anywhere else in the world. The Israelis come out of the military not just with hands-on exposure to next-gen technology, but with training in teamwork, mission orientation, leadership, and a desire to continue serving their country by contributing to its tech sector — a source of pride for just about every Israeli.”

The book, in addition to the many accolades it received from the mainstream press, left a lasting impact on top Republican donor Paul Singer, known for funding the most influential neoconservative think tanks in America, as noted above. Paul Singer was so inspired by Senor and Singer’s book that he decided to spend $20 million to fund and create an organization with a similar name. He created the Start-Up Nation Central (SUNC) just three years after the book’s release in 2012.

To achieve his vision, Singer – who is also a top donor to the Republican Party and Trump – tapped Israeli economist Eugene Kandel, who served as Netanyahu’s national economic adviser and chaired the Israeli National Economic Council from 2009 to 2015.

Senor was likely directly involved in the creation of SUNC, as he was then employed by Paul Singer and, with neoconservatives Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, co-founded the FPI, which Singer had long funded before it closed in 2017. In addition, Dan Senor’s sister, Wendy Singer (unrelated to either Paul or Saul), long-time director of Israel’s AIPAC office, became the organization’s executive director.

SUNC’s management team, in addition to Eugene Kandel and Wendy Singer, includes Guy Hilton as the organization’s general manager. Hilton is a long-time marketing executive at Israeli telecommunications company Amdocs, where he “transformed” the company’s marketing organization. Amdocs was once highly controversial in the United States after it was revealed by a 2001 Fox News investigation that numerous federal agencies had investigated the company, which then had contracts with the 25 largest telephone companies in the country, for its alleged role in an aggressive espionage operation that targeted the U.S. government. Hilton worked at Microsoft prior to joining Amdocs.

Beyond the management team, SUNC’s board of directors includes Paul Singer, Dan Senor and Terry Kassel — who work for Singer at his hedge fund, Elliott Management — and Rapheal Ouzan. Ouzan was an officer in the elite foreign military intelligence unit of Israel, Unit 8200, who co-founded BillGuard the day after he left that unit, which is often compared to the U.S.’ National Security Agency (NSA). Within five months of its founding, BillGuard was backed by funding from PayPal founder Peter Thiel and former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt. Ouzan is also connected to U.S. tech companies that have greatly expanded their Israeli branches since SUNC’s founding — such as Microsoft, Google, PayPal and Intel, all of which support Ouzan’s non-profit Israel Tech Challenge.

According to reports from the time published in Haaretz and Bloomberg, SUNC was explicitly founded to serve as “a foreign ministry for Israel’s tech industry” and “to strength Israel’s economy” while also aiming to counter the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to use a nonviolent boycott to end the illegal military occupation of the West Bank and Israeli apartheid, as well as the growth of illegal Jewish-only settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

Since its founding, SUNC has sought to transfer tech jobs from foreign companies to Israel by developing connections and influence with foreign governments and companies so that they “deepen their relationship with Israel’s tech industry.” Though SUNC has since expanded to include other sectors of the Israeli “start-up” economy, its focus has long remained on Israel’s tech, specifically its cybersecurity industry. Foreign investment in this single Israeli industry has grown from $227 million in 2014 to $815 million in 2018.

In addition to its own activities, SUNC appears to be closely linked to a similar organization, sponsored by Coca Cola and Daimler Mercedes Benz, called The Bridge, which also seeks to connect Israeli start-up companies with large international corporations. Indeed, SUNC, according to its website, was actually responsible for Daimler Mercedes Benz’s decision to join The Bridge, thanks to a delegation from the company that SUNC hosted in Israel and the connections made during that visit.

 

Teaming up with Israel’s Unit 8200

Members of Israel’s signals intelligence Unit 8200 work under a Saudi flag. Photo | Moti Milrod

Notably, SUNC has deep ties to Israel’s military intelligence unit known as Unit 8200 and, true to Start Up Nation’s praise of IDF service as key to Israel’s success, has been instrumental in connecting Unit 8200 alumni with key roles in foreign companies, particularly American tech companies. For instance, Maty Zwaig, a former lieutenant colonel in Unit 8200, is SUNC’s current director of human capital programs, and SUNC’s current manager of strategic programs, Tamar Weiss, is also a former member of the unit.

