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The Hannity Case is so Serious it Requires a Consumer Boycott of his Advertisers

Tue, 17 Apr 2018 - 5:10am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The problems at Fox Cable “News” go way beyond Sean Hannity. But he is a major problem. For him to go on air and defend attorney Michael Cohen numerous times without so much as mentioning that Cohen is his legal adviser is the height of journalistic corruption.

Nor is it only Fox that hides the financial and personal interests of its celebrity commentators from the public.

In 2008, in a story that is unremembered and unheeded, The New York Times blew the whistle on a Pentagon scam to place ex-officers on CNN as Iraq War and security commentators, while never disclosing their ongoing ties to the US military or their ties to companies making money off the war. There is no reason at all to believe that CNN has cleaned up its act. Fox is guilty of the same sort of interlocking directorates strategy in “news” provision.

The information system in the United States is mostly broken. 24 hour cable news is just a pretext for earning advertising dollars and therefore mostly presents infotainment or cheap panel debates (mostly by partisans or people without any obvious credentials or special knowledge).

A handful of corporations own all of the major television news outlets. Even at the level of more trusted local stations, Sinclair has been buying them up and using onerous contracts with the anchors to force them into reciting pro-Trump propaganda.

Fox Cable News is a project of far rightwing Australian-origin billionaire Rupert Murdoch to push television news in the United States in the direction of white nationalism, white grievance, romanticism about the business class, defense of neocolonialism, and punitive attitudes toward workers and the dissident middle class. It has a firm editorial line, which is set in explicit memos to on screen presenters. Its stars have been serial sex abusers like Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. Hannity has emerged as the last Great White Hope among the bullies of cable news, and that he is corrupt and dishonest should come as no surprise.

What to do about all this? Most of the people reading this don’t watch Fox anyway (and by the way there are some excellent reporters employed by this corporation and the local stations are often quite good).

The only thing that has been shown to work is a consumer boycott of advertisers. That is what got rid of the odious O’Reilly.

Note that I am not calling for a boycott of Hannity advertisers because I dislike him personally or because I disagree with his politics.

He has revealed himself to be corrupt and dishonest with his viewers on a basic level that should be unacceptable even in a generally corrupt company like Fox Cable News.

Of course, ideally, the Democratic Party would be planning for a reform of the FCC once it takes back over Congress. The poor things don’t seem to realize that the Reagan dissing of the Fairness Doctrine was one of the trucks that ran over the Democrats after 1981.

But in the short term, it is up to us. The lists I could find for advertisers on Hannity were old, from last year when people were disgusted by his support for that kooky right wing nutjob Judge Roy Moore.

[Update: A kind reader sent a current list of Fox advertisers].

This is different, because it speaks not to political views or values, about which we can disagree, but to professional ethics. No one should be on air who speaks about subjects on which they have personal interests, and who does not disclose them.

We must boycott.


Bonus video:

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: “Sean Hannity Forgot To Mention Something…”


Jimmy Kimmel Live: “Sean Hannity is Michael Cohen’s Mystery Client”

What People get wrong about Iranian-Americans (Looking at you, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton) (Video)

Tue, 17 Apr 2018 - 1:24am

AJ+ | (Video News Clip) | – –

“What do you think of when you hear “Persian” or “Iranian”? Iranian-Americans (aka Persians) break down common myths and misconceptions about them, and tell the world what being “Persian” really means. Iranian-Americans (aka Persians) break down common myths and misconceptions about them, and tell the world what being “Persian” really means.”

What People Get Wrong About Iranian-Americans [Becoming Iranian-American, Pt. 4] | AJ+

Growing up with Fear of Gun Violence in America: The Weaponization of Everyday Life

Tue, 17 Apr 2018 - 1:20am

By Frida Berrigan | ( | – –

Guns. In a country with more than 300 million of them, a country that’s recently been swept up in a round of protests over the endless killing sprees they permit, you’d think I might have had more experience with them.

As it happens, I’ve held a gun only once in my life. I even fired it. I was in perhaps tenth grade and enamored with an Eagle Scout who loved war reenactments. On weekends, he and his friends camped out, took off their watches to get into the spirit of the War of 1812, and dressed in homemade muslin underclothes and itchy uniforms. I was there just one weekend. Somehow my pacifist parents signed off on letting their daughter spend the day with war reenactors. Someone lent me a period gown, brown and itchy and ill-fitting. We women and girls spent an hour twisting black gunpowder into newspaper scraps. I joked that the newspaper was anachronistic — the previous week’s Baltimore Sun — but no one laughed.

A man came by with a long gun, an antique, resting on the shoulder of his jerkin to collect our “bullets” and he must have read the gun terror written on my face.

“Wanna give it a try?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, stumbling to my feet, pushing my gown out of the way, and trying to act like I didn’t have broken-rifle patches, symbols of the pacifist War Resisters League, all over my real clothes. I felt a surge of adrenaline as I took the heavy weapon in my way-too-small hands. He showed me how to wrestle it into position, aim it, and fire. There were no bullets, just one of my twists of powder, but it made a terrifying noise. I shrieked and came close to dropping the weapon.

And there it was: the beginning, middle, and end of my love affair with guns — less than a minute long. Still, my hands seemed to tingle for the rest of the afternoon and the smell of gunpowder lingered in my hair for days.

Got Guns?

One in four Americans now owns a gun or lives in a household with guns. So how strange that, on that day in the late 1980s, I saw a real gun for the first and last time. I grew up in inner city Baltimore. I’ve worked at soup kitchens and homeless shelters all over the East Coast and stayed at dozens of Catholic Worker Houses around the country — Providence, Camden, Syracuse, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles — every one in a “tough” neighborhood. I lived in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the mid-1990s, before you could get a $4 coffee or a zucchini scone on Van Brunt Street, before there was an Ikea or a Fairway in the neighborhood. All those tough communities, those places where President Trump imagines scenes of continual “American carnage,” and I’ve never again seen a gun.

Still, people obviously own them and use them in staggering numbers and in all sorts of destructive ways. Sensing that they’re widespread beyond my imagination, my husband and I have started asking the parents of our kids’ school friends if they own guns when we arrange play dates or sleepovers. We learned this from the father of a classmate of my 11-year-old stepdaughter Rosena. The dad called to make the arrangements for his son to come over after school. We talked logistics and food allergies and then he paused. “Now, I am sorry if this is intrusive,” he said, “but I do ask everyone: Do you keep guns in your house?” He sounded both uncomfortable and resolute.

I almost choked on my urge to say, “Don’t you know who I am?” In certain odd corners at least, my last name, Berrigan, is still synonymous with muscular pacifism and principled opposition to violence and weaponry of just about any kind, right up to the nuclear kind. But that dad probably didn’t even know my last name and it probably wouldn’t have meant a thing to him if he had. He just wanted to make sure his son was going to be safe and I was grateful that he asked — rather than just assuming, based on our Volvo-driving, thrift-shop-dressing, bumper-sticker-sporting lifestyle, that we didn’t.

“You know how kids are,” he said after I assured him that we were a gun-free household. “They’ll be into everything.”

And right he is. Kids are “into everything,” which is undoubtedly why so many of them end up with guns in their hands or bullets in their bodies.

“Do you question everyone about their guns?” I asked the dad. He replied that he did and, if they answered yes, then he’d ask whether those weapons were locked away, whether the ammunition was stored separately, and so on.

“Thank you so much. I think we need to start doing that too,” I said as our conversation was ending and indeed I have ever since.

It’s a subject worth raising, however awkward the conversation that follows may be, because two million kids in this country live in homes where guns are not stored safely and securely. So far this year, 59 kids have been hurt in gun accidents of one sort or another. On average, every 34 hours in our great nation a child is involved in an unintentional shooting incident, often with tragic consequences.

The National Rifle Association’s classic old argument, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” takes on a far harsher edge when you’re talking about a seven-year-old accidentally killing his nine-year-old brother with a gun they found while playing in an empty neighboring house in Arboles, Colorado.

Two weeks after we learn this new parenting life skill in this oh-so-new century of ours, my husband Patrick is on the phone with a mom arranging a sleepover for Rosena. I hear him fumble his way through the gun question. From his responses, I assume the mom is acknowledging that they do have guns. Then there’s the sort of long, awkward silence that seems part and parcel of such conversations before Patrick finally says, “Well, okay, thanks for being so honest. I appreciate that.”

He hangs up and looks at me. “They do keep guns for hunting and protection, but they’re locked up and out of sight,” he tells me. “The mom says that the kids have never tried to get at the guns, but she understands the dangers.” (He had heard in her voice apology, embarrassment, and worry that the guns might mean no sleepover.)

I grimaced in a way that said: I don’t think Rosena should go and he responded that he thought she should. The two of them then had a long conversation about what she should do and say if she sees a gun. She slept over and had a great time. A lesson in navigating difference, trusting our kid, and phew… no guns made an appearance. And we know more about our neighbors and our community.

Anything Can Be a Gun

My son Seamus, five, received an Easter basket from a family friend. He was happy about the candy of course and immediately smitten with the stuffed bunny, but he was over the moon about what he called his new “carrot gun.” It wasn’t a toy gun at all, but a little basket that popped out a light ball when you pressed a button.

The idea was that you’d catch the ball, put it back in, and do it again. But that wasn’t the game my kids played. They promptly began popping it at each other. His little sister Madeline, four, was in tattle mode almost immediately. “Mom, Seamus is shooting me with his carrot gun!”

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“Mom, Mom, Mom,” he responded quickly, “it’s a pretend play gun, not a real play gun. It’s okay.” He made popping noises with his mouth and held his hand as if he were grasping a genuine forbidden toy gun. It was an important distinction for him. He’d been a full-throated participant in the March for Our Lives in Boston on March 24th, chanting with the rest of us “What do we want? Gun Control! When do we want it? NOW!” for four hours straight.

At the march, he pointed out that all the police officers managing traffic and the flow of people were wearing guns on their belts.

“I see a gun, Mom,” he kept saying, or “That police officer has a gun, Mom.”

Repeatedly, he noticed the means to kill — and then four days after that huge outpouring of youth-led activism for gun security, Stephon Clark was indeed gunned down in his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento, California. The police officers who shot him were looking for someone who had been breaking car windows in the neighborhood and they fired 20 shots into the dark in his direction. The independent autopsy found that he had been hit eight times, mostly in his back. Clark turned out to be holding only a cellphone, though the police evidently mistook it for a tool bar, which could have done them no harm from that distance, even if he had wielded it as a weapon.

Maybe the police saw a weapon the same way my five-year-old son sees one. He can make a stick or just about anything else, including that little basket, into a “gun” and so evidently can the police. Police officers have killed black men and boys holding pipes, water hose nozzles, knives, and yes, toy guns, too.

Where Does the Violence Come From?

Parkland (17 killed, 14 wounded). Newtown (28 killed, 2 wounded). Columbine (15 killed, 21 injured). School shootings are now treated as a structural part of our lives. They have become a factor in school architecture, administrator training, city and state funding, and security plans. The expectation that something terrible will happen at school shapes the way that three- and four-year-olds are introduced to its culture. Part of their orientation now involves regular “shelter in place” and “secure-school” drills.

At my daughter’s pre-school, the kids are told that they’re hiding from rabid raccoons, those animals standing in for marauding, disaffected white boys or men roaming the halls armed. As parents, we need to do more than blindly accept that these traumatic exercises are preparing our kids for the worst and helping them survive. Kids are vulnerable little beings and there are countless dangers out there, but they have a one-in-600-million chance of dying in a school shooting. We endanger them so much more by texting while driving them home from school.

After every episode of violence at a school — or in the adult world at a church, night club, concert, movie theater, or workplace like San Bernardino’s Inland Regional Center or the YouTube headquarters — there’s always a huge chorus of “why?” Pundits look at the shooter’s history, his (it’s almost always a guy) trauma, and whatever might be known about his mental health. They speculate on his (or, in the rare case of those YouTube shootings, her) political leanings, racial hatreds, and ethnic background. The search for whys can lead to hand wringing about hard-driving rock music or nihilistic video games or endemic bullying — all of which could indeed be factors in the drive to kill significant numbers of unsuspecting people — but never go far enough or deep enough.

Two questions are answered far too infrequently: Where do the guns come from? Where does violence come from?

Guns of all sizes and description are manufactured and sold in this country in remarkable numbers, far more than can be legally absorbed in our already gun-saturated land, so thousands of them move instead into the gray and black markets. Evidence of this trend shows up repeatedly in Mexico, where 70% of the weapons seized in crimes between 2009 and 2014 turned out to be made in El Norte. We have an estimated 300 million guns in this country, making us first by far in the world in gun ownership and some of them couldn’t conceivably be used for “hunting.” They are military-style weapons meant to tear human flesh and nothing but that — like the AR-15 that 19-year-old Nikolas Cruzlegally bought and used in his grim Parkland shooting spree.

