Daily Archives: February 6, 2013

Britamgate: Staging False Flag Attacks in Syria

On January 22 a telling leak cropped up in the Internet. British defense contractor’s BRITAM server was hacked and megabytes of classified internal files of the firm were released to the public. Now the case is acquiring a Britamgate scale due to the publication on Prison Planet. What is the story behind the leakage? Why this scandal is likely to turn around the situation in Syria?
By Voltaire Network 
February 07, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – Let’s brief the files. The key finding is a mail dated December 24, 2012 sent by Britam Defence’s Business Development Director David Goulding to Dynamic Director of the firm Phillip Doughty, who is a former SAS officer:
Phil
We’ve got a new offer. It’s about Syria again. Qataris propose an attractive deal and swear that the idea is approved by Washington.
We’ll have to deliver a CW to Homs, a Soviet origin g-shell from Libya similar to those that Assad should have.
They want us to deploy our Ukrainian personnel that should speak Russian and make a video record.
Frankly, I don’t think it’s a good idea but the sums proposed are enormous. Your opinion?
Kind regards David
To clarify the things, CW is a standard abbreviation for Chemical Weapons; ‘g-shell’ is a bomb consisting of an explosive projectile filled with toxic gas.
Taking into account the memorable Barack Obama’s warning that the ‘use or even transportation of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would represent a “red line” that would precipitate military intervention’, a message he reiterated last month after the election to the second term, the plotted operation, if carried out, would provide an ideal pretext for the foreign intervention into Syria. Israel has 
voiced the same warnings last week.
Who would perpetrate the video-recorded delivery of CWs to Homs? The text of mail clearly indicates that they would use Britam’s Ukrainian personnel for forging videos. Scrolling down one of the hacked files, we found out the private data of 58 Ukrainian citizens working for Britam Defence Ltd in Iraq. Several employees might not be enlisted as the folder /Iraq/People/ contained the photocopies of passports of several other Ukrainians. There are also some Serbs/Croatians and Georgians in the list who also might be filmed as ‘Russians’.
Since the end of December 2012 Western, Israeli and Gulf sources have been playing up ‘rumors’ about ‘Russian troops fighting for Assad’ and ‘Russian forces taking Syrian C&B weapons under control’. The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah has recently published a couple of ‘Western intelligence reports’ stating that ‘Assad had already transferred chemical weapons to the terrorists’. On January 15 the US Foreign Policy journal made public a ‘secret State Department cable’ concluding that ‘the Syrian military likely used chemical weapons against its own people in a deadly attack last month’.
Most likely the public opinion is being prepared for the ‘breathtaking videos’ depicting Russian-uniformed or Russian-speaking ‘soldiers’ allegedly committing atrocities against civilians in the Syrian cities or applying toxic gases there.
In this context we should not forget the reports circulating since last year that the rebel fighters in Syria had been given gas masks and were willing to stage a chemical weapons attack which would then be blamed on the Assad regime to grease the skids for NATO military intervention.
The information about Western and Middle East special services recruiting militants with Slavic features to play a role of Russian ‘mercenaries’ allegedly captured by Syrian opposition fighters was released by the Russian media in the middle of January. They quoted a well-informed source as saying that ‘actors’ are being selected in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. They all must handle guns and able to operate anti-aircraft systems. According to the script, they should recognize in front of the cameras that they were recruited by the Russian special services with the aim of supporting the army of Bashar Assad. Also, they ought to say that they have allegedly been delivered to Syria by Russian warships.
According to the source, all this will be filmed in Turkey or Jordan, where fake demolished Syrian towns have already been built in the form of large-scale theatrical scenery. The same-type sceneries in Qatar were reportedly used during the information warfare against Libya in 2011.
Summing up these facts we can conclude that a provocation in Syria is the only option left for the war-mongers. Having exhaustive information on the real situation in Syria and being aware of inability of the corrupted rebel group to make any significant change in Damascus, they have nothing to do but hire a second-rate British PSC for another round of dirty job. We have no doubt that numerous tragic ‘revelations’ of atrocities committed by ‘pro-Assad army’ that were repeatedly hitting YouTube for the last two years, were also ‘ordered’ for enormous fee to the former British ‘berets’. The latest leakage deserves thorough investigation and consideration on the top international political level. It is high time for a BRITAMGATE to be boxed.

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Brennan Nomination Exposes Criticism on Targeted Killings and Secret Saudi Base

By Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung
February 07, 2013 “Washington Post” — President Obama’s plan to install his counterterrorism adviser as director of the CIA has opened the administration to new scrutiny over the targeted-killing policies it has fought to keep hidden from the public, as well as the existence of a previously secret drone base in Saudi Arabia.
The administration’s refusal to provide details about one of the most controversial aspects of its drone campaign — strikes on U.S. citizens abroad — has emerged as a potential source of opposition to CIA nominee John O. Brennan, who faces a Senate confirmation hearing scheduled for Thursday.
The secrecy surrounding that policy was punctured Monday with the disclosure of a Justice Department “white paper” that spells out the administration’s case for killing Americans accused of being al-Qaeda operatives.
The timing of the leak appeared aimed at intensifying pressure on the White House to disclose more-detailed legal memos that the paper summarizes — and at putting Brennan, Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, on the defensive for his appearance on Capitol Hill.
Administration officials on Tuesday sought to play down the significance of the disclosure, saying that they have already described the principles outlined in the document in a series of speeches.
“One of the things I want to make sure that everybody understands is that our primary concern is to keep the American people safe, but to do so in a way that’s consistent with our laws and consistent with our values,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in response to questions about the document.
Nevertheless, the leak and signals from senior lawmakers that they may seek to delay, if not derail, Brennan’s confirmation made it clear that Obama’s decision to nominate him has drawn the White House into a fight it had sought to avoid.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the intelligence committee, said Brennan’s level of influence and the timing of his nomination have given lawmakers leverage that they lacked in previous efforts to seek details from the White House.
Brennan “is the architect of [the administration’s] counterterrorism policy,” Wyden said. “If the Congress doesn’t get answers to these questions now, it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get them in the future.”
The Obama administration’s targeted-killing program has relied on a growing constellation of drone bases operated by the CIA and the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command. The only strike intentionally targeting a U.S. citizen, a 2011 attack that killed al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki, was carried out in part by CIA drones flown from a secret base in Saudi Arabia.
The base was established two years ago to intensify the hunt against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the affiliate in Yemen is known. Brennan, who previously served as the CIA’s station chief in Saudi Arabia, played a key role in negotiations with Riyadh over locating an agency drone base inside the kingdom.
The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the specific location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.
The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.
The white paper, which was first reported by NBC News, concludes that the United States can lawfully kill one of its own citizens overseas if it determines that the person is a “senior, operational leader” of al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates and poses an imminent threat.
But the 16-page document allows for an elastic interpretation of those concepts and does not require that the target be involved in a specific plot, because al-Qaeda is “continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States.”
The paper does not spell out who might qualify as an “informed, high-level official” able to determine whether an American overseas is a legitimate target. It avoids specifics on a range of issues, including the level of evidence required for an American to be considered a “senior, operational” figure in al-Qaeda.
The document’s emphasis on those two words, which appear together 16 times, helps to explain the careful phrasing the administration employed in the single case in which it intentionally killed an American citizen in a counterterrorism strike.
Within hours after Awlaki’s death in September 2011, White House officials described the U.S.-born cleric as “chief of external operations” for al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, a designation they had not used publicly before the strike.
Officials said that Awlaki, previously portrayed mainly as a propagandist, was directly involved in a series of plots, including the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day in 2009.
The white paper, which was distributed confidentially to certain lawmakers last summer, does not indicate when the underlying Justice Department memos on targeted killings of Americans were completed.
As a result, it is unclear whether the memos were in place before the first apparent attempt to kill Awlaki, a joint U.S.-Yemeni strike shortly before the foiled Detroit plot in 2009.
Three other Americans have been killed in U.S. airstrikes in Yemen since 2002, including Awlaki’s 16-year-old son. U.S. officials have said those Americans were casualties of attacks aimed at senior al-Qaeda operatives.
Civil liberties groups described the white paper as an example of the kind of unchecked executive power Obama campaigned against during his first presidential run.
“The parallels to the Bush administration torture memos are chilling,” said Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Warren accused Obama of hypocrisy for ordering George W. Bush administration memos to be released publicly while maintaining secrecy around his own. To deliver on his promises of transparency, Warren said, Obama “must release his own legal memos and not just a Cliffs Notes version.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney emphasized that the white paper is unclassified and indicated that the administration does not intend to release the classified legal memo on which it is based. Asked whether Obama would respond to demands from lawmakers that he release the original document, Carney said, “I just have nothing for you on alleged memos regarding potentially classified matters.”
The number of attacks on Americans is minuscule compared with the broader toll of the drone campaign, which has killed more than 3,000 militants and civilians in hundreds of strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
The administration has frequently described its domestic and international legal rationales for drone strikes in general terms. The white paper expands those justifications with specific determinations to be made in the case of U.S. citizens.
The struggle between the administration and Congress is relatively narrow, limited mainly to the White House’s refusal to turn over a collection of classified memos rather than any broad-scale opposition to the use of drone strikes or even the killing of Americans.
Most members of Congress agree with administration assertions that the drone campaign has been essential to crippling al-Qaeda and its ability to mount large-scale attacks against the United States.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman of the intelligence committee that will consider Brennan’s nomination, released a statement Tuesday indicating that she believes the release of the white paper — which was apparently done without the consent of the administration — should quell calls for more transparency.
The administration’s legal position “is now public and the American people can review and judge the legality of these operations,” Feinstein said. She has indicated she will support Brennan’s nomination.
Brennan, 57, has presided over a major expansion of the drone campaign, although he is also credited with imposing more rigorous internal reviews on the selection of targets. He spent 25 years at the CIA and was considered a likely candidate for the top job in Obama’s first term. He withdrew amid mounting opposition from civil liberties groups that called attention to his role as a senior CIA executive when the agency began using interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that were subsequently denounced as akin to torture.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.
© The Washington Post Company
The Times Was Right to Report — at Last — on a Secret Drone Base
By MARGARET SULLIVAN
November 06, 2013 “NY Times’ — The media and national-security worlds, internationally, are abuzz over an important story on the front page of Wednesday’s New York Times that describes a drone strike in Yemen last August. The article reveals a great deal about the secret drone program, the architect of which is John O. Brennan, who has been nominated to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
One of its revelations is the location of a drone base in Saudi Arabia. The Times and other news organizations, including The Washington Post, had withheld the location of that base at the request of the C.I.A., but The Times decided to reveal it now because, according to the managing editor Dean Baquet, it was at the heart of this particular article and because examining Mr. Brennan’s role demanded it.
“It was central to the story because the architect of the base and drone program is nominated to head the C.I.A.,” Mr. Baquet told me on Wednesday. In past stories, he said, the location of the base “was a footnote.”
The government’s rationale for asking that the location be withheld was this: Revealing it might jeopardize the existence of the base and harm counterterrorism efforts. ”The Saudis might shut it down because the citizenry would be very upset,” he said.
Mr. Baquet added, “We have to balance that concern with reporting the news.” The need to tell this particular story accurately trumped the government’s concerns.
Mr. Baquet said he had a conversation with a C.I.A. official about a month ago and, at that time, agreed to continue withholding the location, as it had done for many months. More recently, though, one of the reporters working on the story told the government that The Times would reveal the location and said officials should contact Mr. Baquet if they wanted to discuss it further.
“They didn’t call this time,” Mr. Baquet said. He said it is The Times’s practice to “give a heads up.”
But, he emphasized: “We don’t ask for permission. We tell them what we’re going to do.”
Some readers of The Times expressed dismay at the revelation. One reader, Brian Leary, wrote to me on Wednesday:
I am outraged that The Times is apparently disclosing a military secret like the location of the drone base.
I actually support the premise of the story, and it is something that needs to be told. But the location itself was superfluous to the story line, and is potentially a threat to our national security. I’m very disappointed The Times chose to be so cavalier about such an important thing, with no tangible benefit to the actual story itself. What interest was served by this disclosure?
I respect Mr. Leary’s point of view, which I know some other readers also share. But I feel quite differently. Given the government’s undue secrecy about the drone program, which it has never officially acknowledged the existence of, and that program’s great significance to America’s foreign policy, its national security, and its influence on the tumultuous Middle East, The Times ought to be reporting as much and as aggressively as possible on it.
The Times reacted quickly to NBC’s obtaining of a “white paper” that describes the legal rationale for the claim that President Obama has the power to order the killing of American citizens who are thought to be part of Al Qaeda. Scott Shane and Charlie Savage, Washington reporters for The Times, wrote a strong analytical story, rightly crediting NBC, and editors and reporters moved quickly to complete and publish the front-page story, with its Yemen dateline. That story, Mr. Baquet said, has been in the works for several weeks.
I’ll be writing more about this, including how The Times is trying in court to obtain an important, classified memo on the killing of an American, Anwar al-Awlaki, in a drone strike. His teenage son, also an American citizen, was also killed by a drone. The lack of due process and government accountability in those deaths are worthy of the attention The Times is giving it – and more – in articles from Washington, in reporters on the ground in the region of the strikes, and in court.
If it was ever appropriate to withhold the information, that time was over. The drone program needs as much sunlight as possible. This is another crucial step in the right direction.