One particularly glaring connection between SUNC and Unit 8200 can be seen in Inbal Arieli, who served as SUNC’s Vice President of Strategic Partnerships from 2014 to 2017 and continues to serve as a senior adviser to the organization. Arieli, a former lieutenant in Unit 8200, is the founder and head of the 8200 Entrepreneurship and Innovation Support Program (EISP), which was the first start-up accelerator in Israel aimed at harnessing “the vast network and entrepreneurial DNA of [Unit] 8200 alumni” and is currently one of the top company accelerators in Israel. Arieli was the top executive at 8200 EISP while working at SUNC.

Another key connection between SUNC and Unit 8200 is SUNC’s promotion of Team8, a company-creation platform whose CEO and co-founder is Nadav Zafrir, former commander of Unit 8200. In addition to prominently featuring Team8 and Zafrir on the cybersecurity section of its website, SUNC also sponsored a talk by Zafrir and an Israeli government economist at the World Economic Forum, often referred to as “Davos,” that was attended personally by Paul Singer.

Team8’s investors include Google’s Eric Schmidt, Microsoft, and Walmart — and it recently hired former head of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, retired Admiral Mike Rogers. Team8 described the decision to hire Rogers as being “instrumental in helping strategize” Team8’s expansion in the United States. However, Jake Williams, a veteran of NSA’s Tailored Access Operations hacking unit, told CyberScoop:

“Rogers is not being brought into this role because of his technical experience. …It’s purely because of his knowledge of classified operations and his ability to influence many in the U.S. government and private-sector contractors.”

In addition to connections to Unit 8200-linked groups like Team8 and 8200 EISP, SUNC also directly collaborates with the IDF in an initiative aimed at preparing young Israeli women to serve in Unit 8200. That initiative, called the CyberGirlz Club, is jointly funded by Israel’s Defense Ministry, SUNC and the Rashi Foundation, the philanthropic organization set up by the Leven family of Perrier-brand water, which has close ties to the Israeli government and IDF.

“Our aim is to bring the girls to this process already skilled, with the knowledge needed to pass the exams for Unit 8200 and serve in the military as programmers,” Zwaig told Israel National News.

 

Seeding American tech

The connections between SUNC and Unit 8200 are troubling for more than a few reasons, one of which being that Unit 8200, often likened to the U.S.’ NSA, closely coordinates with Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, and is responsible for 90 percent of the intelligence material obtained by the Israeli government, according to its former commander Yair Cohen. Cohen told Forbes in 2016, that “there isn’t a major operation, from the Mossad or any intelligence security agency, that 8200 is not involved in.” For obvious reasons, the fact that an organization founded by an American billionaire is actively promoting the presence of former military intelligence officers in foreign companies, specifically American companies, while also promoting the transfer of jobs and investment to that same country, is very troubling indeed.

Particularly troubling is the fact that, since SUNC’s founding, the number of former Unit 8200 members in top positions in American tech companies has skyrocketed. Based on a non-exhaustive analysis conducted by Mintpress of over 200 LinkedIn accounts of former Israeli military intelligence and intelligence officers in three major tech companies, numerous former Unit 8200 alumni were found to currently hold top managerial or executive positions in Microsoft, Google and Facebook.

At Microsoft, managers for at least 15 of the company’s products and programs — including Microsoft’s lead managers for engineering, product strategy, threat analytics and cloud business intelligence — publicly listed their affiliation with Unit 8200 on their LinkedIn accounts. In addition, the general manager of Microsoft’s Israeli Research and Development Center is also a former member of Unit 8200. In total, of the 200 accounts analyzed, 50 of them currently worked for Microsoft.

Similarly, at Google, 28 former Unit 8200 members at the company were identified from their LinkedIn accounts. Among them are Google’s Engineering Director, its strategic partner manager, two growth marketing leads, its lead technical manager, and six product and program managers, including Google’s manager for trust and safety search.