This country, in other words, is a cornucopia of guns, which — honestly, folks — doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the Second Amendment.

Where does the violence come from? I’ve already shared my inexperience with guns. Now, let me add to it my inexperience with violence. I don’t know what it’s like to have to react in a split second to or flee an advancing perpetrator. No one has ever come at me with a gun or a knife or a pipe, or anything else for that matter. And I count myself lucky for that. In a nation in which, in 2016 alone, 14,925 people were killed due to gun violence and another 22,938 used a gun to kill themselves, it’s a significant thing to be able to say.

And yet, I know that I’m the product of violence (as well as the urge, in my own family, to protest and stop it): the violence of white privilege, the violence of American colonialism, the violence of American superpowerdom on a global scale… and that’s no small thing. It’s a lot easier to blame active-shooter scenarios on poor mental-health screening than on growing up in a world layered with the threat of pervasive violence.

Power is about never having to say you’re sorry, never being held accountable. And that’s hardly just a matter of police officers shooting black men and boys; it’s about the way in which this country is insulated from international opprobrium by its trillion-dollar national security state, a military that doesn’t hesitate to divide the whole world into seven U.S. “commands,” and a massive, planet-obliterating nuclear arsenal.

And don’t think that any of that’s just a reflection of Trumpian bombast and brutality either. That same sense of never having to say you’re sorry at a global level undergirded Barack Obama’s urbane dispassion, George Bush Junior’s silver spoon cluelessness, Bill Clinton’s folksy accessibility, George Bush Senior’s patrician poshness, Ronald Reagan’s aura of Hollywood charm, and Jimmy Carter’s southern version of the same. We’re talking about weapons systems designed to rain down a magnitude of terror unimaginable to the Nikolas Cruzes, Dylann Roofs, and Adam Lanzas of the world.

And it doesn’t even make us safe! All that money, all that knowledge, all that power put into the designing and displaying of weapons of mass destruction and we remain remarkably vulnerable as a nation. After all, in schools, homes, offices, neighborhoods across the country, we are being killed by our kids, our friends, our lovers, our police officers, our crumbling roads and bridges, our derailing trains. And then, of course, there are all those guns. Guns meant to destroy. Guns beyond counting.

So what might actually make us safer? After all, people theoretically buy the kind of firepower you might otherwise use only in war and pledge allegiance to the U.S. war machine in search of some chimera of safety. And yet, despite that classic NRA line — “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun” — are we truly safer in a nation awash in such weaponry with so many scrambling in a state of incipient panic to buy yet more? Are my kids truly on the way to a better life as they practice cowering in their cubbies in darkened classrooms for fear of invading rabid “raccoons”?

Don’t you think that true security lies not in our arming ourselves to the teeth against other people — that is, in our disconnection from them — but in our connection to them, to the web of mutuality that has bound societies, small and large, for millennia? Don’t you think that we would be more secure and so much less terrified if we found ways to acknowledge and share our relative abundance to meet the needs of others? In a world awash in guns and fears, doesn’t our security have to involve trust and courage and always be (at best) a work in progress?

As for me, I’m tackling that work in progress in whatever ways I can — with my neighbors, my town, my husband, and most of all my children, educating them in the ways violence scars and all those weapons just increase our journey into hell, never delivering the security they promise.

Frida Berrigan, a TomDispatch regular, writes the Little Insurrections blog for, is the author of It Runs In The Family: On Being Raised By Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood, and lives in New London, Connecticut.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, as well as John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2018 Frida Berrigan


As Lebanon prepares to vote, Amnesty for the disenfranchised provokes Fierce Debate

Tue, 17 Apr 2018 - 1:13am

Haley Bobseine | (Informed Comment) | – –

After almost a decade of multiple postponements stalling the national political process and depriving citizens of their right to vote, Lebanese parliamentary elections will be held next month under a new legal framework. Passed in June 2017, the new election law replaces the majoritarian system with multi-member proportional representation dividing Lebanon among 15 districts whereby voters can cast their votes for both a list competing in their district and a candidate from the list in their subdistrict.

A list of electoral law reforms including out-of-country voting, pre-printed ballots to reduce potential for vote-buying, and proportional representation theoretically upping independents’ chance of success are touted by political elites as reformist steps forward as they maneuver to maintain Lebanon’s stability amid years of unprecedented regional turbulence. Through further promises to fight corruption, unemployment, and to finally deliver on basic services, elites are signalling to national and international observers that they are turning a new page.

But barring some exceptions, its business as usual. Reports of alleged vote buying, improper use of ministerial posts for electoral purposes, campaign finance violations, and charges of bribery mount. The electoral commission body overseeing elections is felt by some to lack impartiality and independence and the power to enforce penalties of violations directly. Even the new electoral law is, in essence, a law created for and by the traditional political elite.

Plans unveiled at recent international donor conferences are unlikely to come to fruition without genuine structural reforms. And elites aren’t interested. Even with the erosion of March 8 and 14 political blocs and shifting political alliances, traditional elites remain in agreement- maintain the system that keeps them in power and benefitting from its spoils.

Efforts to safeguard the status quo while attempting to appear to meet voters’ demands is perhaps no more apparent than in the example of the interplay between politicians and constituents of marginalized (yet not uncoincidentally electoral contested) communities pushing for the passage of a general amnesty law ahead of the elections. A closer analysis provides a lense from which to more broadly understand elites’ manoeuvring to maintain electoral power while paying lip service to marginalized communities they continually fail to serve.

Reporting on the general amnesty draft law has mostly been confined to the local press. As background, the first draft law was proposed by Justice Minister Salim Jean Jreissati approximately 8 months ago. A more recent draft was reportedly circulated amongst ministers last month. Although the draft has not been made public, rendering its exact content unknown, Lebanese rights organization Legal Agenda detailed the draft law’s supposed content in an article last month.

Legal Agenda reported at the time that the draft law amnesties Lebanese, Palestinian, and foreigners of all misdemeanors with the exception of “violations related to construction, consumer protection, [theft of] antiquities, and corruption.” Amnesty for criminal offenses is reportedly more complicated but in short, may include the following: those sentenced or awaiting trial on drug charges including taking and ‘offering drugs’ but excludes those ‘facilitating,’ growing, or selling drugs (mostly Shia fugitives and detainees from Baalbek and Hermel); for membership in an armed group but not those facing or convicted on charges for killing or trying to kill others, including members of the Lebanese Armed Forces (mostly Islamist fugitive and detainees from Tripoli, the North, and Saida); and for some former Christian members (and their family members) of the Southern Lebanese Army (SLA) who fled abroad. (This article will focus mostly on the Sunni and Shia communities calling for the general amnesty due to their greater public engagement on these issues among other reasons).

In response to the article, Lebanese Justice Minister Jreissati tweeted “What the media is circulating on the subject of general amnesty concern the media itself and its sources of news only, and does not concern the Ministry of Justice, which does not have the right to disclose the content of any draft amnesty law.”

Rumors over the draft’s current form and likelihood it will pass, if at all, vary daily.

Seeking to secure votes in contested districts ahead of elections, namely in Sunni majority areas in the North and South and Shia majority areas of Baalbek and Hermel to the east, representatives from major political parties including Sunni Future Movement and Shia Hezbollah have come out in public support of the amnesty. Some promise it will pass soon.

After years of instability, voters are now increasingly focusing on bread and butter issues and elites’ failure to deliver. Voters’ discontent with the government’s performance since the last parliamentary elections in 2009 means elites have little to show to convince voters to give them their vote- instead they are filling the void by busying marginalized communities with promises of a general amnesty.

But last month’s reports that the general amnesty may exclude significant numbers of fugitives and detainees fueled further discontent. For more than a year detainees’ families have organized along sectarian lines arranging sit-ins, protests, and closing roads with burning tires demanding that the amnesty be passed. Most vow to continue until the amnesty is passed.

Despite the fractured nature of advocacy along mostly sectarian lines, in separate interviews, more than twenty lawyers, activists, and detainees’ family members from these two communities expressed agreement- their respective communities deserve justice and the general amnesty is the only way to get it.

Rights organizations have long documented Lebanon’s broken criminal justice system detailing unfair trials, arbitrary arrests, lengthy pre-trial detentions, poor conditions in confinement, overcrowding, and illtreatment. Family members of detainees separately gave similar accounts when describing their relatives’ experience with the system, often alleging violations in passing as if they are barely of note. Others highlighted the severe economic consequences lengthy pre-trial detention of family bread winners has on poor families. One father from the Biqaa said “With my son detained I don’t even have money to pay for transport to visit him in prison.”

To them, the provision of justice is just one more service the government fails to provide. Ongoing delays on electricity, corruption, and waste disposal reforms fail to give needed credibility to Lebanon’s political elites.

Adding to the injustice are realities of economic marginalization. Some Sunni communities in Tripoli and Akkar suffer from high rates of unemployment and low levels of development, despite some of Lebanon’s wealthiest elites calling this area home. Residents in Baalbek and Hermel also complain of high levels of unemployment and underdevelopment. Some residents attribute it to the government’s failure to provide them with an alternative source of income and livelihoods after drug cultivation was outlawed in the 1990s.

In fact, it’s exactly these hollow track records of success that candidates are trying to fill with promises of a general amnesty. And this solution is one which doesn’t chip away at their place in the system the way anti-corruption reforms may. With little else to concede to voters, they don’t have much to exchange for votes.

Candidates from contested districts therefore frequently express support for the passage of an amnesty law during speeches, campaign events and even televised political debates. Some interviewees also alleged that candidates or their supporters made home visits to undecided voters in their area, attempting to secure their votes with the promise of passing the amnesty.

In predominately Sunni areas in the north and south, Future Movement MPs frequently endorse the amnesty with some promising that it will pass soon. Future Movement MP Bahia Hariri, who is facing tough electoral competition in the southern city of Saida, told family members of Islamist detainees last month that she is optimistic that the amnesty will include at least some Islamists arrested after the 2013 clashes.

From the predominately Shia east, Hezbollah MP Hussein al Hajj Hassan from Baalbek Hermel district said in March that “the enactment of the amnesty law will remain fundamental to our bloc and we will make efforts to achieve this.” Hezbollah MP Nawar al Sahili, also from the area, said the amnesty needs to happen. Even Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah called for the passage of the amnesty for “those who deserve it.”

The electoral stakes in these communities are high. In the draft law described by Legal Agenda last month, between the Sunni, Shia, and Christians, up to 70,000 people with criminal files could benefit, including more than 30,000 people in Baalbek and Hermel alone. Legal Agenda estimated this to be approximately one fourth of the voters in the area. Adding to their grievances, many have been arrested or are wanted on the basis of “contact documents,” or anonymous civilian reports to intelligence bodies claiming that someone is causing security threats. Although a unanimous decision by the Council of Ministers cancelled the contact documents in 2014, security forces continue to carry out arrests on this basis. Contact documents never followed any judicial procedure, allegedly violating the personal freedoms of the pursued people.

Including relatives and supporters calling for an amnesty in support of their “oppressed community,” the number of potential proponents (read potential voters) soar. As an example, according to Legal Agenda’s assessment of Ministry of Interior numbers, there are 186,920 Sunni voters in Akkar and 285,000 Sunni voters in Tripoli Miniyeh-Danniyeh districts. Local activists report there is strong support for the amnesty in both areas.

It is exactly in these districts where elites are facing electoral competition. Absent other objective barometers, the 2016 municipal elections revealed several new political trends. Results showed an erosion of support for Sunni Prime Minister Saad al Hariri’s and his Future Movement party amid a rise of adversaries to his right, such as Former Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, who is trying to capitalize on Sunni discontent to make electoral gains in Tripoli. Rifi also publicly called for the passage of the general amnesty law.

For their part, Hezbollah’s margin of victory was narrowed by fierce competition in some areas, including from regional tribal leaders in the Biqaa and Hermel. The economic crisis has further forced it to cut back its social services to the Shia community, allegedly potentially affecting its popular appeal ahead of elections. This is evident, for example, in one message recently sent via social media to communities in Hermel. The message, assumed to be from Hezbollah, reads that other candidates are going house to house offering poor families money to “buy votes” but they are unaware that these homes “are supported by Hezbollah without condition or restrictions in war and in peace…and that 100 from the Saed (Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah) is better than 50,000 from another.”

Divided Communities

Despite expressing similar grievances in support of the amnesty law, the three communities remain divided along sectarian lines and rarely coordinate. Many viewed the others with suspicion or as not worthy of an amnesty. In sectarian systems, where spoils of the system are often viewed as zero-sum game, fear that one group would be granted amnesty at the expense of their own is palpable.