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How Israel is Fueling the Syrian Fire

By Nicola Nasser
February 07, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – The timing of the Israeli air raid early on January 30 on a Syrian target, that has yet to be identified, coincided with a hard to refute indications that the “regime change” in Syria by force, both by foreign military intervention and by internal armed rebellion, has failed, driving the Syrian opposition in exile to opt unwillingly for “negotiations” with the ruling regime, with the blessing of the U.S., EU and Arab League, concluding, in the words of a Deutsche Welle report on this February 2, that “nearly two years since the revolt began, (Syrian President Bashar Al-) Assad is still sitting comfortably in presidential chair.”
Nonetheless, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps saying that Israel is preparing for “dramatic changes” in Syria, but senior Israeli foreign ministry officials accused him of “fear-mongering on Syria” to justify his ordering what the Russians described as the “unprovoked” raid, according to The Times of Israel on January 29. Another official told the Israeli Maariv that no Israeli “red lines” were crossed with regard to the reported chemical weapons in Syria to justify the raid. On January 16 Israel’s National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said there was “no evidence” to any Syrian steps to use such weapons. On last December 8 UN Chief Ban Ki-moon said there were “no confirmed reports” Damascus was preparing to use them. Three days later U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said: “We have not seen anything new” on chemical weapons “indicating any aggressive steps” by Syria. On January 31 NATO Chief Fogh Rasmussen said: “I have no new information about chemical weapons (in Syria).” Syria’s Russian ally has repeatedly confirmed what Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on February 2 that “we have reliable information” the Syrian government maintains control of chemical weapons and “won’t use” them. That’s what Syria itself keeps repeating, and “there is no particular reason why Israel is to be believed and Syria not,” according to a Saudi Gazette editorial on February 3.
More likely Israel is either trying to escalate militarily to embroil an unwilling United States in the Syrian conflict, in a too late attempt to pre-empt a political solution, out of a belief that the fall of the Al – Assad regime will serve Israel’s strategy, according to the former head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, (Major general, reserve) Amos Yaldin, or to establish for itself a seat at any international negotiating table that might be detrimental in shaping a future regime in Syria.
Escalating militarily at a time of political de-escalation of the military solution in Syria will not secure a seat for Israel in any forum. This is the message that the Israeli chief of General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, should have heard during his latest five – day visit in the U.S. from his host in Washington, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey; the head of Israel’s National – Security Bureau, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Ya’akov Amidror, who was in Moscow at the same time, should have heard a similar message from his Russian hosts.
The Israeli military intervention at this particular timing fuels a Syrian fire that has recently started to look for firefighters among the growing number of the advocates of dialogue, negotiations and political solutions both nationally, regionally and internationally.
The escalating humanitarian crisis and the rising death toll in Syria have made imperative either one of two options: A foreign military intervention or a political solution. Two years on since the U.S., EU, Turkish and Qatari adoption of a “regime change” in Syria by force, on the lines of the “Libyan scenario,” the first option has failed to materialize.
With the legitimate Syrian government gaining the upper hand militarily on the ground, the inability of the rebels to “liberate” even one city, town or enough area in the countryside to be declared a “buffer zone” or to host the self-proclaimed leadership of opposition in exile, which failed during the Paris – hosted “Friends of Syria” meeting on January 28 to agree on a “government – in – exile,” more likely because of this very reason, the second option of a political solution is left as the only way forward and as the only way out of the bloodshed and the snowballing humanitarian crisis.
The Israeli raid sends a message that the military option could yet be pursued. The rebels who based their overall strategy on a foreign military intervention have recently discovered that the only outside intervention they were able to get was from the international network of al-Qaeda and the international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. No surprise then that the frustrated Syrian rebels are loosing ground, momentum and morale.
An Israeli military intervention would undoubtedly revive their morale, but temporarily, because it does not potentially guarantee that it will succeed in improving their chances where failure doomed the collective efforts of all the “Friends of Syria,” whose numbers dwindled over time from more than one hundred nations about two years ago to about fifty in their last meeting in Paris.
Such intervention would only promise more of the same, prolonging the military conflict, shedding more of Syrian blood, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, multiplying the numbers of those displaced inside the country and the Syrian refugees abroad, postponing an inevitable political solution, and significantly rallying more Syrians in support of the ruling regime in defending their country against the Israeli occupier of their Syrian Golan heights, thus isolating the rebels by depriving them from whatever support their terrorist tactics have left them.
More importantly however, such an Israeli intervention risks a regional outburst if not contained by the world community or if it succeeds in inviting a reciprocal Syrian retaliation. Both Syrians and Israelis were on record in the aftermath of the Israeli raid that the bilateral “rules of engagement” have already changed.
All the “Friends of Syria” have been on record that they were doing all they could to enforce a “buffer zone” inside Syria; they tried to create it through Turkey in northern Syria, through Jordan in the south, through Lebanon in the west and on the borders with Iraq in the east, but they failed to make it materialize. They tried to enforce it by a resolution from the UN Security Council, but their efforts were aborted three times by a dual Russian – Chinese veto. They tried, unsuccessfully so far, to enforce it outside the jurisdiction of the United Nations by arming an internal rebellion, publicly on the payroll of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, logistically supported by Turkey and the U.S., British, French and German intelligence services and spearheaded mainly by the al-Qaeda – linked Al-Nusra Front, a rebellion focusing on the peripheral areas sharing borders with Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, after the failure of an early attempt to make the western Syrian port city of Latakia on the Mediterranean play the role the city of Benghazi played in the Libyan “change of regime.”
Now, Israel has stepped in the conflict, publicly for the first time, to try its hands to enforce a “buffer zone” of its own in an attempt to succeed where all the “Friends of Syria” have failed.
On February 3, British “The Sunday Times” reported that Israel is considering creating a buffer zone reaching up to ten miles inside Syria, modelled on a similar zone it created in southern Lebanon in 1985 from which it was forced to withdraw unconditionally by the Hezbullah – led and Syrian and Iranian – supported Lebanese resistance in 2000. Israeli mainstream daily Maariv (“evening” in Hebrew) the next day confirmed the Times report, adding the zone would be created in cooperation with local Arab villages on the Syrian side of the UN-monitored buffer zone, which was created on both sides of the armistice line after the 1973 Israeli – Syrian war.
Israel in fact have been paving the way materially on the ground for an Israeli – created buffer zone. Earlier, in a much less publicized development, Israel allowed the UN-monitored buffer zone between Syria and the Israeli – occupied Syrian Golan Heights to be overtaken by the “Islamist” Syrian rebels. The European Jewish Press reported on January 1, 2013 that the Israeli premier Netanyahu, during a visit to the Israeli – occupied Golan Heights, was informed the rebels “have taken up positions along the border with Israel, with the exception of the Quneitra enclave.” Earlier on last November 14 Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted by the AP to confirm that the “Syrian rebels control almost all the villages near the frontier with the Israeli – held Golan Heights.” On December 13 Israeli “The Jerusalem Post” quoted a “senior military source” as saying that “The rebel control of the area does not require changes on our part.”
UN observers monitoring the zone number about one thousand. An “Israeli officer” told a Mcclatchy reporter on last November 14 that the rebels in the zone are “fewer than 1,000 fighters.” Canada withdrew its contingent of monitors last September; Japan followed suit in January. In the previous month, France’s ambassador to the UN, Gérard Araud, warned the UN peacekeeping force on the Golan may “collapse,” according to The Times of Israel, citing the London – based Arabic daily of Al – Hayat.
The 1974 armistice agreement prohibits the Syrian government from engaging in military activity within the buffer zone; if it does it would risk a military confrontation with Israel and, according to Moshe Maoz, professor emeritus at Jerusalem’sHebrew University, “The Syrian army doesn’t have any interest in provoking Israel,” because “Syria has enough problems.”
However it would be anybody’s guess to know for how long Syria could tolerate turning the UN monitored demilitarized buffer zone, with Israeli closed eyes, into a terrorist safe haven and into a corridor of supply linking the rebels in Lebanon to their “brethren” in southern Syria.
Israel did not challenge militarily the presence of the al – Qaeda – linked rebels on its side of the supposedly demilitarized zone nor did it complain to or ask the United Nations for a reinforcement of the UN monitors there.
Ironically, Israel cites the presence of those same rebels along the borders of the Israeli – occupied Golan Heights as the pretext to justify “considering creating a buffer zone” inside Syria!
Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
This article was originally posted at Counterpunch