Facebook also has several Unit 8200 members in prominent positions, though fewer than Google and Microsoft. MintPress identified at least 13 Unit 8200 alumni working for Facebook, including its director of engineering, lead manager for express wi-fi, and technical program manager. Notably, Facebook has spent the last several years collaborating with Israel’s government to censor Israel’s critics.

Of course, there is likely much more influence of Unit 8200 on these companies than this non-exhaustive analysis revealed, given that many of these companies acquired several Israeli start-ups run by and staffed by many Unit 8200 alumni who subsequently went on to found new companies and start-ups a few years or shortly after acquisition. Furthermore, due to the limitations of LinkedIn’s set-up, MintPress was not able to access the complete list of Unit 8200 alumni at these three tech companies, meaning that the eye-opening numbers found were generated by a relatively small sample.

This jump in Unit 8200 members in top positions in tech companies of global importance is actually a policy long promoted by Netanyahu, whose long-time economic adviser is the chief executive at SUNC. During an interview with Fox News last year, Netanyahu was asked by Fox News host Mark Levin if the large growth seen in recent years in Israel’s technology sector was part of Netanyahu’s plan. Netanyahu responded, “That’s very much my plan … It’s a very deliberate policy.” He later added that “Israel had technology because the military, especially military intelligence, produced a lot of capabilities. These incredibly gifted young men and women who come out of the military or the Mossad, they want to start their start-ups.”

Netanyahu further outlined this policy at the 2019 Cybertech conference in Tel Aviv, where he stated that Israel’s emergence as one of the top five “cyber powers” had “required allowing this combination of military intelligence, academia and industry to converge in one place” and that this further required allowing “our graduates of our military and intelligence units to merge into companies with local partners and foreign partners.” The direct tie-ins of SUNC to Netanyahu and the fact that Paul Singer has also been a long-time political donor and backer of Netanyahu suggest that SUNC is a key part of Netanyahu’s policy of placing former military intelligence and intelligence operatives in strategic positions in major technology companies.

Notably, just as SUNC was founded to counter the BDS movement, Netanyahu has asserted that this policy of ensuring Israel’s role as a “cyber power” is aimed at increasing its diplomatic power and specifically undermining BDS as well as the United Nations, which has repeatedly condemned Israel’s government for war crimes and violations of international law in relation to the Palestinians.

 

Building the bi-national surveillance state

A Google data center in Hamina, Finland. (AP/Google)

 

Top U.S. tech companies have filled top positions with former members of Israeli military intelligence and moved strategic and critical operations to Israel, boosting Israel’s economy at the expense of America’s, and SUNC’s role in this marked shift merits scrutiny.

A powerful American billionaire has built an influential organization with deep connections to the U.S.-Israel lobby (AIPAC), an Israeli company that has been repeatedly investigated for spying on the U.S. government (Amdocs), and the elite Israeli military intelligence unit (Unit 8200) that has used its influential connections to the U.S. government and the U.S. private sector to dramatically shift the operations and make-up of major companies in a critical sector of the U.S. economy.

Further consider that U.S. government documents leaked by Edward Snowden have flagged Israel as “leading threat” to the infrastructure of U.S. financial and banking institutions, which use much of the software produced by these top tech companies, and have also flagged Israel as a top espionage threat. One U.S. government document cited Israel as the third most aggressive intelligence service against the U.S. behind Russia and China. Thus, Paul Singer’s pet project in Start-Up Nation Central has undermined not only the U.S. economy but arguably U.S. national security as well.

This concern is further exacerbated by the deep ties connecting top tech companies like Microsoft and Google to the U.S. military. Microsoft and Google are both key military contractors — Microsoft in particular, given that it is set to win a lucrative contract for the Pentagon’s cloud management and has partnered with the Department of Defense to produce a “secure” election system known as ElectionGuard that is set to be implemented in some U.S. states for the 2020 general election.

Top Photo: Paul Singer | AP photo archive

 

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

The post How NeoCon Billionaire Paul Singer Is Driving the Outsourcing of US Tech Jobs to Israel appeared first on MintPress News.

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