Indeed several Shia interviewees recalled the 2005 amnesty which amnestied Christian Lebanese Forces Party Leader Samir Geagea and two Salafi Sunni groups involved in clashes with security forces, noting that their community saw no benefit from that amnesty. “We deserve the amnesty this time around, it’s our turn, not theirs,” one mother of a detainee from Baalbek told me.

Some Shia interviewees painted the Islamists as anti-army terrorists but their own as mostly innocent victims of an unfair system that provides them neither justice nor economic respite. One mother who lost a son in the battle against extremist Sunni groups in the north-eastern town of Arsal rejected potential plans to join Islamist mothers in amnesty protests saying she can’t coordinate with groups who may have supported extremist groups who killed her son, underscoring the sometimes deadly manifestation of sectarian divisions.

For their part, some Sunni Islamist interviewees saw the Shia detainees as immoral drug lords but their own as innocent victims of an unfair justice system in a region increasingly marginalizing Sunnis. Both generally saw the Christians as “Zionist traitors.” In contrast, a Christian lawyer representing the SLA families lamented that his clients endured punishment for crimes they didn’t even commit during their childhood.

Most saw fault in others but shrugged off suggestions that most members of their own community bare responsibility for crimes committed. One Lebanese legal expert remarked that such sentiments surrounding the “amnesty charade” revealed immaturity on the part of the government, political parties, and the people for not taking responsibility for their own actions. Indeed, when news surfaced that the amnesty might not be passed, it was usually the other sects leaders who are to blame. When news is positive, it was attributed to their own sectarian leader. Although when pressed, they tend to admit all are to blame.

Sectarian elites generally maintain power by presenting themselves as gatekeepers for justice and services for their sect. Constituents therefore look to political leaders, not the system, to solve their problems. According to a survey conducted by Lebanese Adyan Foundation 73.7% of young voter respondents considered Lebanese voters to be sectarian in general in their voting habits and that is a strong link between political parties and sectarian realities.

Still several women from both communities expressed solidary with each other, noting they suffered from the same system. One mother from Hermel expressed sympathy with the mothers of Islamist detainees but worried how public coordination with other groups during protests may appear. “What if someone chants something against the Saed? (Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah) This could be an issue,” she said indirectly implying that this may cause tensions with her community if she joined in such protests.

Fed up with elites “playing on their nerves” and using a “fake amnesty” to “laugh at them” many interviewees threatened not to vote unless the amnesty is passed before the election. “No votes without something in return, we’ve suffered enough under Hariri,” one mother from Tripoli said. Others urged their friends to boycott the election unless the amnesty is past with one saying “people who vote aren’t sensible and are without mercy for the suffering of our men inside prison.” A mother from Hermel said “We are coordinating with them for the war and now they lie to us…there is no amnesty. We give 3-4 martyrs every few days to Syria…they never give us anything.”

But communal and sectarian ties are a means for self-assertion, security, and self-preservation, and some say they have no other choice to support their leaders. They see the fate of their leaders directly tied to their access to services as a community.

“I’m not happy with the situation but I can’t not vote even though I’m upset there hasn’t been an amnesty yet. We (Hezbollah supporters) are being attacked from all angles by candidates in other districts. We need to stand up for ourselves and vote,” one woman from Baalbek said.

One Sunni activist from Saida promised to support Hariri even though he thinks the amnesty won’t happen before the elections. He alleged that a former head of the Internal Security Forces was “responsible for past detainee abuses. Why would I think he cares now about detainees? Hariri and the Future Movement faced losses in 2016 municipal elections and we need to help him now,” he said.

Dissenting Voices

Not everyone wants an amnesty law. In fact, some are ardently opposed. The Lebanese government previously passed other amnesties including in 1958, 1967, 1991, and 2005. Indeed, elections and new political phases are often accompanied by calls for a new amnesty. The most notorious is the 1991 General Amnesty law which granted militia leaders and their members immunity from war crimes following the end of the civil war in 1989 with the signature of the Taif Agreement peace deal. Some warlords turned politicians are still serving in government today. The 1991 amnesty is viewed by many as having a detrimental impact in addressing the legacy of past conflict.

During interviews several Lebanese civil society leaders and human rights activists therefore rejected the amnesty. While some sympathized with detainees’ grievances, they ultimately view a potential amnesty as further entrenching Lebanon’s impunity problem and undermining judicial authority and the rule of law. Most saw retrials as the preferred solution. Some denounced politicians’ efforts to support the amnesty as an abuse of power ahead of the elections.

Others countered that an overly broad amnesty could result in the release of dangerous criminals who’ve committed serious crimes such as murder and kidnapping. Family members of slain Lebanese soldiers in particular have spoken out against the amnesty.

Still others cautioned that the solution is not so black and white. One international legal expert warned that amnesties are often misunderstood, even by civil society groups. Although determination of an amnesty’s acceptability is not possible before accessing a copy of its text, people shouldn’t be so quick to rule them out. The 2013 Belfast Guidelines on Amnesty and Accountability offer guidelines for amnesty standards and acceptability including standards of exceptional nature, legal justification and benefits, and managing its broadness and vagueness. For example, in particular situations corrective amnesties releasing offenders to avoid furthering burdening an already overwhelmed judicial system may be acceptable.

One Lebanese legal expert denounced what he called some civil society activists’ blind idealism. He noted that the system doesn’t have the capacity, for example, to retry thousands of detainees held on minor drug charges and suffering under terrible conditions of confinement while rubbing shoulders with hardened criminals. Saying that prisons hardly play the rehabilitative role they claim to have anyway he urged for the passage of a limited amnesty for less serious crimes on humanitarian grounds.

Indeed another Lebanese lawyer representing detainees from the Biqaa noted that the intense overcrowding in prisons and snail-paced processing of some files alone gives support to pro-amnesty voices. Moreover, the Lebanese penal code already provides for the issuance of general amnesties, so why not use it? He argued in favor of the amnesty law as a basis from which to relaunch advocacy efforts to address systemic failures in the criminal justice system.

Electoral Outlook

Despite cause for pessimism, the proportional electoral law is untested, new terrain. Independent lists and candidates are hoping to breathe new life into the system. Shifting traditional political alliances have led to unexpected shake-ups with some parties competing against each other in one district and together in another. In this new electoral environment, candidates are negotiating district by district, putting more of an emphasis on lists than party loyalties, resulting in a campaign driven by electoral gains rather than campaign alliances. How this plays out in the post-election environment remains to be seen.

Still, elites are keen on saving the system and want to squash any counternarratives that may destabilize their power in government. And the international community isn’t protesting, reportedly prioritizing stability above all else.

A Lebanese political and electoral analyst warned that even if independent candidates get elected, the weight of the confessional system will prove too much to bear and they will be forced to align with traditional parties or be pushed out. Others are not so pessimistic saying that shifting realities on the ground are making way for new members and rules in the government, even if not in this election, but for the next.

On April 16 Justice Minister Jreissati and Parliament Speaker Berri indicated that the amnesty law will only pass after political consensus is reached following the elections. Candidates who promised its’ passage before the elections may suffer at the ballot box. As some of the most vocal champions of the general amnesty law, this could negatively affect Hariri and the Future Movement the most.

When asked what constituents would do if the amnesty is never passed a Lebanese journalist scoffed “What they always do! They will take to the streets, protest and burn some tires and then they will go home and forget about it. What can they do? Amnesty or not, new government ministers or not, without criminal justice system reforms and accountability, Lebanese citizens will continue to suffer from a broken system.”

Despite today’s news, activists and detainees’ family members continue to anxiously scan social media, hoping that tomorrow’s news may reverse today’s as it often does in Lebanon. Many remain pessimistic but hope that just for once, the elites will prove them wrong.

Haley Bobseine is an independent writer, researcher, Arabist and analyst with more than 8 years field experience in the Middle East. She holds a BA/MA in Modern Middle East History from Brown University. Twitter: @haleybobseine


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Al Jazeera English from last summer: “Lebanese parliament passes new electoral law”

Comey did it to himself & Us, by gutting Privacy, Encryption, & 4th Amendment

Mon, 16 Apr 2018 - 4:20am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In former FBI director James Comey’s interview with ABC News, he attempted to position himself as an upholder of the rule of law, of the constitution, and even of the truth.

Human beings are very good at forgetting their own misdeeds and building narratives that justify themselves, which may even be desirable evolutionarily. But the particular shape of Comey’s amnesia is troubling because of what it means for American democracy.

Comey has been a central figure in the gutting of the fourth amendment of the Constitution and in attempts to make sure the FBI and the rest of the US government can break your encryption and spy on you illegally. It is true that Comey did not want to go as far in that direction as former vice president Dick Cheney, but he wanted to go so far as nevertheless to make the constitution meaningless and to make Americans vulnerable to hacking. You see, the tech companies cannot create backdoors for the FBI without creating backdoors for Russian troll farms in St Petersburg.

Am I saying Comey did it to himself? I am saying Comey did it to himself. And to the rest of us.

Comey condemned Edward Snowden for his revelations about illegal government collection of Americans’ data from telephone calls. Even that was misdirection because Snowden’s more important revelation was that the NSA has individual-level tools to monitor emails. But even the telephone metadata issue is grave, since it would tell you to whom Warren Buffet is speaking, potentially allowing manipulation of the stock market; it would tell you if a politician is seeing a specialist in venereal diseases, allowing you to blackmail him.

And apparently Comey and others corrupted the entire US judicial system by illegally requisitioning telephone metadata to zero in on drug sellers, then notifying local police to arrest them and lie to the judge about how the police began their evidence trail. 100,000 of the inmates in our vast penitentiary gulag are guilty of no more than selling some pot, which most of us don’t even think should be illegal, and many were put there by unconstitutional government surveillance which then concealed itself from the judiciary. Far from standing for the constitution or the truth, Comey dramatically undermined both. Comey has bequeathed these unconstitutional tactics to the weaselly and wholly unscrupulous Jeff Sessions, who is having his minions use them against DACA dreamers and Black Lives Matter.

Comey watched James Clapper lie to Congress about mass warrantless surveillance of the American people. Comey knew Clapper was lying. He did not come after Clapper. He did not resign. His insistence on truth-telling suddenly was abandoned. He was disappointed that Gen. Petraeus was not prosecuted for lying to the FBI about his affair. Clapper’s assassination of the Fourth amendment and dissimulation was not an issue for him.

Comey doesn’t like Trumpworld. Comey helped create Trumpworld.

Then there was his attempt to strongarm Apple into weakening (you might as well say deleting) encryption on its smartphones. Comey saw an opening to get rid of that pesky encryption by creating a legal precedent, and he lied about his true motives, maintaining that there was no other way for the FBI to investigate the San Bernardino shootings. (Let me help him with that; a couple of mentally unstable people were allowed to buy an arsenal and went postal). When the FBI did hack in, they found nothing useful. They did Apple the favor of demonstrating that current encryption is too weak.

National Security elites like Comey are not our friends when it comes to privacy. The NSA used tradecraft and bribery to get an encryption company to adopt an NSA standard, which turned out to have backdoors for the NSA. And, of couse, for everyone else.

American democracy was certainly hacked in 2016. You can argue about whether Putin’s patriots were decisive or not, but you cannot deny the attempt. Comey has been so eager to get the bad guys that he has robbed the rest of us of our 4th amendment rights and of our privacy, and gave Russian and UAE hackers essential tools.

He still can’t see it.

Comey doesn’t like Trumpworld.

Comey helped create Trumpworld.


Bonus video:

James Comey calls Trump morally unfit for office in exclusive ABC News interview | ABC7

Behind the Struggle with Mueller & Comey: Trump is the Triumph of Privilege over Law

Mon, 16 Apr 2018 - 12:49am

By Martin Powers | (Informed Comment) | – –

Frustration and bewilderment are common in media accounts of this administration’s expansive chaos. Even well educated writers turn to expletives, as if proper language were inadequate to convey the shock and dismay. Still, it is not that difficult to identify the source of puzzlement: neither Trump nor his appointees follow the rules. From the beginning he has systematically pursued the substitution of a pre-modern style of arbitrary rule for a modern, rule-based government. What we call chaos is what he calls power. The bad news is that, with help from a gullible press, this administration has been surprisingly successful in confusing these two systems in the public mind. That is dangerous. The longer we fail to mark the distinction between arbitrary and rule-based government, the more successfully the president can install personal privilege as the default conception of authority in the popular imagination.

The contrast I’m talking about made its appearance on CNN last week when Former EPA Secretary Gina McCarthy suggested that the current EPA chief was not following professional standards. Rather than pursue his charge as head of the EPA, his actions instead put the environment at risk. The interviewing journalist countered suggesting that, in our Democracy, an election brings in a new president with different views reflecting the popular will. When that happens, the EPA Secretary is empowered to carry out the new president’s wishes.