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How Tony Blair and Iraq Robbed a Generation of Their Faith in Politics

By Sam Parker
February 07, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – I imagine for many people alive today, the great politicising event of their childhood came in the form of a tragedy.
The first dreadful hammer of the Luftwaffe passing overhead, the panicked screams at the Dealey Plaza or the bullet holes at Bogside – that key event that propelled you to develop a political consciousness seems more likely to have been one that made you angry than inspired.
But for many of us who were still just 16 on 15 February, 2003, that landmark came in a moment of hope when more than 1,000,000 people descended on the streets of London to march in protest against the imminent invasion of Iraq.
Anti-Iraq war march, London, 2003 
It was, we were told, the largest public protest in British history. I still remember the feeling of pride as I poured over the pictures, that sense that we belonged, not to the most ‘politically apathetic generation’ ever to live after all, but to the most engaged, the most righteous.
Like hundreds of teenagers who didn’t make the real thing, students at my school hastily arranged their own small protest, marching through our small rural town chanting and playing anti-war music. We must have looked pathetic, but we didn’t care. We were adding a cry to a national roar that made the hairs on the back of our necks stand up.
It didn’t even occur to me that it might not work.
But first, let’s go back.
Perhaps growing up in a small town in Northumberland – the UK’s northernmost, most sparsely populated county – we were a touch parochial. But the events of 9/11 didn’t so much politicise my schoolmates as demonstrate to us for the first time that there was a wider world out there at all. Most of us didn’t know what the Twin Towers were until they were crumbling in a plume of smoke. None of that ‘stuff’ – the news, the bickering politicians – had any relevance to us.
And then in the space of a day, before the dust in Manhattan had even settled, the notion of politics had sprung up out of nowhere, like that moment when you realise the opposite sex isn’t just attractive but that they’re going to matter, a lot, for the rest of your life.
I began reading newspapers to find out what was going on. I bought the Times because I had heard of it, until an older boy said it was ‘right-wing’. I figured out what right-wing meant, and bought the Guardian.
The space between 9/11 and the Iraq War being something people were talking about felt tiny, and that’s because it was. Just nine days after the attack, George W Bush, addressing Congress (and the world), uttered the words ‘War on Terror’ for the first time. Fabrications about the links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda followed, and the international reputation of the most despised and ridiculed American in living memory was launched.
We couldn’t have known, at the time, how ‘Dubya’ would come to dominate how we felt about the world for the next eight years, how he’d oscillate from a figure of fun for our blossoming liberal sententiousness to quite simply the most terrifying man in the world. How he’d eventually make us despise our own prime minister. How, because of him, shamefully tossing around prejudice remarks about ‘stupid Americans’ felt OK.
The crazier Bush’s rhetoric got, the more he divided the world into good and bad like it was some kind of He-Man cartoon, the more I clung to the notion that here, we wouldn’t be drawn into using phrases like ‘axis of evil’. America was excitable, in the throes of imperialism. We were post-empire, cynical and weary.
But our prime minister saw things differently. Up until 2001, I think most of my generation still believed, in an abstract way, that Tony Blair was a decent man. He looked and sounded good on tele, he’d ended the conflicts in Ireland that had been a distant bogeyman of our childhoods and the other guy – the Tory -always seemed old, bald and well, boring.
But now suddenly, Blair was siding with Bush at every turn. When the president launched his War On Terror, Blair said he’d back it. When the president said he believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Blair said he believed it too. The press presented him Bush’s poodle, and we winced in acknowledgement.
Then came Resolution 1441 and Hans Blix. Blix swept into the darkening saga like a comforting beam from a lighthouse. The arrival of the peaceful Swede, with his glasses and nervous smile, seemed to my young mind like democracy at work. All Iraq had to do was open to doors to the weapon inspectors, show they had nothing to hide and war would be avoided. Like Piggy from Lord Of The Flies, Blix was supposed to be the rational voice of intelligence. But like Piggy he was taken out of action by an unstoppable boulder: an American government that had made its mind up to go to war long ago.
Blix didn’t find a thing, because there were no WMDs to find. By 31 December 2002, his team had reached the same conclusion as an Iraqi dossier presented to the UN during the same period: they were in the clear. It should have ended right there. Instead, two years later, Blix would tell the BBC what by then we all already knew – Bush and Blair ignored him and dramatised a threat in order to start a war.
Looking back today, the whole charade that precipitated the Iraqi War reminds me of an incident from my teenager years.
A friend of mine had developed a complex about never having been in a fight. None of us had, really, being comfortable, middle-class kids who had grown up with no need for violence. One night this friend got drunk and followed an even punier guy from school out of the pub, where he backed him into a corner and preceded to bait him.
Trying to pluck up the courage to take a swing, my friend taunted this other kid unsuccessfully, before trying a new tact. He started sexing up some perceived slight from long ago, wanting to convince himself the guy deserved what was coming to him. He worked himself into a faux outrage, then finally, after an excruciating half hour, threw his punch.
My friend, you might say, was like a new American President desperate to prove he could be tough by attacking an opponent he knew he could easily beat. And in the background, feeling uncomfortable but doing nothing to stop it, was me. Tony Blair.
Bush and Blair pushed for a second UN resolution to start a war in Iraq and failed, but American and British troops continued to build up around the Gulf. On 7 February, Downing Street admitted that its dossier on Iraq – released the previous week to push the case for war – was a muddled patchwork of academic sources pulled together by mid-level lackeys of Alastair Campbell. Still, the troops flooded in. Three days later, France and Germany make a last ditch attempt to keep the peace by suggesting the UN triples the number of arms inspectors in Iraq. The US-UK alliance ignored them.
Which brings us to the day of 15 February, 2003 – the day of my generation’s political awakening.
For two years we had watched our government join America in ignoring every plausible reason for not starting a war with innocent people in a poor country in the Middle East – the scepticism of the press, the will of the UN, the weapons inspectors, the facts. It had been a depressing lesson in the limitations of politics and politicians, these things we’d only just started paying attention to.
Then, at what felt like the last moment, the people stepped up.
Early in the morning they assembled: first at Embankment, then, through force, Westminster and Whitehall. Ken Livingstone, the mayor, led the way. Over a million people – a million, all sending a message to Tony Blair: you work for us, and we don’t want this war. And it wasn’t just London, either. Damascus, Athens, Seoul, Rome, Tokyo, Sydney – hundreds of cities all over the world were witnessing the same thing.
280 miles away from London, we were feeling for the first time the age old thrill of protest. A handful of us skipped school in the afternoon, drew CND signs on our face with one of the girl’s eyeliner and took a portable stereo playing Bob Dylan and Barry McGuire to our town square. Shoppers wandered by looking bemused. Some stopped to tell us well done. We argued with anyone who would listen about the lack of WMDs. We stood beneath a gloomy overcast sky but felt bathed in a warm glow.
Guardian/ICM polls at the time put support for the war at just 29% of the public, with 52% opposing. But Blair heard about polls all day long. Naively, I thought a million people marching past his window would be impossible to ignore.
A little over a month later, at 9.34pm on Wednesday 19 March, we watched on television as the first bomb fell on Baghdad. 28 British soldiers would die before the month was out.
If every generation lives through an event that opens their eyes to politics for the first time, then perhaps there also an event that closes them again, if not entirely then at least in part.
My father isn’t a political man. He’s passionate and he cares about lots of things, but the political system depresses him. All my life I’ve heard him dismiss it – ‘they’re all the same’, ‘it’s pointless’ – and describe himself, with a hint of sadness, as ‘apolitical’.
In the build up the Iraq War, and particularly on the day the world marched, I couldn’t have understood his stance any less. I remember feeling disappointed in him. But as it came to dawn on me that it had all come to nothing, that Blair was pushing ahead with the war anyway, I came to understand a little of how he felt.
It left me – and most of us at school who had taken an interest in the world after 9/11 – bitterly angry. The buds of our idealism were buried under an avalanche of cynicism. I couldn’t comprehend how Blair had the nerve to ignore the will of the country. I assumed that, if they’d ignore us over something as important as war, they’d ignore over anything.
Ten years later and, like my father, I care about the issues politics affect, but I don’t trust the political system, and I don’t believe in politicians.
And I’m not alone. I see and hear it everywhere. Ask anyone in their late twenties to name an MP from their lifetime they admire, and most will stare at you blankly. Plenty of us are engaged in politics, but without relish, voting in elections like we’re choosing from the menu at Wimpy. When the expenses scandal broke in 2009, there were no marches, no protests, just a shrug of the shoulders and a look that said: why would we expect anything else? Since the early promise of Blair proved so misplaced, there hasn’t been a single inspiring figure in the top tier of British politics. No wonder we idolise Obama from afar: how we long for a leader whose motives we can trust, no matter how they might fail.
The worst legacies of the Iraq War belong to the families of the soldiers and civilians from Iraq, Britain, America and everywhere else forced to make sacrifices for an illegal occupation. But another legacy, one harder to measure than body bags, is the way Tony Blair’s hubris robbed a generation of their faith in politics.
I sometimes wonder how differently we’d feel today if Blair had listened. No doubt at the time he felt he was heeding the call of history, but he heard the wrong message. Ten years later, even when the last troop finally comes home, we’ll all still be paying a price.
This article was originally posted at Huffington Post