What the journalist delivered was a textbook description of how a feudal system operates. In that scenario, all political authority resides within the king. The king parcels out portions of his authority to vassals, who have broad discretion to exercise privilege within their domain. In this view, a democracy differs from an aristocracy only in that the king is elected with term limits. Gina McCarthy knew better and so responded by stressing the fact that she, like her Republican and Democrat predecessors, “followed the law. I followed the process.” That last sentence says it all. In a rational administration, an officer’s authority actually resides within the office, and so power is checked by its stated charge and routine procedures.

In his discussion of aristocracy Tom Paine marked the difference between traditional kingdoms and modern states in precisely these terms. An office requires the officer to have certain knowledge or skills so as to carry out his charge, but an aristocratic title describes nothing, and means nothing, because privilege is arbitrary. Similar notions can be found in Jefferson and Rousseau but, you might say, we have long since forgotten our roots.

The danger here comes from the fact that anyone who watches Hollywood films (Lion King, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings) easily grasps the notion of privilege, while the media presents elections as a kind of popularity contest with the winner being anointed king for a term. The idea that all elected or appointed officials are public servants constrained by their charge is rarely mentioned.

The genius of Trump, or his handlers, lies in their deep grasp of this dynamic. Every time Trump does something outrageous, he is in fact asserting privilege as power. We are seriously mistaken to dismiss such acts as merely unprofessional. Each and every outrage only proclaims more brightly his power as understood by his base. Chaos is his secret weapon. Just think how the kings of old awed their minions with obscene expenditure even in the face of rampant poverty, and were loved for it? The United States Constitution was written to replace the ancient reign of privilege, not merely with elections (the aristocracy knew well how to manipulate those) but with offices checked by a charge and routine procedures.

In defense of privilege there are those who argue that the post-Enlightenment order was but a fluke of Western history and that, now, we are merely returning to the normal state of affairs. This is no less a fantasy than Mr. Trump’s highly stable genius. Even in imperial China, the legendary home of Oriental Despotism, men who overstepped the limits of office were charged with the crime of exercising public authority as private persons. We actually have records of officers prosecuted for killing innocent men, simply because their office did not give them the authority to do that. Nor is China exceptional. Calls for rule by the competent can be found in many times and places, such as when the ninth-century leader of the Zanji revolt, a black Muslim slave, declared that the most qualified man should rule, no matter what his status or rank.

The fact is, privilege is not natural, it is just primitive, and no matter how specialists wish to quibble over the language of our Constitution, one thing is certain: it was intended to replace rule as privilege with rule of law. It is time the press made that distinction clear to the voters.

Martin Powers is Sally Michelson Davidson Professor of Chinese Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan, and former director of the Center for Chinese Studies. He has authored numerous works on Chinese art and culture, as well as on European representations of China.


Bonus video:

ABC News: “Trump tweets and calls James Comey, ‘slippery’ and ‘out of whack'”

Saudi Arabia’s Yemen Campaign escalates into War of Missiles

Sun, 15 Apr 2018 - 11:17pm

Khalil Dewan @KhalilDewan | Middle East Monitor | – –

As Mohammed Bin Salman’s global tour continues in a bid to stabilise Riyadh’s economy, his foreign policy needs revising to ensure political and security risks aren’t deepening. After three years fighting in Yemen’s civil war, the Houthis have stepped-up their strategy and are going after Saudi Arabia’s economic enterprises.

Let’s make no mistake, the Houthi missile programme is proving to be a problem across the Middle East, with threats posed to the UAE, Saudi Arabia and commercial ships at Bab Al-Mandeb – Yemen’s strategic water straight. This week, the Houthis announced that they executed strikes on Saudi Aramco in Jizan province, using a Qasef-1 unmanned drone. In the same week, three other missiles were fired towards Riyadh which were all intercepted, demonstrating the Houthi capabilities. In an interview conducted MEMO earlier this year, the Houthis claimed they possess “over 300 ballistic missiles – medium to long range – all types”. That’s concerning.

Saleh Al Samad, Houthi political leader, said:

If they want peace, as we have said to them before, stop your air strikes and we will stop our missiles. If you continue your air strikes we have a right to defend ourselves by all means available.

“The Yemeni people will neutralise the largest economic project in Saudi Arabia which is Aramco, and it will affect the Neom project,” Muhammad Ali Al-Houthi, the head of the supreme revolutionary committee warned. With ongoing plans to create a transnational economic zone between Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, there are some heightened risks depending on how the conflict moves forward.

Missile attack

On 25 March, the eve of the third anniversary of when the Saudi-led coalition first entered the Yemen conflict, the Houthis launched seven ballistic missiles towards Saudi Arabia. Three travelled towards the capital Riyadh, and the others in southern cities including Najran, Jizan and Khamis Mushait. An Egyptian expat was killed in the strikes and two others were injured. This marked the first time that a fatality resulted from a Houthi rocket attack.

Read: Saudi Arabia to unveil evidence Iran is arming the Houthis

Despite the Saudi-led coalition’s claim that all seven missiles were intercepted, it’s evident that some were not. Open social media networks at the time had videos uploaded showing missiles landing in residential streets. Clearly, Saudi Arabia’s own military equipment is unable to protect the Kingdom despite last year’s arms deal with the US. Joseph Votel, commander of the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM), wasted no time in claiming that the US is “working with Saudi Arabia to help them protect themselves from these threats”.

The Head of the Supreme Revolutionary Committee for the Houthis, Muhammad Ali Al-Houthi, didn’t shy away either, and took the opportunity to reiterate that the group has upgraded Russian and Korean missiles – not Iranian. “If we had the alleged Iranian support, we would have been in Riyadh today. If we had the Iranian technology, we would have used it to target the enemies starting from the first day.” This is true; the group could have executed missiles much earlier on in the conflict, but decided to gradually intensify their strategy. But it could equally be the case that the group improved its missile technology much later.

Targeting Saudi

The Houthi strategy was seen in practice again on 3 April when a Saudi oil tanker was targeted just off the west coast of Yemen near Hudaydah. A Saudi-led coalition vessel intervened and escorted the injured ship back to northern Saudi territorial waters. Turki Al-Maliki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, reiterated to the international community the need to retake control of Hudaydah port and monitor arms transfers. Such a “terrorist attack”, Al-Maliki said, “poses a serious threat to freedom of shipping and international trade in the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait and the Red Sea. It could also cause environmental and economic damage.” The Houthis continue to pose a severe maritime risk in the Red Sea by the use of unmanned explosive boats and underwater drones. Houthi Telegram and other open source networks regularly boast about such attacks, which can be traced back to 2017.

Read: Iranian official urges dialogue between Yemen factions

A senior political officer within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps denied Saudi Arabia’s allegation that Iran supplied the Houthis with ballistic missiles. The “Saudi claims aim to divert public opinion from the atrocities they commit in Yemen,” insisted Yadollah Javani. “The Saudis have committed large-scale atrocities and attacked the oppressed nation of Yemen during the past two- three years with the help of the Americans, the Zionists and some reactionary regional states.”

A pro-Houthi journalist working on the ground also denied that the Iranians were providing the group with arms. “No way, they do not have any influence on the battlefield.”

In terms of strikes or any military ideas, Iran has no influence.

“I know the Houthis look like for example Hezbollah, but we’re not. The Houthis are in full control over their areas. Hezbollah needs Iran to provide direction, but the Houthis are in control of the country – no need for them to interfere in our affairs,” Hussain Al Bukhaithi said.

Al-Bukhaithi denied that the Houthis were using Iranian-made missiles. “Iranian missiles, they’re all Russian missiles, so of course, you’ll find weapons in Yemen which is similar to the Russian ones – and with the blockade, how is it possible to smuggle missiles inside Yemen, as all ports are closed.
Links to Iran

As it stands, any notion put forward alleging Iranian military support to the Houthis can only be suggestive and not conclusive. In a report by a UN panel of experts on Yemen claims were made of “strong indicators” that show arms have been manufactured or are emanating from Iran. The weapons in question are short-range ballistic missiles and smaller unmanned aerial vehicles – drones. Adding to this, a UN panel of experts linked 2,064 small arms which were of Iranian manufacture and origin entering Yemen last year. Iran continues to categorically deny supporting the Houthis, while Saudi Arabia claims that certain weapons (Kornet anti-tank weapons) which were not available in Yemen are in Houthi hands.

US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley unveiled “evidence” late last year which she claimed proves that Iran is supplying the Houthis with weapons. But the alleged Iranian munitions were retrieved by US partners, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, both states which are party to the conflict in Yemen battling against the Houthi group. This renders the “evidence” as questionable. Iran, though, is sending mixed messages by publically supporting the Houthis. “Three Arab capitals have today ended up in the hands of Iran and belong to the Islamic Iranian revolution,” Ali Reza Zakani, Iranian Parliamentarian said in September 2014.

As UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths travels back and forth between Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman, it’s important to realise his vision has shed off some optimism over the prospects of peace. In Muscat, Griffith claims the parties are looking for a “vision of peace”. Achieving peace is unfortunately questionable in Yemen. It was only last week that the Houthis announced their plan to disrupt Saudi Arabia’s economic enterprises by using newly upgraded missile systems. The only reason why parties to the conflict may attend peace talks, in my view, is as a result of fatigue of conflict.

Via Middle East Monitor

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

AP: “Saudi-led coalition targets workshop in Yemeni city of Saada”

Will Bolton and MEK pull an Iraq War-like Chalabi-type Scam on Iran?

Sun, 15 Apr 2018 - 11:04pm

By Nadejda K. Marinova (Author of Ask What You Can Do For Your (New) Country: How Host States Use Diasporas (Oxford University Press, 2017).[1] Informed Comment | – –

On the fifteenth year anniversary of the Iraq war, several things are evident. One is the carnage that the war inflicted, with over 500,000 and by some estimates

1 million Iraqis and 4,486 US service members killed. Another is the destabilization of the region, perpetuated by ISIS’ rise. The US, the UK and their allies went to war on the premise that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, and that he had cooperated with al-Qaeda. As the 2004 Duelfer report to Congress revealed, there were no WMDs. It had all been fabricated.

Ramadan Mosque Baghdad

I remember hearing former UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq Scott Ritter speaking in Atlanta in 2002 about the WMDs. “Don’t believe the hype”- he said. “It is not true.”

In looking back, it is worth remembering who sold the WMD lies to the American public. Armed with the support of neo-conservatives in the Bush administration White House, the exile Iraqi National Congress was a leading entity in promoting the Iraq war.

Funded to the tune of over 100 million USD by the US government, the Iraqi National Congress (INC) had been created with US support in 1992, and led by Ahmed Chalabi. It reached the pinnacle of its influence when The New York Times’s Judith Miller broke the “news” of Saddam’s WMD by drawing on information from a meeting with a defector, the intermediary for which had been Chalabi. The Columbia Journalism Review[2] found that between October 2001 and May 2002, there were 108 stories in major US and international outlets that referenced “INC intelligence” and many of those dealt with rallying support for the war.

Not only did the INC broadcast such lies, but it also provided defectors with dubious credentials to supply those lies both to US media and to intelligence agencies, to which the Defense Intelligence Agency proved more receptive than the skeptical CIA. One of the leading defectors supplied by the INC, al Janabi, aka “Curveball,” in 2011 told The Guardian he had lied to German intelligence about bioweapons trucks and factories in Baghdad.[3]

As I argue in my book, in the reverse of the traditional ethnic lobby role, a select subset of émigrés may engage with policymakers to promote a mutually beneficial foreign policy towards the homeland. In addition to this Bush administration-INC case are numerous other examples: the Bush administration, the American Lebanese Coalition and the World Lebanese Cultural Union, on UN Security Council Resolution 1559 regarding Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon; the Reagan Administration and the Cuban -American National Foundation to support its policies against Castro; and the Carter Administration and the Cuban-American Committee to attempt an opening towards Cuba.

However, host states’ utilization of diasporas is not limited to democratic regime settings or to politics. Iranian security, public relations and political objectives were promoted by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq,[4] established at the behest of Khomeini in 1982 by the government in Tehran and exiled Shi’i clerics. This party (now Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq), and its security arm later turned-political party, the Badr Corps, have continued to wield influence and serve as a conduit for Tehran’s influence, well after their return to Iraq following the 2003 invasion. Finally, the Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, established in 1952, became prominent during the 1970s military dictatorship in Brazil when approached by the Brazilian government, and continues to be the intermediary for Brazilian exports to the resource-rich Arabian Gulf.

What lessons from these mutually beneficial interactions are relevant today? A key point is that, in those interactions, a group of activists assume the role of spokespersons for the diaspora at large and/or the people, even in the absence of actual support. Although Chalabi confidently spoke on behalf of the 2-4 million strong Iraqi diaspora and 25 million Iraqis, his lack of legitimacy became evident when he failed to win a seat in the December 2005 Iraqi parliamentary elections.

In 2005, before the US Helsinki Commission, invitees Joe Baini and Walid Phares spoke on behalf of the World Lebanese Cultural Union (WLCU), “the sole legitimate representative of the Lebanese diaspora,” endorsing full Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Their testimony ignored the other, pro-Syrian WLCU, based in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beirut, which represented diaspora members that supported Amal and Hezbollah.

We should remain wary when a segment of the diaspora becomes “the spokesperson” for the diaspora as a whole. John Bolton, who was appointed Trump’s National Security Adviser in March 2018, and supported the Iraq war, today opposes the Iran nuclear deal. He supports regime change in Tehran and the Iranian exile organization Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), an organization that was sheltered by Saddam, to promote the Iraqi dictator’s interests vis-à-vis Iran. Based in Paris, MEK is headed by Maryam Rajavi, who has met with various Washington policymakers. Bolton has spoken at eight MEK rallies.[5]

Will we see MEK in front of the cameras, speaking on behalf of 80 million Iranians and the Iranian diaspora, telling us that they all support a bombing or invasion, and that it will remake the region for the better?

When Chalabi told us lies sixteen years ago, supported by the White House, many in the public (and in Congress) believed him.[6] Let’s not make the same mistake again. The consequences can wreak havoc, and inflict pain and misery on millions of people that support neither these lies, nor the greed for power and domination that gives rise to them.

Dr. Nadejda K. Marinova is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Wayne State University in Detroit. Her research interests include diaspora and migration, Middle East politics and foreign policy analysis. She has conducted research in Lebanon and Syria, and is currently writing about how Muslim and Arab-American communities in Metro Detroit have mobilized against Trump’s Muslim ban. She is author most recently of Ask What You Can Do For Your (New) Country: How Host States Use Diasporas (Oxford University Press, 2017)


[2] McCollam, Douglas. 2004. “e List: How Chalabi Played the Press.” Columbia Journalism Review, 43(2), 31–37.





European Union: Turkey further than ever on Human Rights, Rule of Law

Sun, 15 Apr 2018 - 5:09am

Middle East Monitor | – –

Turkey will on Tuesday receive the European Commission’s most critical report since it launched its bid to join the European Union over a decade ago, with Brussels warning that years of progress towards membership were being lost, officials said on Saturday.

With the exception of cooperation on Syrian refugees, Turkey and the European Union are drifting apart on human rights, press and judicial freedoms and the rule of law, the Commission, the EU executive, will say, according to two officials who declined to be named.

The Commission on Tuesday publishes its annual report in Strasbourg to assess how far Turkey and other countries aspiring to EU membership have progressed in bringing their rules into line with EU standards and values.

Excerpts of the EU report, first published by Germany’s Welt am Sonntag and confirmed to Reuters by EU officials, showed the Commission concluded there was no basis for opening negotiations on new aspects of EU membership, meaning the process remained frozen.

“There is massive backsliding away from the European Union,” one EU official involved in the report told Reuters.

Warning of huge reverses on so-called fundamental freedoms such as the right to a fair trial and free speech, the report is set to continue the harsher tone the Commission adopted in its 2014 report, when it first raised concerns about the independence of Turkish judges.

Turkey, a member of the NATO Western military alliance, began talks to join the EU in 2005, 18 years after applying.

While a series of issues, notably Cyprus and resistance to Turkish membership in Germany and France, slowed negotiations, President Tayyip Erdogan’s purge of police, judges, teachers and other officials since a coup attempt in 2016 has worsened Turkey’s prospects dramatically, EU officials say.

However, Erdogan said last month he remained committed to seeking EU membership. Turkey says the purge is necessary to combat threats to national security.

Middle East Monitor

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Germany: Turkey cannot join EU if death penalty reintroduced – Daily Mail

Trump can’t Actually care much about Syrians if he only let in 11 Refugees this Year

Sun, 15 Apr 2018 - 4:50am

TeleSur | – –

“We are seeing the impact of the Trump administration’s words and policy and actions that slams the door on refugees,” says Oxfam America.

The United States has accepted only 11 Syrian refugees so far this year, human rights organizations announced Saturday, just hours after President Donald Trump ordered airstrikes against strategic targets near Damascus in response to alleged chemical attacks by Syria’s government.

According to State Department figures, the United States took 15,479 Syrian refugees in 2016 at the end of Obama’s administration.

In 2017, after Trump was sworn in, that number dropped to 3,024. Now, after Trump’s infamous ‘Muslim travel bans’ and an increasing polarization of U.S. immigration policies, that figure is even lower.

“We are seeing the impact of the Trump administration’s words and policy and actions that slams the door on refugees, and Syrian refugees in particular,” said Noah Gottschalk, policy adviser at Oxfam America.

“What about the humanity of the people who are fleeing those attacks? These are the very people who need our support.”

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen announced that Temporary Protected Status would be extended for about 7,000 Syrians, under the condition they have continuously lived in the United States since before August 2016.

“It is clear that the conditions upon which Syria’s designation was based continue to exist, therefore an extension is warranted under the statute,” Nielsen said.

Via TeleSur


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

AP: “Amber Heard says meeting Syria refugees left a mark on her soul”

The Tragedy of American Great Power Moves on the Middle East: Trump Can, so he Will

Sun, 15 Apr 2018 - 4:20am

By Mohammed Nuruzzaman | (Informed Comment) | – –

As assumed, the US, the UK and France launched their coordinated airstrikes on Syria in the early hours of Saturday, April 14 to punish the Bashar Al-Assad government’s alleged chemical attacks on the rebel fighters in Douma, a city close to Damascus. Russia’s counter-threats to shoot down the missiles and warnings from Iran did not deter the Western trio from executing their strike plan. They have followed suit what they announced a few days ago.

In April last year, the US alone launched a similar missile attack on central Syrian airfield at Shayrat in response to unverified claim of chemical attacks by government troops. The joint missile attacks are a qualitatively different development in terms of involvements by major Western powers and the timing of the attacks. So, what are the big stakes involved in such retaliatory attacks? What significance do the airstrikes hold for the Middle East and for global politics?

What is at stake?

For quite some years we have been hearing that the US is experiencing a relative decline in power and influence, mainly due to the economic ascendance of China and Russia’s gradual return to old Soviet glories. This may not be largely true at the global level but in the Middle East the US has been on the retreat. Washington is facing tough challenges in Iraq from Iran, and in Syria it has almost lost the battle to Russia and Iran. Its regional allies – Israel and Saudi Arabia are long on rhetoric and short on actions to reverse Iranian or Russian gains and growing influence. A long-term NATO ally Turkey is also dithering, feeling more comfortable in the league with Moscow and Tehran to keep the US-supported Syrian Kurds-dominated SDF and YPG fighters at bay.

The current wave of missile attacks points to America’s and its allies’ desperate attempts to regain some visible foothold in Syria, at least. The fall of eastern Aleppo in late 2016 set a calamitous course for them. The different rebel groups have been on a losing spree since then. And finally came the crushing defeat in Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburban area under rebel control since 2013.

The rebels’ defeat in Eastern Ghouta has nearly eliminated American, British, Saudi and French influence in Syria. Following withdrawal by two major rebel groups from the Ghouta area to the Idlib province, the US, UK and France ran out of available options to slow down Russia’s and Iran’s final military victory in Syria. They opted to use the Saudi-supported Jaish Al-Islam fighters as a bargaining chip, as some kind of a menace to pressure the Al-Assad government and its allies to accept two outcomes – President Bashar Al- Assad must be happy with a rump Syrian state, and that his government must accept a negotiated settlement of the conflict under the UN-supported Geneva Peace Process (not the Iran and Russia-engineered Astana Peace Process) to accommodate the rebels. Their last military tool – Islamist fighters of Jaish Al-Islam, for whom hardly have they any sympathy, failed to stand the Syrian army’s fierce military onslaught and hence the finger was soon pointed to alleged chemical attacks on Douma, the largest city in Eastern Ghouta, without establishing who actually conducted the attacks. The US and its European allies hardly bothered for proof; rather they chose to become the judges, the jury and executioners simultaneously.

Regional and global implications

Pure and simple, the missile attacks on Syria clearly indicate to the West’s total inability to digest or intolerance for a Russia and Iran-dominated Syria and a resultant move towards a new regional order minus a robust US presence. The US and its allies look determined to use force to stop a new regional order from unfolding. Neither Russia nor Iran seems to have garnered the courage to challenge the US directly through counter-attacks.

Until now, Iranian and Russian reactions to missile attacks are limited to condemnations and political as well as diplomatic wrangling at the UN Security Council. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei went a step further. He branded the US president, British prime minister and French president “criminals” and said that the three leaders would make no benefit from the attacks. Similarly, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his outrage at the attacks but that does not change the reality on the ground.

The fact remains that the US, after every attack, walks away with impunity. And there is not a good way to hold it accountable. The devastating illegal attack on Iraq in March 2003 in the name of “war on terror” killed, maimed or wounded a million Iraqis. Former President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair committed all three grave war crimes in Iraq – crime against peace, crime against humanity and crime against war but are roaming around free. Tony Blair has even supported the latest military actions in Syria.

In military terms, what deters military aggression is credible deterrence or guaranteed retaliations. Russia has that deterrent power but is reluctant to use it, at least in the Syrian context (a US attack on Russian territory would change the calculus altogether, however). Iran’s position is more precarious as it lacks nuclear teeth and has limited conventional capability to project power on a wider regional scale. That means more US on-off military strikes will be forthcoming to target hostile states. Rightly or wrongly, President Trump may think of launching such attacks on Iran to force it to comply with US demand to renegotiate the July 2015 nuclear deal, a deal he promised to tear up during election campaign. That portends a dangerous development, unless Tehran and Moscow are capable of inflicting some punishment on the US and its allies for their reckless decisions to attack other countries, on real or imaginary threats or simple excuses.

A more ominous message the strikes on Syria hold for global politics. President Trump and his European counterparts have knocked at the Russian and Chinese doors to convey the message that the West remains the key to the post-war international order. Attempts to revise or reorder the global system or any regional system will be dealt with at any costs, not to be tolerated at all. In clearer terms, the US designed the post-war order and will manage and control it exclusively. China and Russia need to amend or change their behaviors based on rules of engagement defined by the US. China may be seriously reprimanded for its claim on the South China Sea. So is the case with North Korea’s nuclear program – denuclearize or face the US wrath.

In Syria, the new rule of engagement is the prohibition of use of chemical weapons, true or false, on rebel fighters, as the US sees it. To put it differently, Syrian government troops, backed by Iran and Russia, should not launch largescale military operations to eliminate the rebels outright. The objective is to allow continuous violence, deaths and destructions to the point of total collapse of Syrian state. This, in effect, signals a return to Western colonialism in the Middle East and elsewhere through military domination, not direct territorial control.

Mohammed Nuruzzaman is Associate Professor of International Relations at the Gulf University for Science and Technology, Kuwait


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Vladimir Putin: Syria air strikes were an “act of aggression” – BBC News

Iraq on Syria Strikes: We’ve seen this Movie and it doesn’t End Well

Sun, 15 Apr 2018 - 2:45am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Iraq’s foreign ministry came out strongly against the US, British and French missile strikes on Syria. In a statement issued Saturday, the ministry called the attacks “an extremely dangerous step”that could result in a weakening of regional security.

Spokesman Ahmad Mahjub said, “The ministry underlines the necessity for a political solution that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.” Strikes like those launched Friday, he said, “give terrorism a new opportunity to spread after its defeat in Iraq and its substantial retreat in Syria.” He said Iraq calls on the Arab League to take a clear stance against this dangerous development.

The Iraqis are clearly afraid that the North Atlantic intervention will embolden ISIL/ Daesh to start back up its operations.

Iraq is also worried about instability in Syria that might affect its border with that country. Iraqi government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi told Alarabiya, “The outbreak of conflict in Syria in 2011 was the principle cause of the rise of Daesh (ISIL) and its spread and its entry into Iraq in the middle of 2014, and the continuation of strife.” He added, “The intervention of numerous countries in Syria played a role in nourishing Daesh (ISIL), and we see a necessity for finding a political solution in Syria to achieve stability and to finish off the remnants of Daesh in the regions neighboring Iraq.” He said that Iraq’s focus was to avoid doing anything that might help ISIL remain in eastern Syria.

He said that Iraq had a policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of Syria and sees foreign interventions there as having worsened the situation.

The Iraqi government tilts to Iran, the leader of which, Ali Khamenei, denounced the strikes as “a supreme crime” and warned that they would fail, just as the 2003 US invasion of Iraq failed. Iraq also does have some 5000 US military personnel at an Iraq Command in Baghdad, who were key to the defeat of ISIL in the Sunni Arab north of the country and are still helping with mop up operations. Also key to the fight, however, were Shiite militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

While it is not surprising that the ruling Da`wa (Islamic Call) Party took a more subdued version of the Iranian position, it appears that even Sunni Iraqi parties are condemning the move. Given that the al-Assad government was fighting the hard line Saudi-backed Army of Islam in Douma when it deployed the chlorine gas, it may be that traumatized Iraqi Sunnis just have no sympathy with the extreme religious Right.