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The U.S. Congress: From One Crisis to Another, The Politics of Debt Default

By Prof Rodrigue Tremblay
“The full consequences of a default — or even the serious prospect of default — by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate… Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and on the value of the dollar in exchange markets.”
-Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), 40th President of the United States (1981–89), (1983)
“Decisions about the debt level [should] occur in conjunction with spending and revenue decisions as opposed to the after-the-fact approach now used… [doing so] would help avoid the uncertainty and disruptions that occur during debates on the debt limit today.”
-U.S. Government Accountability Office (G.A.O.)
“I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether they should pay the bills for what they’ve racked up… We can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred.”
-President Barack Obama, Tuesday January 1, 2013
“That’s why the American people hate Congress.”
-Chris Christie, New Jersey Republican Governor, (January 2, 2013, after the Republican House majority refused to vote on a $60 billion aid package for victims of Superstorm Sandy)
February 07, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – One crisis averted, three to come! Indeed, that’s what can be said after the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on January 23, 2013, to suspend the government’s statutory borrowing limit for three months.
In fact, the cycle of artificially created crises will go on and on in Washington D.C. Now, the next crises are scheduled for March 1s, for March 27th and for May 19th. Stay tuned. On March 1st, automatic sequester cuts agreed by Congress in 2012 will take effect, causing an immediate cut of $69 billion in public discretionary spending. Then, on March 27, the U.S. government’s ability to fund itself (the “continuing resolution”) will run out. And, of course, come May 19, the melodrama of raising the debt ceiling will be back again in force.
Ever since Republicans took control of the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, a fiscal drama with the White House and the U.S. Senate has been replayed time and again. One of the political gimmick is called the “raising of the country’s debt limit.”
Why so many artificial crises in the current American political system? Extreme political polarization seems to be the answer.
Indeed, since the 2010 mid-term election, when the Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives with some 242 seats, this party has behaved as if it were in fact two parties in one. There is the traditional conservative Republican Party on one side, and the radical Republican Tea Party on the other side. With some 67 anarchist anti-tax and anti-establishment Tea Party House members voting as a block, the latter has been in a position to hold the balance of power in the House and to prevent compromised solutions to the country’s fiscal problems.
A good example was the 2011 showdown between the Democratic Obama administration and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives regarding raising the U.S. government’s debt ceiling.
In the spring of 2011, House Republicans, spurred by Tea Party members who practice no party discipline toward the Republican Party except to themselves, and reneging on a decades-long bipartisan tradition, refused to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, thus threatening to push the U.S. government toward debt default. They demanded that the Obama administration concede to freezing tax revenues and to enacting massive spending cuts. In the midst of a financial crisis and an economic slowdown, such huge public spending cuts could have pushed the U.S. economy toward an economic depression similar to the 1930’s Great Depression.
For the first time, therefore, House Tea Party members decided to use the perfunctory requirement to raise the debt limit to gain partisan political advantage. That move has introduced into the functioning of the U.S. Congress an element of radicalism and brinkmanship that could prevent the U.S. government from operating properly for years to come.
Mind you, the obligation for Congress to vote on raising the U.S. government’s debt ceiling has existed since a 1917 law to that effect was enacted. It allows the U.S. Treasury to proceed with borrowing to finance government operations as outlined in an already approved budget for a given fiscal year.
Economically speaking, indeed, there are three main ways to finance public expenditures: -through tax revenues; -through borrowing; -or, through the printing press, when a government borrows from its own central bank. The latter is in fact an inflation tax imposed on every user of the national currency.
Therefore, if the U.S. Congress has already approved a public budget of operations that does not raise taxes in a sufficient amount to cover outlays, and if an inflation tax is out of question, the only other avenue left is to borrow the required funds.
For years, the 1917 requirement to raise the debt limit was considered redundant since the budget had already been approved and it was seen as a simple bipartisan formality. Since 1940, for example, the U.S. debt ceiling has been raised 94 times, 54 times by a Republican administration and 40 times by a Democratic administration. Altogether the debt ceiling has been raised 102 times since 1917. It has been raised every year that the U.S. government has run a deficit.
If the Tea Party members of the House keep on routinely using the 1917 law to formally raise the debt limit as an obstructionist tool, Congress may be constantly gridlocked and the U.S. government will continue going from crisis to crisis. A small minority of House members could then hold the U.S. government hostage. As a consequence, it could become increasingly difficult for the U.S. Administration to implement sensible economic and fiscal policies along the principle of majority rule. The U.S. economy is bound to suffer severely from such a political paralysis.
In 2011, former president Bill Clinton expressed the view that the 1917 law is unconstitutional since it goes against Article I, sec. 8 of the U.S. Constitution that requires that Congress pay “the Debts and provide for the … general Welfare of the United States.” Besides, the Fourteenth Amendment (section 4) of the U.S. Constitution states that: “the validity of the public debt of the United States… shall not be questioned.”
Therefore, if Congress does not fulfill its duties for one reason or another, the President in whom executive power is vested may have the right to act for the “general Welfare of the United States”.
In the coming weeks, if the House of Representatives refuses bipartisan cooperation and keeps stonewalling the Administration, President Obama may have no other choice but to call the Tea Party members’ bluff by unilaterally declaring the 1917 law unconstitutional and letting the courts sort it out later.
A constitutional crisis may seem to many to be a better alternative than a repetitive and protracted economic and financial crisis and an economy constantly teetering on the brink of a permanent “fiscal cliff”.
Dr. Rodrigue Tremblay, a Canadian-born economist, is the author of the book “The Code for Global Ethics, Ten Humanist Principles”, and of “The New American Empire”)
This article was originally posted at Global Research

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The Mali Blowback: More to Come?

By Stephen Zunes

February 07, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – The French-led military offensive in its former colony of Mali has pushed back radical Islamists and allied militias from some of the country’s northern cities, freeing the local population from repressive Taliban-style totalitarian rule. The United States has backed the French military effort by transporting French troops and equipment and providing reconnaissance through its satellites and drones. However, despite these initial victories, it raises concerns as to what unforeseen consequences may lay down the road.

Indeed, it was such Western intervention—also ostensibly on humanitarian grounds—that was largely responsible for the Malian crisis in the first place.

The 2011 NATO military intervention in Libya effort went well beyond the UN Security Council mandate to protect civilian lives, as the French, British and U.S. air forces—along with ground support by the Saudi and Qatari dictatorships—essentially allied themselves with the rebel armies. The African Union—while highly-critical of Qaddafi’s repression—condemned the intervention, fearing that the resulting chaos would result in the Libya’s vast storehouse of arms might fueling local and regional conflicts elsewhere in Africa and destabilize the region.

This is exactly what happened.

Whereas the nonviolent revolution against the neighboring Tunisian dictatorship resulted in a positive contagion of unarmed pro-democracy civil insurrections, the violent intervention in Libya resulted in a negative contagion of armed rebellions.

This is particularly tragic since Mali was seen, until recently, as one of the more hopeful political stories in Africa.

In 1991, more than two decades prior to similar pro-democracy uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Malians engaged in a massive nonviolent resistance campaign that brought down the dictatorship of Moussa Traoré. A broad mobilization of trade unionists, peasants, students, teachers, and others created a mass pro-democracy movement throughout the country. Despite the absence of Facebook or the Internet, virtually no international media coverage, and the massacre of hundreds of peaceful protesters, this popular civil insurrection succeeded not only in ousting a repressive and corrupt regime, but ushered in more than two decades of democratic rule.

Though—like most states in the region—the country struggled with corruption, poverty, and a weak infrastructure, Mali was widely considered to be the most democratic country in West Africa. In order to educate and promote the rights and duties of its citizens, the government implemented a program called the “Decentralization Mission” in 1993 to encourage popular participation in local and regional elections. Independent radio stations and newspapers emerged and the country experienced lively and open political debate.

The events surrounding the nonviolent revolution of 1991 were regularly commemorated, with the anniversary of the March 26 massacre a national holiday. A series of monuments in the capital of Bamako also commemorate the pro-democracy struggle.

In the years since the 1991 revolution, even contentious politics was expressed largely nonviolently. There were several periods of student-led protests in the 1990s against high unemployment and other negative effects of structural adjustment programs imposed by international financial institutions, contributing to the fall of one government through a “no-confidence” vote in parliament. The tradition of nonviolent resistance against authoritarianism came to the fore in 2001 when a proposed constitutional referendum put forward by President Alpha Oumar Konaré was called off after a series of protests by those fearing it would have threatened the country’s independent judiciary and effectively made the president immune to prosecution. Additional protests against neoliberal economic policies erupted in 2005. Hundreds peacefully demonstrated against the 2006 visit by then-French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy in protest at his tough policies against immigrants. That same year, Mali hosted the World Social Forum, a mass gathering of thousands of activists from hundreds of civil society organizations.