In accordance with Syrian, Russian and Iranian propaganda, some some Iraqi newspapers attempted to cast doubt on the reality of the Douma chem attack or to muddy the waters as to its provenance. They complained that the reports of the use of chemical weapons is coming out of Israeli, Western and Gulf media, and observed, “not again!” The reference is the the 2003 false allegations by the Bush administration that Iraq had chemical weapons stockpiles or “weapons of mass destruction” (a propaganda term), which were the pretext for the US invasion of Iraq.

In the Egyptian parliament, MP Emad Saad Hamouda said that the Tripartite aggression on Syria depended on the same sort of lies that had been deployed by the Bush administration in its attack on Iraq in 2003. He said that Egypt rejects the imposition of any foreign countries’ policies on Syria, with which Egypt has long and close associations. (Since the government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew a Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013 and then declared most of the religious Right terrorists, and since the secular, putatively socialist Baath Party in Syria has been facing a rebellion led by the Muslim Brotherhood and other elements of the religious Right, the Egyptian government and press have tilted toward Bashar al-Assad in recent years. This development has sparked some disputes with Egypt’s financial patrons in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, who also hate the populist Eygptian Muslim Brotherhood but who have funded hard line Syrian Salafi guerrillas in a bid to overthrow the al-Assad regime).

These reactions show how profoundly the George W. Bush administration damaged American credibility on the world stage by its gotten-up war on Iraq. At a time of rising China, resurgent Russia, profound doubts about President Trump, and the rise of algorithmic fake news on social media, the United States cannot afford this major and lasting hit to its credibility. Those Americans who are now thinking more positively about Bush (why?) should reconsider.

Washington keeps hoping that post-American Iraq will emerge as a strong US ally in the region. The reality is mixed. Iraq’s Shiite elites, along with most Kurds and Sunnis, are happy to ally against al-Qaeda and ISIL and other Sunni/Wahhabi extremist groups. But Iraqi Shiites and Kurds are not willing to line up against Iran or Iranian allies like Baathist Syria. That is a key contradiction in US policy in the region, to the extent that there is any policy.


Bonus video:

Nic Robertson, CNN: “Why war in Syria is so complex”

How the CIA’s secret torture program sparked a citizen-led public reckoning in North Carolina

Sat, 14 Apr 2018 - 3:05am

By Alexandra Moore | (The Conversation) | – –

President Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA director, Gina Haspel, is reported to have overseen a U.S. site in Thailand where torture of a suspected terrorist took place. Later she allegedly helped destroy evidence of torture.

Her nomination, pending congressional approval, is viewed by many as further evidence of this administration’s support of torture and an undoing of Obama-era efforts to end it. Her work was allegedly part of a program the CIA launched after 9/11 called Rendition, Detention and Interrogation. From 2002 to at least 2006, the CIA orchestrated disappearances, torture and indefinite detention without charge of suspected terrorists.

What can a small group of committed citizens who oppose these practices do to push back? A commission against torture in North Carolina may serve as a model for how citizen-led initiatives can create transparency and accountability for abuses of power in government.

North Carolina’s involvement in CIA torture

In 2005, The New York Times reported that two planes used in the CIA torture program were operated by a contractor based in North Carolina. Forty-nine of the known 119 CIA prisoners were flown from two rural North Carolina airfields to secret prisons or nations with lax policies on torture for violent interrogation. Haspel allegedly oversaw the so-called “black site” in Thailand, starting in 2002 where two of those suspects were held for interrogation.

The revelation about the CIA program angered a number of North Carolinians. They condemned the use of tax dollars to fund an aviation facility that was involved in what they believed was illegal and immoral activity. They wanted to end the state’s participation in torture and hold accountable those who were responsible.

A grassroots movement began. Over more than a decade, it has evolved into a forceful voice against the use of torture. In 2017, organizers created the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry of Torture, an independent and nonpartisan group dedicated to transparency and accountability for the state’s role in the CIA program.

The commission compiled extensive research and appointed 11 commissioners to review the evidence. In November 2017, the commission held public hearings to investigate North Carolina’s role in the CIA’s program. My research explores the importance of understanding torture’s wide-ranging implications for survivors, communities and human rights workers. I also volunteered as a note taker during the hearings.

The commission currently invites public input for its recommendations and will publish its report in fall 2018. With it, the commission will seek to determine North Carolina’s responsibility and liability for its participation in the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program.

Neighbor-to-neighbor activism

The nongovernmental, nonpartisan commission builds on the extensive work of North Carolina Stop Torture Now, a coalition of anti-torture citizens across the state. It started with a core group of 10, that expanded to protests of up to 250 people. The organization has partnered with as many as 75 organizations on various public actions. Over more than a decade, the group has staged public and legislative campaigns and educational conferences. The campaigns, described as “neighbor-to-neighbor activism,” have sought to focus public attention on state and citizen complicity with torture.

A woman holding anti-torture signs.
djbiesack, CC BY-NC-SA

With other civic organizations, NC Stop Torture Now put pressure on state and county officials, as well as Aero Contractors – the company that owned the planes and hangar used to transport suspects. Activists publicized the CIA’s actions and drew attention to laws against torture, enforced disappearance and indefinite detention without charge.

In 2007, Aero Contractors decided to sell its hangar at the Kinston, North Carolina air facility. That year, NC Stop Torture Now also helped generate bipartisan support in the state legislature for a bill that would have criminalized participation in CIA-sponsored disappearances and torture. However, the bill stalled the following year and never passed. To date, state officials have avoided any official or lasting response. The Johnston County commissioners have at times gone on record to defend Aero Contractors.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has attempted to shield itself from liability for its torture program. In three federal court cases, the government argued for immunity and for the protection of state secrets. A fourth lawsuit, Salim v. Mitchell, targeted the psychologists who designed the CIA’s interrogation program. The case was settled in 2017 for an undisclosed sum.

Public hearings

In November 2017, the commission convened public and private stakeholders, survivors of disappearance and torture, former interrogators, legal and medical experts and citizens. Altogether, 20 witnesses gave testimony during the public hearings. Together with the research the commission has amassed, these efforts provide the fullest picture to date of the local dimensions of the CIA program. Representatives of Aero Contractors did not respond to an invitation to participate.

Testimony began with Professor Sam Raphael, co-director of the United Kingdom’s Rendition Project. Synthesizing material from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the program, analysis of flight plans, corporate records and personal testimony, the Rendition Project has compiled extensive documentation of the CIA-sponsored flights.

Raphael detailed the Rendition Project’s research on the scope of Aero Contractors’ participation. According to their analysis, Aero Contractors used publicly funded aviation facilities to launch abductions of suspected terrorists from around the world. They were taken to CIA secret prisons, or “black sites,” or to foreign sites where torture was the norm rather than the exception.

The researcher offered detailed testimony about abduction protocols, including abductors’ silence, failure to identify themselves and lack of arrest warrants. For the captives, Raphael testified, rendition flights involved removal of clothing, diapering, hooding, restraining, and the forced use of suppositories, which prisoners often experienced as sexual assault. Captives often had no knowledge of why they were being taken, where they were being transported, or how long they would be held, Rafael said.

Former counterintelligence, investigators and interrogators Steve Kleinman, Mark Fallon and Glenn Carle also testified. They spoke of the pressure they experienced either from their superiors in their agencies or from the Department of Defense to support the use of torture on captives.

All three witnesses drew on extensive research and their own experience to argue that coercive interrogation techniques do not yield valuable intelligence. Instead, according to the witnesses, coercive techniques impeded accurate recall, triggered resistance and produced false information aimed at ending the pain. All three also testified to the usefulness of rapport-building techniques in gathering “actionable intelligence.”

A survivor’s wife detailed her husband’s lasting emotional and psychological damage after his rendition and 10 years of detention:

“He is 44 years old. His hair and beard are graying; his gestures, his look betray the state of anxiety and pressure in which he has existed for many years. How will we live? We both ask, each on our own. I look at him, but I do not recognize him. … We struggle to understand each other. Day after day I realize that this condition will no longer leave us.”

Another powerful statement came from Allyson Caison, a founding member of NC Stop Torture Now. She explained the difficulty of activism in a small community, in which Aero executives are prominent members.

She said, “As a mother, I like to think if somehow my boys were kidnapped and tortured that there would be another mother out there where my boys were like me, trying to end an injustice that begins in my neighborhood.”

Legal scholars Deborah Weissman and Jayne Huckerby, summarizing extensive research, concluded North Carolina has a duty to adhere to state, federal and international laws that prohibit kidnapping, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial detention, and torture or cruel and degrading treatment. The scholars believe North Carolina is liable for participation in those crimes.

Alberto J. Mora, the former chief legal officer of the U.S. Navy and Marines, detailed the costs of the program to national security.

From stealth torture to democracy

The CIA’s rendition and torture program was notable for its use of what Darius Rejali, a scholar of international torture, has called “stealth torture.” These techniques, including waterboarding, stress positions and environmental extremes, are designed to inflict extreme physical pain and suffering without leaving visible traces.

Despite the challenge this presents to government transparency and accountability, the commission hearings have created a forum in which the scope of the CIA program can be disclosed and the public can debate the infrastructures that make torture possible.

Alexandra Moore, Professor of Human Rights in Literary and Cultural Studies, Binghamton University, State University of New York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! “Will Senate Dems Block Confirmation of Climate-Denying, Torture-Backing State Dept Pick Mike Pompeo?”

Sweden’s new Carbon Tax on Air Travel aims helping Environment

Sat, 14 Apr 2018 - 2:42am

By Valéry Laramée de Tannenberg | | translated by Freya Kirk | – –

Sweden has introduced a new carbon tax. From 1 April, all passengers boarding a flight departing from Sweden will be charged extra fees. EURACTIV’s partner le Journal de l’environnement reports.

From 1 April, passengers boarding a flight departing from Swedish airports will be charged a carbon tax. Depending on their destination, travellers will have an added charge of between 6€ to 39€.
Civic groups want international carbon tax on overseas polluters


As often when it comes to taxes, there are exemptions. Crew members, passengers in transit and children under the age of two are exempted from paying the aviation tax which was voted in 2016.

Swedes in favour

According to a survey published by Dagens Nyheter on 25 March, 53% of Swedes are in favour of this new tax on CO2 emissions, Sweden is, after all, a pioneer in regard to carbon taxing.

Stockholm has taxed carbon emissions since 1991. At the time it cost about 27€ per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted, now the tax has increased fourfold. In 2016, Sweden collected around €2.44 billion through the tax, which accounts for 27% of total environmental taxes.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Hot News: Sweden introduces eco-friendly aviation tax

2 Dead, 30 wounded: Israeli troops again Fire on Peaceful Palestinian Protesters at Gaza Border

Sat, 14 Apr 2018 - 2:21am

TeleSur | – –

“I have no fear of dying because there is no life in Gaza,” one Palestinian told AFP.

As Friday protests resumed near the border fence between Gaza and Israel, occupation forces opened fire injuring at least 30 more Palestinians and killing two.

Mohammed Hamada Hijila, 36, was killed in an airstrike in East of Shujaya, and Abdullah Al-Shehri, 28 years old, was killed by Israeli sniper fire at the eastern border. According to the Gaza Strip’s Health Ministry, 112 Palestinians have been wounded by Israeli army fire or treated for tear gas inhalation.

This is the third consecutive Friday in which Palestinians protest near the fence as part of the Great March of Return. Today’s march has been named “protest to burn the Israeli flag and hoist the Palestinian flag.”

During the two previous Friday demonstrations, Israeli snipers killed at least 30 unarmed Palestinians in Gaza, including journalist Yasser Murtaja who was wearing a vest identifying him as “PRESS.”

Despite international condemnation, including warnings by the United Nations Human Rights Council against the use of lethal force against civilians, who do not pose an immediate threat to life or severe injury, Israeli authorities and politicians have praised the army’s actions and vowed to continue repressing protesters to “protect” their border.

No Israeli soldiers or civilians have been wounded or killed during the protests in Gaza.

Criticism of Israeli use of live arms has come from within the country as well. On Thursday a group of former Israeli soldiers, members of the sniper teams, wrote in an open letter “we are filled with shame and sorrow… Instructing snipers to shoot to kill unarmed demonstrators who pose no danger to human life is another product of the occupation and military rule over millions of Palestinian people, as well as of our country’s callous leadership, and derailed moral path.”

The March of return has mobilized tens of thousands demanding their right to return to the towns and cities from which they were expelled following the creation of the state of Israel.