History has shown that dictatorships overthrown through largely nonviolent civil insurrections are far more likely to evolve into stable democracies than dictatorships ousted through armed revolution or foreign intervention. Mali appeared to be a prime example of this phenomenon.

Indeed, soon after the March Revolution of 1991, the Malian government negotiated a peace agreement with armed rebels from the Tuareg minority in the north of the country, in which they agreed to end their rebellion in return for a degree of autonomy. In March 1996, there was a massive ceremonial burning of the rebels’ surrendered weapons in the capital of Bamako.

By 2012, the Malian government, led by President Amadou Toumani Touré, was becoming increasingly unpopular, failing to address and even exacerbating structural inequalities reinforced by neoliberal edicts from international financial institutions and increasingly corrupt and self-serving political leaders, local business elites, and the civil service. However, the aging president was scheduled to retire immediately following elections later in the year and it was hoped that a growing civil society movement and new leadership could more adequately address these problems.

These concerns, however, were quickly overshadowed by a renewed rebellion in the north. When last year’s initially nonviolent uprising in Libya against the Gaddafi regime turned to armed struggle, resulting in even greater government repression and thereby prompting NATO intervention, disparate armed groups—including Tuareg tribesmen— ended up liberating major stores of armaments. These vast caches of weapons were passed on to Tuaregs in Mali who, now having the means to effectively challenge the Malian government militarily, dramatically escalated their long-dormant rebellion under the leadership of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).

Elements of the Malian army believed that Touré’s government—in part because of its concern that responding too harshly might create a backlash among the Tuaregs and in part because of its corruption and ineptitude—was not adequately supporting their resistance to the rebels. On March 22, U.S.-trained Army Captain Amadou Sanogo and other officers staged a coup and called for U.S. intervention along the lines of Afghanistan and the “war on terror.”

Sanogo’s training in the United States is just one small part of a decade of growing U.S. military involvement with allied armies in the Sahel, increasing the militarization of this impoverished region and the influence of armed forces relative to civilian leaders. Gregory Mann, writing in Foreign Policy, notes how “a decade of American investment in special forces training, co-operation between Sahalien armies and the United States and counter-terrorism programs of all sorts run by both the State Department and the Pentagon has, at best, failed to prevent a new disaster in the desert and, at worst, sowed its seeds.”

With supporters of the ousted democratic government protesting in the capital and the army divided by the coup, Tuareg rebels took advantage of the chaos in the south and quickly consolidated their hold on the northern part of the country, declaring an independent state.

Then, with the Malian army routed and Tuareg forces stretched thin, radical Islamist groups—also flushed with new arms resulting from the Libya war—seized most of the towns and cities in the north. These extremists also overran additional U.S.-supplied Malian army posts, seizing 87 Land Cruisers, satellite phones, navigation aids, and other equipment provided by the American taxpayer.

Already, the Western intervention in Mali has prompted a retaliatory attack on a BP natural gas facility in neighboring Algeria, resulting in the deaths of 38 foreign hostages. The blowback could just be beginning.

The savage repression perpetrated by Mali’s Islamists, along with the potential threat from an Al Qaeda-affiliated regime, loss of access to the region’s resource wealth, and indications that the Islamists were moving south prompted direct French military intervention in January. Under such dire circumstances, even many people normally critical of Western neocolonialism argue that such military intervention may have been the least bad option. However, given that it was Western intervention and militarization of the region that largely created this mess in the first place, it inevitably raises the question as to whether it will actually end up making matters worse.

Stephen Zunes, a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist and senior analyst, is a professor of Politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco. He is the author, along with Jacob Mundy, of Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution (Syracuse University Press, 2010).

This article was originally posted at FPIF

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33858.htm

NY Times Reveals Location Of Secret US Base In Saudi Arabia

The Times Was Right to Report — at Last — on a Secret Drone Base

By MARGARET SULLIVAN

November 06, 2013 “NY Times’ —  The media and national-security worlds, internationally, are abuzz over an important story on the front page of Wednesday’s New York Times that describes a drone strike in Yemen last August. The article reveals a great deal about the secret drone program, the architect of which is John O. Brennan, who has been nominated to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

One of its revelations is the location of a drone base in Saudi Arabia. The Times and other news organizations, including The Washington Post, had withheld the location of that base at the request of the C.I.A., but The Times decided to reveal it now because, according to the managing editor Dean Baquet, it was at the heart of this particular article and because examining Mr. Brennan’s role demanded it.

“It was central to the story because the architect of the base and drone program is nominated to head the C.I.A.,” Mr. Baquet told me on Wednesday. In past stories, he said, the location of the base “was a footnote.”

The government’s rationale for asking that the location be withheld was this: Revealing it might jeopardize the existence of the base and harm counterterrorism efforts.  ”The Saudis might shut it down because the citizenry would be very upset,” he said.

Mr. Baquet added, “We have to balance that concern with reporting the news.”  The need to tell this particular story accurately trumped the government’s concerns.

Mr. Baquet said he had a conversation with a C.I.A. official about a month ago and, at that time, agreed to continue withholding the location, as it had done for many months.  More recently, though, one of the reporters working on the story told the government that The Times would reveal the location and said officials should contact Mr. Baquet if they wanted to discuss it further.

“They didn’t call this time,” Mr. Baquet said. He said it is The Times’s practice to “give a heads up.”

But, he emphasized: “We don’t ask for permission. We tell them what we’re going to do.”

Some readers of The Times expressed dismay at the revelation. One reader, Brian Leary, wrote to me on Wednesday:

I am outraged that The Times is apparently disclosing a military secret like the location of the drone base.

I actually support the premise of the story, and it is something that needs to be told. But the location itself was superfluous to the story line, and is potentially a threat to our national security. I’m very disappointed The Times chose to be so cavalier about such an important thing, with no tangible benefit to the actual story itself. What interest was served by this disclosure?

I respect Mr. Leary’s point of view, which I know some other readers also share. But I feel quite differently. Given the government’s undue secrecy about the drone program, which it has never officially acknowledged the existence of, and that program’s great significance to America’s foreign policy, its national security, and its influence on the tumultuous Middle East, The Times ought to be reporting as much and as aggressively as possible on it.

The Times reacted quickly to NBC’s obtaining of a “white paper” that describes the legal rationale for the claim that President Obama has the power to order the killing of American citizens who are thought to be part of Al Qaeda. Scott Shane and Charlie Savage, Washington reporters for The Times, wrote a strong analytical story, rightly crediting NBC, and editors and reporters moved quickly to complete and publish the front-page story, with its Yemen dateline. That story, Mr. Baquet said, has been in the works for several weeks.

I’ll be writing more about this, including how The Times is trying in court to obtain an important, classified memo on the killing of an American, Anwar al-Awlaki, in a drone strike. His teenage son, also an American citizen, was also killed by a drone. The lack of due process and government accountability in those deaths are worthy of the attention The Times is giving it – and more – in articles from Washington, in reporters on the ground in the region of the strikes, and in court.

If it was ever appropriate to withhold the information, that time was over. The drone program needs as much sunlight as possible. This is another crucial step in the right direction.

© 2013 The New York Times Company

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33854.htm

Decade After Iraq WMD Speech at UN, Ex-Powell Aide Lawrence Wilkerson Debates Author Norman Solomon

Democracy Now! Video

Ten years ago this week, a defining moment occurred in the Bush administration’s push to invade Iraq. On Feb. 5, 2003, then-Secretary of State General Colin Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council. His message was clear: Iraq possessed extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein was systematically trying to deceive U.N. inspectors by hiding prohibited weapons. A decade later, we host a debate between Powell’s former aide, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson — who prepared the U.N. speech, only to later renounce it — and media critic Norman Solomon, author of “War Made Easy.” “I don’t believe the hype about that presentation having been the ultimate presentation … that led us to war with Iraq,” Wilkerson says of Powell’s speech. “George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others had decided to go to war with Iraq long before Colin Powell gave that presentation. … It added to the momentum of the war. … Frankly, we were all wrong. Was the intelligence politicized in addition to being wrong at its roots? Absolutely.” In response, Solomon says, “We were not all wrong. As a matter of fact, many experts and activists and researchers, from the get-go, in 2002, were saying that the administration case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was full of holes. … So, now to say, ‘Well, it wasn’t just us at the administration; other people believed it,’ people believed it because they were propagandized by the administration, with massive assistance from the mass media.”

Posted February 07, 2013

http://www.democracynow.org/2013/2/6/decade_after_iraq_wmd_speech_at

TRANSCRIPT

AARON MATÉ: Ten years ago this week, a defining moment occurred in the Bush administration’s push to invade Iraq. February 5th, 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the U.N. Security Council and made the case for a first strike on Iraq. Powell presented satellite photographs, tapes of intercepted conversations between Iraqi military officers, and information from Iraqi defectors and people seized in Afghanistan and elsewhere since 9/11. Powell’s message was clear: Iraq possessed extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction, and Saddam Hussein was systematically trying to deceive U.N. inspectors by hiding his. This was part of Powell’s presentation.

SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq’s biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents. Let me take you inside that intelligence file and share with you what we know from eyewitness accounts. We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails. The trucks and train cars are easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors. In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War.

AARON MATÉ: That was then-Secretary of State Colin Powell speaking at the U.N. February 5th, 2003. Powell also estimated Iraq had a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. All of his claims about weapons of mass destruction turned out to be false.