Refugees have a universally recognized right to return to their places of origin, but Israel has denied this right to the over five million Palestinians who are currently living as refugees in Gaza, the West Bank and countries around the world after fleeing from cities like Jaffa in the context of violence.

Israel has been open about their fear that letting refugees return to current-day Israel would mean the end of the Jewish character of the state because they would lose Jewish people’s demographic dominance.

Over half of the 2 million people who live in Gaza are refugees.

The AFP has reported one man, 36-year-old Sumaya Abu Awad, saying “I have no fear of dying because there is no life in Gaza.”

Gaza has often been called the largest open-air prison because of the decade-long blockade imposed by Israel and enforced both by Israel and Egypt. Report by the U.N. have revealed that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020 due to the destruction of infrastructure in Israel’s periodic bombings of the Strip and the blockade, which has severely limited Gazans ability to rebuild. Furthermore, the Gaza Strip has been progressively running out of fresh water and electricity.

Protests are set to continue every Friday until May 15, which marks the 70th year of the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe, when over 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled from their lands.

The United States has announced they will move their embassy from Tel Aviv to the occupied city of Jerusalem on May 14, in a move analysts believe will only heighten tensions.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Thousands flee gunfire on Gaza-Israel border | ITV News

Reality Show violence in the Age of Trump: Striking Syria

Sat, 14 Apr 2018 - 1:55am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Trump along with allies British prime minister Theresa May and French president Emannuel Macron struck Syria on Friday evening.

It was not a piece of military strategy designed to win any war aims.

It will have no effect on the situation in Syria at all.

It was not authorized by Congress. The Republicans in Congress had threatened to impeach Barack Obama if he struck Syria in 2013 under similar circumstances.

It was not authorized by the UN. None of the three striking states had been attacked or harmed.

Then why?

In our age of politics as reality show, where we have hired the star of NBC’s “Apprentice” to play president (apparently in large part because he is both consistently awful and highly entertaining at once), even geopolitics is done for show.

The United States, France and the UK lost the Syrian War to Russia and Iran. It is all over but the shouting. They had hoped that the al-Assad regime, which had been a thorn in their sides for decades, would be overthrown. It isn’t an ignoble hope. It is a horrible, Stalinist regime with massive amounts of blood on its hands. But the reasons for which Washington, Paris and London wanted it gone were not necessarily noble ones. Syria is among the last states to reject Israel. Its secular elites reached out, isolated after the end of the Cold War, to Iran for support. Its system does not accommodate the Western corporate take-over of the country’s economy. Overthrowing countries that buck the neoliberal, barracuda capitalist Washington consensus and challenge the neocolonial order in the Middle East (with the assumption of Israeli hegemony in the Levant) is a no-brainer for the North Atlantic powers.

The Syrian revolution of 2011 was a homegrown revolt against a regime that had already largely abandoned its socialist policies in favor of the establishment of Alawite oligarchies, which imprisoned people for the slightest criticism of the regime, and under which the proportion of people living in absolute poverty was rapidly increasing. But when the regime cleverly maneuvered the revolutionaries into allying with Muslim extremists on the battlefield, even then the CIA went on supporting the rebels. Its officials would deny it, but they were one degree of separation away from al-Qaeda, just as they had been in Afghanistan in the 1980s. And even while the US FBI and right wingers in the Senate like Ted Cruz were darkly intimating that the Muslim Brotherhood and all its offshoots are terrorist organizations, the 40 vetted groups supported by the CIA were mostly Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

No lesson of history is ever learned in Washington, D.C.

As I argued on Thursday, the Russo-Syrian military operation against the Saudi-backed Army of Islam in Douma, in the course of which chemical weapons appear to have been used, was a resounding success. Once the chem was released, the Army of Islam fighters, who had dug in their heels and inflicted substantial casualties on the elite Panther Brigade special ops forces of the Syrian Arab Army, abruptly surrendered. They turned over hundreds of their weapons, released dozens of captives, and agreed to exit north to Jarabulus in their thousands. It was one of the most ignominious defeats visited upon any guerrilla group in the course of the seven-year war.

If you had wanted to work against further such chemical use, the more effective method would have been to negotiate with Russia about it and apply pressure on Moscow.

The Tripartite missile attacks on Saturday will attrite some regime military capabilities in a small way. But since the Russian Federation’s Aerospace Forces are actually supplying the air power to defeat what is left of the rebels, the regime’s loss of some facilities won’t matter to the course of the war. I expect further Idlib and Deraa campaigns later this year, and I expect the regime over time to win them. I have to say that I’m surprised by the resiliency of the al-Assad clan. You wouldn’t have expected them easily to restore control over places like Homs (a largely Sunni Arab city with a strong Muslim Brotherhood movement). Security is no doubt fragile. But it appears that a reassertion of the regime is plausible in the short to medium term.

The missile attacks are for domestic politics, and perhaps to some extent a demonstration of political will to Russia and Iran. As military history they are a footnote.

Those who argue that they were necessary to show resistance to the use of chemical weapons are missing some things. The West backed Saddam Hussein’s use of chem in the Iraq-Iran War. It is hard to see why killing children with chlorine differs from the point of view of the children from killing them with bombs. Military action should be taken in accordance with international law. And, deploying missile strikes ineffectually renders them less effective politically down the road.

These strikes are like when a fistfight breaks out on the reality show Big Brother. The show will go on next week.


Bonus video:

guardian news: “‘A strong deterrent’: Trump announces strikes on Syria”

Russia, Iran and Syria respond to Trump’s Threats

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 - 4:38am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The UK-based Arabic language daily, al-Arabi al-Jadid (a secular, left-leaning newspaper helmed by Azmi Bishara from Qatar) reports on the responses of Syria and its allies to sabre-rattling from Trump and from the UK and France.

A key advisor to Ali Khamenei, Iran’s clerical leader, is in Syria to take stock after the military success in retaking the East Ghouta neighborhood near Damascus from Salafi Jihadi rebels. The latter part of that campaign, last Saturday, allegedly involved the use by the Bashar al-Assad government of a barrel bomb loaded with chlorine and a nerve agent, which killed some 70 persons, mostly noncombatants and including children. The gas attack has provoked Donald Trump and the governments of Theresa May in the UK and Emmanuel Macron in France to plan for a possible punitive set of air strikes on Syrian air force facilities.

The Iranian adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, said in a news conference with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad that Syria is more prepared than in the past to face what is coming. He charged that the United States directed the launching of the civil war in Syria and took part in it extensively. (The first part of this allegation is not true; the Syrian uprising of 2011 was indigenous, not a CIA covert operation. Once the regime turned it into a civil war by using massive military force on civilian, peaceful protesters, the US did give some billions in aid via Saudi Arabia to some 40 “vetted” guerrilla groups it said were unconnected to al-Qaeda or extremism. The US role appears to have been much larger than the press reported at the time, but Russian and Iranian investments clearly outweighed it in the end in any case.) What’s left of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 is now a mere handmaiden of secular Baath dictators and neo-imperialist Russian oligarchs.

Velayati dismissed Trump, whom many in the Middle East had initially admired on his election, as having become a mere laughingstock.

Bashar al-Assad in his remarks warned that a Western strike on his country would accomplish nothing but to destabilize regional security. He complained that every victory Syria gained was met with Western cries and movements in hopes of altering the course of events. They are the ones, he said, who are harming international peace and security.

Meanwhile, a Russian spokesman confirmed that Russian and US military officers were using intensively the “deconfliction” telephone line to ensure that no step is taken that would spark conflict between the two powers.

BBC monitoring paraphrases a column by Alexander Atasuntsev and others at the liberal business daily RBC . He quotes retired Col. Andrei Payusov as predicting that any US strikes on Syria would be “superficial” and affect only “minor” targets announced in advance. He complained that this sort of US showboating aims at trying to reverse its weakening position in the Middle East brought about by Russian successes. He said that the US would choose targets and bases where there was no chance of hitting Russian troops. Other Russian experts quoted in the article, however, could not rule out the possibility of a clash between the United States and the Russian Federation in Syria.

Now that’s scary.


Bonus video:

Sky News: “Russia warns it will protect its people in Syria”

Syria: would a new foreign military intervention be legal?

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 - 2:39am

By James Sweeney | (The Conversation) | – –

Just days after an alleged chemical attack killed and injured scores of civilians in Douma, Syria, the US, UK and France agreed in principle that international action is needed to hold the perpetrators to account. But they didn’t make clear what form their action would take – or how they would act while staying within the law.

All tactical considerations aside, legality is one of the biggest problems when it comes to military intervention. While the US in particular has a habit of using force overseas based on the legally dubious notion of anticipatory self-defence, a right or duty to attack another country on humanitarian grounds is even more controversial.

In the 1990s, under Tony Blair, the UK pushed the idea of “humanitarian intervention” as part of an “ethical foreign policy”. This was the principle invoked in 1999 to justify NATO’s actions protecting ethnic Albanians in what is now Kosovo. But that was a controversial move, and more recent efforts to reshape the idea into a legal “responsibility to protect” have done little to actually change the law on the use of force.

Clearly the Assad regime is ruthless, having killed tens of thousands of its own citizens using often indiscriminate methods. But unless and until the UN Security Council authorises the use of force (as it did against Libya in 2011), then the use of armed force on humanitarian grounds would be unlawful. And based on their Security Council votes on Syrian matters thus far, it is virtually certain that Russia and probably China would veto any such authorisation.

In any case, should outside powers go ahead and use force against the Assad government without permission, then Russia would seize upon their example to justify its own foreign interventions – not least its efforts to “protect” ethnic Russians in Ukraine.

Exceptional circumstances

Does the use of chemical weapons change the calculus, legally speaking? Maybe, but probably not yet. The Chemical Weapons Convention is the most relevant international treaty but while it prohibits the use of chemical weapons it categorically does not give permission to use armed force to punish their use, or to prevent their further use.

The safest course of action – though still a risky one – would be to argue that when it comes to the use of chemical weapons, there is an emerging customary international legal norm (that is, one not dependent on a treaty) permitting the use of force to punish or prevent their use. That norm could perhaps be linked to the “super custom” (jus cogens) prohibition on torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or even genocide (depending on who has been targeted). And while this argument is somewhat tenuous, it would have the advantage of not providing a fig leaf for Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Who’s accountable?

Another critical question is how anyone at all can be held to account for atrocities committed by the Syrian regime.

There is ample evidence of human rights violations, but there is no world court of human rights to condemn them. Syria has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but it has not accepted the additional step needed for people to complain to the quasi-judicial UN Human Rights Committee.

This leaves international criminal law. Unless there is a change of regime, Syria itself is highly unlikely to attempt to prosecute Assad for war crimes or crimes against humanity. And if he travelled to another country that then sought to arrest him, he would have personal immunity as a sitting head of state.

That means the only place he could realistically face trial is at the International Criminal Court (ICC). But Syria is not party to the Rome Statute establishing the ICC, meaning the court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is unable to initiate an investigation herself. The only way the ICC could become involved would be if the UN Security Council referred the situation to it (as it has with Libya and Sudan, which are not state parties to the Rome Statute). And as above, any such move would likely be vetoed by Syria’s Security Council allies.

So whatever Trump and his Western comrades decide to do, they will have trouble citing a concrete legal basis for any military action; even if they can, using the law to prosecute the conflict’s atrocities won’t be easy. But more worryingly still, these are just the legal stakes.

However awful the Assad regime is, and however lawful an attack on it would be, even the discussion about whether to use armed force is further poisioning the West’s relations with Russia. Meanwhile, the airspace over Syria is far more dangerous than that over the Former Yugoslavia in 1999 and even Libya in 2011. And as we all know from the lessons of Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, toppling a brutal regime often raises just as many problems as it solves.

James Sweeney, Professor, Lancaster Law School, Lancaster University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Israel must hold killers of Reporter Yaser Murtaja in its own Military to account: CPJ

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 - 2:26am

Committee to Protect Journalists | – –

Beirut–The Committee to Protect Journalists has condemned comments by Israel’s defense minister over the weekend that appear to justify the killing of Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja in Gaza, and called on authorities to hold to account anyone who shot journalists with live ammunition. Murtaja died on April 7 of injuries sustained the previous day while covering protests in Gaza in which at least five other journalists were injured.

“Journalists are civilians, and security forces have a duty to ensure that they can work safely,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington D.C. “Israeli authorities must thoroughly investigate the killing of Yaser Murtaja, rather than sustain their record of making empty pledges to probe the killing of journalists during conflict and other dangerous assignments.”

At least 16 journalists have been killed in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory since CPJ began keeping records in 1992. According to CPJ research, no one has been held accountable for any of the deaths.

Murtaja, a photojournalist and cameraperson for the Gaza-based media production company Ain Media, was injured when a live round hit him in the abdomen while he was covering protests in the area east of Khan Younis city, the local press freedom group Palestinian Center for Media Development (MADA) reported, quoting Murtaja’s colleague Hossam Hisham Salem who was at the scene. Murtaja died the next day from wounds sustained during the shooting, according to MADA, the regional press freedom group the Journalist Support Committee (JSC), and the Palestinian Journalist Syndicate (PJS).

Pictures posted on social media by local journalists and witness testimony from local journalists show that Murtaja was wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet that were both clearly marked with the words “PRESS” when he was hit.

In response to Murtaja’s death, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that “whoever operates drones above IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers needs to understand that he is endangering himself,” and “We have seen dozens of cases of Hamas activists were disguised as medics and journalists,” according to local media reports.

In a statement released on April 7, the IDF denied that it targets journalists and said the circumstances of Murtaja’s death would be investigated, news reports said. The IDF did not immediately reply to CPJ’s email requesting comment.

Reuters cited three Palestinian journalists as saying that Murtaja was not operating a drone at the time of his killing.

At least five other journalists were injured while covering the protests on April 6:

– Adham al-Hajjar, cameraman for the Moroccan private broadcaster Medi1TV, was hit by a live round in his left knee in an area east of Gaza City, according to JSC, MADA, Saada, and pictures posted on Facebook by local journalists and friends.

– Khalil abu Adhreh, cameraperson for Hamas-affiliated al-Aqsa TV, was hit by a live round in his left leg in the southern Gazan city of Rafah, according to his employer, Saada, and JSC. Footage posted on YouTube shows that abu Adhreh, who was a few hundred meters away from the border fence, was filming protesters who were occasionally throwing stones and waving Palestinian flags when he was hit.

– Freelance photographer Ibrahim al-Za’noun was hit by a live round in his left arm in an area east of the northern Gazan city of Jabalia, according to JSC, Saada, and news reports.

– Ezz Abu Shanab, editor for the independent local news agency Sky Press Agency, was hit by a live round in his left leg in Gaza city, according to local journalist Saada, and a Facebook post from the editor Abu Shanab.

– Saber Nureldine, photographer for the European Press Photo Agency, was hit by shrapnel in his head and shoulder while working east of Gaza City, according to a Facebook post from Nureldine and the PJS.

According to CPJ research and news reports, at least 10 Palestinian journalists were injured the previous week by live rounds, gas canisters, and tear gas.

A report released by Human Rights Watch on April 3 said that Israeli soldiers had orders from senior Israeli officials to use live ammunition against Palestinian protesters even if protesters did not pose a threat to the soldiers or civilians.

Via Committee to Protect Journalists

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

AP: “Gaza buries journalist killed while covering mass protest”

Top 5 Lessons from the History of America’s Defeats

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 - 2:11am

By Tom Engelhardt | ( ) | – –

The lessons of history? Who needs them? Certainly not Washington’s present cast of characters, a crew in flight from history, the past, or knowledge of more or less any sort. Still, just for the hell of it, let’s take a few moments to think about what some of the lessons of the last years of the previous century and the first years of this one might be for the world’s most exceptional and indispensable nation, the planet’s sole superpower, the globe’s only sheriff. Those were, of course, commonplace descriptions from the pre-Trump era and yet, in the age of MAGA, already as moldy and cold as the dust in some pharaonic tomb.

Let’s start this way: you could think of the post-Cold War era, the years after the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, as the moment of America’s first opioid crisis. The country’s politicians and would-be politicians were, then, taking street drugs (K-Street and military-industrial-complex ones, to be exact) and having remarkable visions of a planet available for the taking, as well as the keeping, forever and ever, amen.

On a globe without another superpower — pre-Putin Russia was a shattered, impoverished shell of the former Soviet Union, while China was still entering the capitalist world, Communist party in tow — history’s ultimate opportunity had obviously presented itself. And about to ascend to the holodeck of the USS America (beam me up, Dick Cheney!) were history’s ultimate opportunists, the men (and woman) who would, in January 2001, occupy the top posts in the administration of President George W. Bush. That, of course, included Cheney who, after overseeing a wide-ranging search for the best candidate for vice president, had appointed himself to the job. As a group, they couldn’t have been more ready for America’s ultimate moment in the sun. They had been preparing for it for years and largely came out of the first think tank — the Project for the New American Century — ever to enter the Oval Office. They had long been in favor of ensuring this country’s “unchallenged supremacy” by building its already staggering military into a force beyond compare. In doing so, they had no doubt that they would achieve the previously inconceivable: an “American geopolitical preeminence,” as they politely put it, that would be like no other great power’s ever.

A Power “Beyond Challenge”

As it happened, their moment came with blinding, thoroughly unexpected speed on September 11, 2001. Their response would be captured perfectly only five hours after the attacks of that day. From the partially devastated Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, already certain that al-Qaeda was behind the strikes, ordered his aides (as one of them scribbled down) to “go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” And so they did. What followed would be not just the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, but of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a country completely unconnected to the attacks of 9/11. And not just Iraq either, not in their fevered imaginations anyway (as once again today in the fever dreams of newly appointed National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo), but Iran, too. Not far behind in the sweep-it-up category would come, they were convinced, the rest of the Greater Middle East (still being called in those days “the arc of instability” — little did they know!). In the end, they had no doubt that the rest of the planet would fall in line, too (or pay the price). It was to be a Pax Americana planet for the ages.

In the carnage that followed, it was easy to forget just how expansive those fever dreams were. But give them credit: whatever else they did (or didn’t do), geopolitically speaking, George W. Bush’s crew thought big. Just consider their seminal document of the post-9/11 moment, the 2002 National Security Strategy. Their goal, it stated, was to ensure that the U.S. would “build and maintain” the country’s “defenses” (that is, military power) “beyond challenge.” And keep in mind that they were already talking about a country in, as that document put it, “a position of unparalleled military strength.”

Let that roll around in your head for a second so many years later: on this planet a single, unparalleled military power “beyond challenge.” That was a dream of dominion that once would have been left to “Evil Empires” or madmen (or the truly, truly bad guys in Hollywood movies). But in the world as they imagined it then, the one in which only that “sole” superpower stood tall, how easy it proved to imagine a Great Game with just a single player and an eternal arms race of one.

The top officials of the Bush administration were, as I wrote back then, pure fundamentalists when it came to U.S. military power. As President Bush later put it, they considered that military “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known.” Under such circumstances, why would anyone be shy about loosing it to “liberate” the rest of the planet? In that 2002 document, the Bush administration essentially called for a world in which no other great power or bloc of powers would ever again be allowed to challenge this country’s supremacy. As the president put it in an address at West Point that same year, “America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.”

The National Security Strategy put the same thought this way: “Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.” And the president and his men promptly began to hike the Pentagon budget to fit their oversized fantasies of what an American planetary “footprint” should look like (a process that, despite everything that followed, has never ended).

The Lessons of American War

So much of this has, of course, already been buried in the sands of history, but that’s no reason for it to be forgotten. Almost 17 years after 9/11, the parts of the planet that “the greatest force, etc., etc.” was loosed upon remain in remarkable upheaval and disarray, while failed states and terror groups multiply, producing more displaced people and refugees than at any time since the end of World War II. Another great power, China, is rising, and an economically less than great Russia continues to hang in there militarily and strategically by force of Putinian chutzpah. Not surprisingly, American decline has become a topic of the moment.

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What conclusions, then, might be drawn from the era of folly that led us to this Trumpian moment? Here are my suggestions for five possible lessons from the American experience of war in the twenty-first century:

Lesson one: It should have been too obvious to say, but wasn’t: Earth can’t be conquered by a single power, no matter how strong. Try to do so and you’ll end up taking yourself down in some fashion.

Shakespeare would have been fascinated by the hubris of America’s leaders in these years (and that was before Mr. Hubris Himself even hit the White House). It couldn’t be clearer today that the military-first grab for an all-American planet proved strikingly too much for the U.S. to swallow by an Iraqi mile. It never even came close to happening. When the history of American decline is written, perhaps it will be said that never was there a great power whose leaders so effectively took it down themselves simply by wanting too much too badly and by woefully misunderstanding the nature of power on this planet. For Washington, the urge to make Earth into its imperium proved the equivalent of a submarine putting a torpedo into its own bow.

Lesson two: In the twenty-first century, military power, even that of the “finest fighting force in the history of the world” (another presidential descriptor of these years), isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It doesn’t matter how many hundreds of billions of dollars you put into building up and maintaining that military yearly or how many trillions of dollars you sink into its wars and the mayhem they produce.

In 2018, the greatest military on Earth turned out to be incapable of ultimately defeating forces that were producing roadside bombs for the cost of a pizza. If you want to measure the effectiveness of the U.S. military, note, for instance, that more than a decade and a half after its “Global War on Terror” was launched there are al-Qaeda affiliates in far more places than on September 12, 2001; the original al-Qaeda still exists; other al-Qaeda crews are fighting with reasonable success from Yemen to Syria to North Africa; ISIS, while destroyed as a state or “caliphate,” continues as a guerrilla movement in parts of Syria and Iraq and its branded affiliates have spread across that former “arc of instability” from Niger and Libya to Afghanistan and the Philippines. Washington’s war on terror, in other words, turned into a war for the spread of terror.

Lesson three: Military power is now a force for chaos. Historically, in the imperial ages that preceded this one, such power, while applied brutally and devastatingly, could also be a way of imposing order on conquered and colonized areas. (Hence, say, the British Raj in India or the French military hold on Indochina.) No longer, it seems, not in the wake of the twentieth century wars of liberation and independence in the formerly colonized world. We’re now on a planet that simply doesn’t accept military-first conquest and occupation, no matter under what guise it arrives (including the spread of “democracy”). So beware of unleashing modern military power. It turns out to contain within it striking disintegrative forces on a planet that can ill afford such chaos.

Lesson four: At least at the imperial level, victory turns out to be a concept from another century. In its wars of recent years, the American military has moved from dreams of victory to an acceptance that its conflicts might be “generational” in nature to, most recently, the idea of “infinite war” (that is, war without hope of end or ultimate success). In this way, its top commanders have admitted that, by their own definition, they now live in a victory-less world.

Lesson five: Imperial wars do come home, even if in ways often hard to spot or grasp. Indeed, America’s wars of the twenty-first century have been returning to the homeland not as victory but as a kind of defeat, however hard that may be to see.

Donald Trump is proof of that. His slogan “Make America Great Again” — implying, as no other politician of his moment dared do, that the country was no longer great — rang a bell in the heartland and helped win him the 2016 election. His America First campaign similarly embodied a declinist sensibility, even if not recognized as such.

In promoting a presidency that would (again) put American first, Trump reflected what, for so many Americans, was a distinctly twenty-first-century message. Despite those soaring Washington dreams of an all-American planet, this century has proved anything but an America First one in the white American heartland. While citizen tax dollars poured down the drain of those distant wars (and the scams linked to them), the country’s unparalleled global corporate power helped generate profits and wealth beyond compare — but mainly for a single gilded class of one percenters. And so the numbers of multimillionaires and billionaires multiplied impressively, creating an ever-widening inequality gap. In those same years, with a helping hand from the Supreme Court, the American political system was turned over, lock, stock, and barrel, to those very billionaires and multimillionaires and their super PACs. Meanwhile, actual investment in this country’s basic infrastructure, in everything that had once made it the most advanced of first world countries, went off a cliff.

All of this was felt particularly deeply by the inhabitants of the country’s white heartland, as the future seemed to close in on so many of them. In their own fashion, they had absorbed some intuitive version of the above “lessons” of recent history, as had Donald Trump. As a result, in election 2016, along with all his tweets, insults, and nicknames, which became the heart and soul of media coverage, he did something far more crucial. He reassured Americans who felt that their lives and those of their children (going into debt for their very educations in ways that once would have been unimaginable) were turning third world on them. This they blamed on both the “swamp” of Washington and people of color of every sort. In his own distinctive way, Trump reassured them that life in America didn’t have to be like this, repeatedly sending them messages of firstness and greatness, as well as anti-immigrant-ness, with convincing fire and fury.

Of course, upon entering the Oval Office, our first billionaire president promptly chose a cabinet of billionaires and multimillionaires, while the great achievement of his initial year as president would be to free both corporate America and that same gilded class of yet more financial responsibility for the nation, thanks to his tax “reform” bill. Meanwhile, he oversaw the expansion of America’s wars in distant lands.

None of this should have been slightly surprising. After all, whatever reassurance he may have offered, his campaign was always a The Donald First one. And whatever they thought they were doing, his voters were electing a man whose deepest expertise lay in how to emerge from bankruptcy proceedings smelling like a rose. Now, he seems intent on applying those special skills to peace, war, and the economy.

That means, in another year or two, you can count on lessons of American war six through 10 from me. In the meantime, hold on to your hats.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World. His next book, A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books), will be published in May.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, as well as John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2018 Tom Engelhardt