AMY GOODMAN: But at the time, most of the media took Powell at his word. The day after Powell’s speech, The New York Times ran aneditorial called “The Case Against Iraq.” It said Powell’s performance was, quote, “all the more convincing because he dispensed with apocalyptic invocations of a struggle of good and evil and focused on shaping a sober, factual case against Mr. Hussein’s regime,” unquote.The Washington Post titled its editorial “Irrefutable” and declared, quote, “it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction,” unquote. Well, the invasion began six weeks after Powell made his speech at the U.N.

For more, we’re joined by two people. From Oklahoma City, we’re joined by Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. He served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. He helped prepare Powell’s infamous U.N. speech, which he has since renounced. And from San Francisco, California, we’re joined by Norman Solomon, founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, also wrote the bookWar Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, let’s begin with you. You really were responsible for putting this speech together for Secretary of State Powell. It’s 10 years later. What are your thoughts today? Where did you get your information?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: First of all, Amy, I don’t believe that the hype about that presentation having been the ultimate presentation, as it were, that led us to war with Iraq. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others had decided to go to war with Iraq long before Colin Powell gave that presentation. That said, that presentation was a moment in time that convinced a lot of people, in America first, in the international community, maybe even on the U.N. Security Council in one or two cases, that they had been previously wrong to doubt that he had weapons of mass destruction. And in that sense, it added to the momentum of the war. President Bush himself has written in his book, had he known that there were no WMD, he might have made a different decision. I don’t think Richard Cheney would have made a different decision. But it wasn’t the seminal moment that sent us into war; it was just one of those moments. And as one of those moments, as I’ve said before and as you quoted me, I feel like it was the lowest point in my professional and personal life that I had a hand in managing it.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you—where did the information come from? Explain how you did put this together.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: The information came from, in our intelligence system at the time, the 16 entities that compose our intelligence services, and spoken for by the then-master of that intelligence community, George Tenet, the director of Central Intelligence, and vouchsafed multiple times by his deputy, the DDCI, John McLaughlin. But it came from a much wider array, Amy. It came from Israel. It came from France. It came from Jordan. It came from Germany. Indeed, it came from almost every intelligence service that, at one time or another, had fed into the U.S. process with regard to Iraq. And frankly, we were all wrong. Was the intelligence politicized in addition to being wrong at its roots? Absolutely. And the leader of that politicization was the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney.

AARON MATÉ: Now, Colonel, you’ve talked about how some of the intelligence actually came from torture. Can you tell us about that?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: The seminal moment, as we were out at Langley and Colin Powell was getting ready to throw everything out of his presentation that had anything to do with terrorism—that is, substantial contacts between Baghdad and al-Qaeda, in particular—as he was getting—he was really angry. He took me in a room by myself and literally attacked me over it. And I said, “Boss, let’s throw it out. I have as many doubts about it as you do. Let’s throw it out.” And so, we made a decision right there to throw it out.

Within 30 minutes of the secretary having made that decision and instructed me to do so, George Tenet showed up with a bombshell. And the bombshell was that a high-level al-Qaeda operative, under interrogation, had revealed substantial contacts between al-Qaeda and Baghdad. In fact, they included al-Qaeda being trained by the Mukhabarat, the secret police of Iraq, in how to use chemical and biological weapons. This was—this was a bombshell.

Only later—much later—did we learn that this information came from Shaykh al-Libi, who was waterboarded, probably in Cairo, with no U.S. personnel present. We also learned that, within days of his having given this information under torture, he recanted. We learned also that the Defense Intelligence Agency, having seen that recantation and having seen other data about how the information was obtained in the first place, had issued a burn notice on it. That is to say, this is worthless; don’t pay any attention to it. Later, George Tenet would say that due to a computer glitch, that burn notice, that DIA statement not to trust al-Libi, never was revealed to the secretary.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip from Norman Solomon’s film, War Made Easy, about Colin Powell’s address and the media’s response. The film was narrated by Sean Penn. The clip begins with former President George W. Bush.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqis’ illegal—Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempts to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.

SEAN PENN: The failure of American news media to check government distortion reached new heights when, on the eve of war, the highly respected Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the United Nations to make the case that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: Saddam Hussein’s intentions have never changed. He is not developing the missiles for self-defense. These are missiles that Iraq wants in order to project power, to threaten, and to deliver chemical, biological and, if we let him, nuclear warheads.

AARON BROWN: Today, Secretary of State Powell brought the United Nations Security Council the administration’s best evidence so far.

NORMAN SOLOMON: After Colin Powell’s speech to the U.N., immediately the U.S. press applauded with great enthusiasm.

AARON BROWN: Did Colin Powell close the deal today, in your mind, for anyone who has yet objectively to make up their mind?

HENRY KISSINGER: I think for anybody who analyzes the situation, he has closed the deal.

SEAN HANNITY: This irrefutable, undeniable, incontrovertible evidence today. Colin Powell brilliantly delivered that smoking gun today. Colin Powell was outstanding today. I mean, it was lockstep. It was so compelling, I don’t see how anybody at this point cannot support this effort.

ALAN COLMES: He made a wonderful presentation. I thought he made a great case for the purpose of disarmament.

MORT KONDRACKE: It was devastating, I mean, and overwhelming. Overwhelming abundance of the evidence. Point after point after point with—he just flooded the terrain with—with data.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: It’s the end of the argument phase. America has made its case.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from the film War Made Easy. Some of the voices from that clip, you might remember, you might recognize: Aaron Brown, Henry Kissinger, Sean Hannity, Alan Colmes, Mort Kondracke, Charles Krauthammer. Norman Solomon, this is from your film, the film based on your book, War Made Easy. So you had Secretary of State Colin Powell pushing for war, and as Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson said, he actually believes, whether or not this speech were made, the U.S. would have attacked Iraq. And you have the media, which is supposed to be the fourth estate, not part of the state. Talk about its role.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, we just heard Colonel Wilkerson say that “we were all wrong.” I’m quoting him here from a few minutes ago. In fact, we were not all wrong. As a matter of fact, many experts and activists and researchers, from the get-go, in 2002, were saying that the administration case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was full of holes, and many guests on Democracy Now! demolished those claims from the Bush administration in real time. The organization where I work, the Institute for Public Accuracy, put out many news releases documenting the falsities coming from Colin Powell’s office and the entire administration, including the week that he gave his now-infamous speech at the United Nations. We had U.N. weapons inspectors like Scott Ritter and Hans von Sponeck demolishing many of those claims being made, again, in real time.

So, what we’ve heard again today—and I think it’s very disappointing—from the former chief of staff here of Colin Powell is the reiteration of these supposedly exculpatory, actually, excuses for just following orders. And I could condense what Colonel Wilkerson just said about Colin Powell’s role in the lead up to the war in Iraq: “We were just following orders, and Dick Cheney made us to it.” No, Dick Cheney didn’t make you do it. There’s something called resignation. There’s something called speaking up and the First Amendment. There are a lot of dead Americans and many more Iraqis because of the silence and the following of orders when we look at what actually took place.

Now, one of the most important facts is that, 10 years later, an ongoing legacy of Colin Powell’s behavior—and, unfortunately, of our guest, as well, and the entire upper echelons of the Bush administration—is a pattern of impunity—impunity to lie, impunity to deceive and distort, impunity that is personal, that is professional and is governmental. And that kind of impunity, which has caused so much death and misery in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, is being fast-forwarded, is prefigurative for where we are now. And so, even today, although what’s done is done, we might say, the failure of people like Colin Powell to step up and say, “Look, not only was I wrong, but in planning and implementing aggressive war, I violated the Nuremberg Principles” — if we could get those kind of forthright statements from these former top officials, we could look at the agenda building for war on Iran in a more understanding light.

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, your response?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I don’t want to get into an on-screen argument with someone who makes comments as if he’d never been in government a day in his life or never been in—associated with power at this level. But I will say, first of all, that when I said “we,” quote-unquote, I meant those in government, not people like him or Scott Ritter or anybody else who were protesting that Iraq didn’t haveWMD at the time.

And when you look at the entire situation and you understand that the Congress of the United States had blessed the October 2002 NIE from which Powell’s presentation emanated; when you look at the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, the secretary of defense, the Congress; when you look at the American people, who in polls showed 70 percent-plus agreed that Saddam Hussein had WMD, it’s not enough to say that Dick Cheney and Colin Powell and others failed in their responsibility to the American people or to their own government. There were a lot of people—

NORMAN SOLOMON: Yeah, you know, let’s—

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: —that believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. I’m not trying—

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, you know, let’s—

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: —to rationalize or excuse. I’m just saying that there were a lot of people who had the same view that Colin Powell basically presented at the United Nations. And those people were in other countries, too—in Israel, in Jordan, in Germany, in France—because they shared their intelligence with us, and they shared their views as to whether or not the DCI, George Tenet, was basically right in asserting that Saddam Hussein still had weapons of mass destruction.

AARON MATÉ: Well, Colonel, when Norman Solomon says—

NORMAN SOLOMON: You know, let’s get real here. You know, let’s get real about this—

AARON MATÉ: OK. Let’s go to Norman Solomon. Go ahead.

NORMAN SOLOMON: —because the public and the media and so many others, who did not, in terms of journalism, serve their basic function, were being fed a continuous barrage of messages from Cheney’s office, from the White House, from the State Department under former General Powell, telling them, insisting, as occurred at the United Nations, that there were weapons of mass destruction. This belief among the public didn’t come from the sky; it came from the administration. We had the Congress passing this green light for war almost four months before the Powell speech at the U.N., because they had been fed and pushed and pulled, and often expediently, they went with this story that had been peddled through the mass media. We had so many networks and newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, front-paging stuff that was fed to them, duplicitous, mendacious—mendacious stories that were fed by the administration. So, now to say, “Well, it wasn’t just us at the administration; other people believed it,” people believed it because they were propagandized by the administration, with massive assistance from the mass media.

And today we’ve got to look at the reality that we are in a repetition compulsion disorder cycle. After Powell spoke at the U.N., Susan Rice, the current U.N. ambassador from the United States, immediately praised it as a statement from Powell that proved weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We had bogus hearings from now-Vice President Joe Biden, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, excluding testimony from those who had contrary information that would challenge the push to war. We’ve had John Kerry, now Secretary of State, who voted for and propagandized on national television for the invasion of Iraq.

So let’s look at where we are. Tomorrow, a hearing for John Brennan—

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: You’re making my point.

NORMAN SOLOMON: —who is being pushed as a CIA director, someone engaging in aggressive war, the use of drones and so forth. And let me say that my colleagues at RootsAction.org are asking you to sign up at RootsAction.org to challenge that nomination.

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Now, you’re making my point. I find it very difficult to, in the whole, say that all of those entities that you just described to include the American people were led down the primrose path by the propaganda flowing out of the White House and the Congress and elsewhere. That presents a picture of a pretty purblind, apathetic, ignorant public, representatives in the government and elsewhere. I can’t support that kind of broad-brush painting of the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: There was a million people in the streets protesting.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Where did they get the idea there were weapons of mass destruction? Did they get it from their everyday lives? Did they get it from their PTA? No—

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: They probably got it from the same place a lot of people in the government got it—

NORMAN SOLOMON: —they got it from the administration, that was peddling that line for years as agenda building for war.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: —which was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, had used them against his own people. No one thought he would get rid of them, since his number-one enemy, Iran, was kept at bay, certainly in part, because he possessed them. I think there was a pretty good feeling across the world, not just in the United States, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And by the way, there is no question, I don’t think, in anyone’s mind, that once the international sanctions were off Saddam Hussein and once the international focus was off of him, he would go right back to building weapons of mass destruction again, including a pursuit of a nuclear weapon. So, let’s not make this too much of a—of, essentially, a calumny on the American people, their representatives in the Congress and all of those in the government.

NORMAN SOLOMON: It’s not a calumny on the American people at all. It’s an accurate accusation that the administration of George W. Bush, which Colonel Powell—former General Powell and you served—

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: You thought for yourself. You thought for yourself. Why can’t other Americans think for themselves?

NORMAN SOLOMON: —lied and deceived and spun for war continuously. And that’s reality. And the public responded to that.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Why weren’t you influential in bringing the American people to believe what you believe?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, look—

AARON MATÉ: I wanted to cut in here—

NORMAN SOLOMON: The bully pulpit of the administration—

AARON MATÉ: I wanted to cut in here, Norman Solomon, and actually read from the Downing Street Memo.

NORMAN SOLOMON: —was tremendously effective. We know that was the case.

AARON MATÉ: Norman Solomon, I just want to cut in for a second—

NORMAN SOLOMON: And when you talk about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as you know, Hussein Kamel, the son-in-law of—

AARON MATÉ: OK, so, let’s step back a bit and look at what we knew at the time. There was a leaked document from the British government, and I want to get Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson’s response to this. This was the internal records of the British government, from the Downing Street Memo. It says, “There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. [President] Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” So, basically, an internal—a government official in Britain reporting that the Bush administration, from as early as 2002, was set on war. Lawrence Wilkerson?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I think that’s a fair approximation. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time, nor did Secretary Powell know that at the time, with respect to the specific comments from the British. But having studied what the British did, what Prime Minister Blair did, what MI5 and MI6 did and others associated with this rush to war, I’m—I was first impressed by the way the British were going after accountability for their part in it; I’m now depressed by the fact that the Chilcot report, for example, seems to have been indefinitely postponed. I was eagerly awaiting reading it, because I think the British have an even bigger problem than we do in terms of the way their parliamentary government, with a party in a majority like they hadn’t seen in years, led that country to war, and led that country to war basically on the prime minister’s assertions, fed by the intelligence community in the U.K., that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, even with such dramatic comments as, you know, they could be used within 45 minutes. The complicity of the U.K. in this business with the United States, despite the special relationship, bothers me, as a citizen, as an admirer of the British.

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel—

NORMAN SOLOMON: You know, we heard the administration use phrases like—

AMY GOODMAN: Norman Solomon.

NORMAN SOLOMON: “We can’t wait for a smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud.” And Secretary of State Powell, as well as Colonel Wilkerson and others at the top of the administration, knew or should have known that that was extreme, duplicitous propaganda trying to stampede the country into war.

Now, these are real intelligent people running the State Department and the White House, and they are very savvy. And if we at the Institute for Public Accuracy and many other independent researchers could point out in real time that these WMD claims from the U.S. government were full of holes and had no credibility, why couldn’t these agencies, with multibillion-dollar budgets and a lot of brain trust, come clean? And the fact is, they didn’t want to come clean. They were part of the war propaganda apparatus.

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Wilkerson?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I don’t disagree with what you just said. I don’t disagree that there should have been a hell of a lot better job done by what is now a $65-plus billion intelligence community. And incidentally, I don’t think it’s doing a much better job today than it did then. Dollars do not buy you intelligence. But at the same time, let me just say, I didn’t see a single one of your reports. So, nobody called me from your group.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, you didn’t bother.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Nobody tried to get in—

NORMAN SOLOMON: You know, I was on national TV, when I could get on, talking about those reports.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Nobody tried to get into my office and talk to me from your group.

NORMAN SOLOMON: You knew about Hans von Sponeck. You knew about Scott Ritter.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Other groups did, but your group never got into my office, never called me on the phone—

NORMAN SOLOMON: And yet, you didn’t probe it.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: —never talked to me. Other groups did. Why didn’t you?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Hey, we were putting out news releases every day. If you would have taken my call, it would have knocked me over with a feather. Of course, you were in the upper strata—

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: You didn’t call.

NORMAN SOLOMON: —on your—your war preparation.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: You didn’t call.

NORMAN SOLOMON: That was the reality.

AARON MATÉ: Colonel Wilkerson—

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: You did not call.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Are you saying Colin Powell would have met with us to talk about this information? It wasn’t secret at all, as well you know.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: We met with a number of people.

NORMAN SOLOMON: You knew how to reach Scott Ritter.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: We met with inspectors from the previous UNSCOM inspection team—

NORMAN SOLOMON: You knew how to reach Hans von Sponeck.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: —that had been in Iraq for a number of years doing their business—

NORMAN SOLOMON: You knew how to reach Denis Halliday [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Lawrence—Norman, let Colonel Lawrence—

NORMAN SOLOMON: —Baghdad [inaudible] before the war was—

AMY GOODMAN: Norman, let Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson respond. And, Colonel Wilkerson, I think you made the point earlier that—when you said that Norman Solomon clearly wasn’t in government, suggesting that “you don’t know what it’s like to be in the bubble that we’re in when we are there,” is what I heard you saying. So, when you say, you know, “How come you didn’t come to us?” what is it like to be in that bubble, especially as you reflect back and see the direction you went in and regret it?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Let me—let me describe that bubble to you, for what I perceive to be the bubble around President Obama right now and the man he has nominated to be CIA director, John Brennan. What’s happening with drone strikes around the world right now is, in my opinion, as bad a development as many of the things we now condemn so readily, with 20/20 hindsight, in the George W. Bush administration. We are creating more enemies than we’re killing. We are doing things that violate international law. We are even killing American citizens without due process and have an attorney general who has said that due process does not necessarily include the legal process. Those are really scary words.

These things are happening because of that bubble that you just described. You can’t get through that bubble. You can’t get through the Brennans. You can’t get through the Clappers. You can’t get through the Hillary Clintons. You can’t get through the Bob Gates and the Leon Panettas and penetrate that bubble and say, “Do you understand what you’re doing, both to American civil liberties and to the rest of the world’s appreciation of America, with these increased drone strikes that seem to have an endless vista for future?” This is incredible. And yet, I know how these things happen. I know how these bubbles create themselves around the president and cease and stop any kind of information getting through that would alleviate or change the situation, make the discussion more fundamental about what we’re doing in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, you’re against the confirmation of John Brennan as director of Central Intelligence.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I think we ought to have a really, really hard discussion about what he represents and what he, because he represents it, will probably take to the directorship of the CIA.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. We want to—

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, I’d like to invite Colonel Wilkerson to go to RootsAction.org, sign up for our action alerts today to challenge the nomination of John Brennan to run the CIA, and just to mention that the impunity of the past is prefigurative for impunity of the present and the future. And I hope you’ll join with so many millions of other Americans to actively and vocally oppose not only this nomination of Brennan, but also the entire so-called war on terror, which is impunity for war that is aggressive around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Wilkerson, could you see yourself doing that?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I’m already doing it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. Norman Solomon, founding director of Institute for Policy—Public Accuracy, co-founder of RootsAction.org; among his books, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. This is Democracy Now!We’ll be back in a minute.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33861.htm

How I Reached my Breaking Point Ten Years Ago Today

By Simon Black

February 07, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – Exactly ten years ago to the day, I was in the Kuwaiti desert waiting for George W. Bush to ‘make his decision’.

You may remember the circumstances. Ever since labeling Iraq, Iran, and North Korea the ‘Axis of Evil’ in January 2002, the President had been gradually advocating war with Iraq based on the threat of nuclear weapons.

We knew it was going to happen. At the time, I was a rising intelligence officer, my head still filled with ideals of national duty from my time at West Point.

One of the generals that I served under gathered together his officers in early 2002 and said, “We’re going to war. It’s not a question of IF, but WHEN.”

By late summer of that year, my unit was ordered to Kuwait to pre-position assets and begin gathering boots on the ground intelligence. So every time Mr. Bush would say “I haven’t made a decision yet,” I winced from the heavy stench of his BS.

But still, I held out hope.

It all came crashing down ten years ago today. On February 5, 2003 Colin Powell, four-star general turned US Secretary of State, made a case to the United Nations that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Now, I won’t bother delving into the inaccuracies of the intelligence he presented. In Powell’s own words, making that presentation to the UN was “the lowest point in [his] life” and a “lasting blot on his record.”

For me, it was pivotal. At that instant, I knew without doubt that my government had reprehensibly lied through its teeth. And if they were lying about this… what else were they lying about?

Everything, it turned out.

The event set me down a path on which I never looked back. The fraud of the Iraq War soon led to the frauds of previous wars, our monetary system, taxes, the global banking system, the national balance sheet, the police state, etc.

It all unraveled so quickly, and I soon realized that I was not living in a free country… that all the loud, bombastic nonsense and pledges of allegiance were illusions masking modern day serfdom.

The subsequent ten years have only reinforced this trend. The political and banking elite have given us more war, inflation, and epic financial crises. They’ve turned Western civilization into a giant police state. And they’ve managed to brainwash the great masses so effectively that the people are crying out for more.

And yet, there are solutions.

After an emotional, gut-wrenching awakening, I traveled to more than 100 countries looking for freedom and opportunity. I learned that awareness, prudent planning, and global thinking can rebuild much of our stolen liberty.

Quite simply, you don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. History shows that when governments enter a period of terminal decline, they try to control EVERYTHING– wages, prices, borders, money supply, foreign exchange, private property, etc.

Of course, these tactics never work and only hasten the decline, as everyone from Emperor Diocletian of ancient Rome to Argentina’s modern day President Cristina Fernandez [will] have learned.

As destructive as these politicians are, though, they’re easy to defeat. Individuals who take action early have plenty of options to buy precious metals, move a portion of their savings abroad to a stable banking jurisdiction, and scout out locations overseas in case they ever need to get out of dodge.

These steps make sense no matter what. It’s hard to imagine that you’ll be worse off for shipping a few physical ounces of gold abroad, having some savings stashed away in a healthy foreign bank, or taking control of your retirement account.

However if it’s a bumpy road ahead– gold criminalization, capital controls, pension fund confiscation, etc.– you’ll be well ahead of the crowd.

I had to reach my breaking point before taking these steps. Fortunately I was early. Most people either ignore the writing on the wall… or they won’t do anything until it’s too late and there are no more options. I’m willing to bet that you’re different.

This article was originally posted at Sovereign Man

© Copyright 2012 Sovereign Man, All rights reserved

 http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33857.htm

West Chicago teachers strike

By Shane Feratu 
6 February 2013
Classes were canceled Monday for West Chicago Schools, where teachers have gone on strike for the first time in over 60 years. Talks broke down Sunday between the West Chicago School District 33 and the Elementary Teachers Association of West Chicago (ETAWC), when the district stated it would only discuss negotiating teacher healthcare premiums if teachers accepted concessions in salary, work conditions, and retirement benefits.
The 284 teachers have been without a contract since August 2012. Intent to strike was filed on December 21 of last year.
ETAWC union negotiator Mary Catherine Kosmach has clarified the union’s intent to meet the district’s demands and settle the dispute as quickly as possible. Negotiations resumed this afternoon.
“No one wanted a strike,” Kosmach said. “We are available at any time to meet with the board and continue the process that will eventually lead to an agreement.”
ETAWC has already conceded a one-year wage freeze. The West Chicago district demands that teachers in addition forfeit their ability to move up the step and ladder system, where teachers are given raises depending on seniority and additional teaching credentials. On top of that, the board wants teachers to pay higher insurance premiums and to sacrifice their retirement benefits. No word has been given on a quid pro quo drop in classroom sizes or other improvements to working conditions.
The West Chicago teachers are affiliated to the National Education Association, the very first trade union to endorse the re-election of President Obama, whose administration has overseen an unprecedented attack on the public education system in the US, under the guise of “reform.”
More than 4,000 students in eight schools are affected by the strike in six elementary schools, a middle school, and a preschool. The West Chicago district faces a $1.4 million deficit for this fiscal year and predicts the deficit to increase to about $3.5 million next year.
West Chicago has the lowest per capita income in DuPage County, one of the five suburban counties surrounding the city of Chicago, where the rates of foreclosure, household poverty and food insecurity are some of the highest in Illinois.
To compensate for the budget deficit, the West Chicago school district has spent money meant for classroom education to cover other costs which have increased. ETAWC states, “Our district’s transportation expenses are considerably higher than other districts, and the district has chosen to transfer money from the Education Fund to subsidize transportation costs.”
Union leaders have boasted they are more efficient at putting together an austerity contract than the school board is. Kosmach stated, “The teachers association has proposed a package that would save the district more money than what the district has on the table.”
As Kosmach made clear, ETAWC never intended to mount any fight against the cuts. Throughout the previous 17 months of negotiations, ETAWC has agreed to repeated concessions, including cuts to salaries, retirement benefits, and health care premiums. The difficulty ETAWC faces now is in pushing through even more cuts without losing control of angry and exhausted teachers.
In response to the concessions offered by the ETAWC, school board member David Barclay said, “What the teachers have proposed is still out of line with other districts.” The union and the school board are playing off of each other for the cheapest possible contract teachers will have to vote on, while trying to appear as though they are two opposed forces.
Not only is the West Chicago district and ETAWC using each other in this way, they are also using the teachers from other districts against the West Chicago teachers. Workers in every district are told they must accept deep cuts, just as the workers in other areas have, thus creating a perpetual race to the bottom facilitated by the unions.
The strike follows the path of defeat laid by the leaderships of the Chicago teachers, the Evergreen Park teachers, and other suburban districts striking in opposition to austerity contracts, school closures and deteriorating conditions. Each strike has ended with the teachers unions successfully pushing through austerity contracts by insisting they want nothing more than an agreement, while repeating the lie that there is no money for public education.
http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/06/wchi-f06.html

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S&P charged with fraud in mortgage ratings

By Barry Grey 
6 February 2013
The US Department of Justice on Monday filed a civil suit in Los Angeles charging Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, the world’s biggest credit rating agency, with defrauding investors and the public by inflating the credit ratings it gave to subprime mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis.
The suit was announced Tuesday at a Washington press conference presided over by Attorney General Eric Holder. He indicated that the government would seek damages of at least $5 billion from S&P, a subsidiary of McGraw-Hill. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have joined the federal suit.
Coming nearly four-and-a-half years after the Wall Street crash, the suit is the first federal action against a credit rating firm. S&P and its main competitor, Moody’s Investors Service, played a critical role in the vast edifice of financial speculation and fraud that came crashing down following the bursting of the housing bubble in 2007.
S&P, Moody’s and Fitch Ratings are all private, for-profit companies. As previous US government investigations have documented, S&P and Moody’s made huge profits between 2004 and 2008 by landing contracts from Wall Street banks to rate residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), which were assembled by the banks from home loans and sold to other financial institutions and investors around the world.
Wall Street drove mortgage lenders to sell high-risk, high-interest subprime home loans to people who could not afford them, bought up the loans from the mortgage companies, bundled them into RMBS and CDOs, and sold off these toxic investments, making massive profits in the process. The entire US and global financial system was infected as a result by what was, in essence, a vast Ponzi scheme.
While US bank regulators looked the other way, the credit rating firms facilitated the fraud by giving triple-A ratings to RMBS and CDOs backed by mortgages they knew were headed for default.
The credit rating firms had a financial interest in inflating the ratings on RMBS and CDOs, since they were paid by the banks whose securities they were rating. Under the inherently corrupt, deregulated system for rating securities—a system that serves the interests, in the first instance, of Wall Street—banks shop around for the credit rating firm most likely to give their products the highest rating. Consequently, the credit rating firms compete for a share in the lucrative financial derivatives market, which includes mortgage-backed securities, by proving to their bank paymasters that they will deliver the top ratings the banks need to maximize their profits.
At the Justice Department press conference, Holder and other officials painted a picture of pervasive and deliberate fraud, costing investors and taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. Between 2004 and 2007, Holder said, “S&P executives made false representations to investors and financial institutions, and took other steps to manipulate ratings criteria and credit models to increase revenue and market share.”
“Put simply,” he declared, “this alleged conduct is egregious—and it goes to the very heart of the recent financial crisis.”
Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West described how the major banks, beginning in 2007, worked furiously to package their failing subprime home loans into CDOs and offload the CDOs to investors, in order to get the bad loans off of their books. “And we have evidence,” he said, “that S&P not only knew this is what the banks were doing; S&P helped them to do it.
“As our complaint explains, through the spring and summer of 2007, S&P moved at a record pace, rating hundreds of billions of dollars worth of CDOs packed with subprime mortgage bonds… S&P gave triple-A ratings to nearly all of the CDOs it rated during this time—and they did this despite their own internal reports which showed that the ratings on the mortgage bonds on which the financial quality of these CDOs depended would not hold.”
Despite this narrative of outright criminality, amply documented in the 119-page complaint filed by the Justice Department in US District Court, the government does not name a single individual in its legal brief, nor has it pressed criminal charges. The Obama administration is thus maintaining its record of refusing to criminally prosecute a single leading figure on Wall Street for illegal actions that brought the US and world economy to the brink of collapse and triggered the deepest slump and highest unemployment since the Great Depression.
The government spent four months in talks with S&P in an attempt to reach a settlement and avoid going to court, as it has done in dozens of previous financial fraud cases. Talks reportedly broke down in the last two weeks when S&P rejected any deal requiring it to admit wrongdoing and objected to a cash payment above $100 million.
The Justice Department’s legal complaint cites internal emails, messages and reports demonstrating that the company was well aware it was violating its own standards and giving securities inflated ratings. The legal brief focuses on 40 CDOs S&P rated between March and October of 2007.
The document cites one S&P analyst who wrote in 2006 that the company had loosened its criteria for CDOs to create “a loophole big enough to drive a Mack truck through.” In December of 2006, an S&P employee wrote in an internal email: “Rating agencies continue to create an even bigger monster—the CDO market. Let’s hope we are all wealthy and retired by the time this house of cards falters.”
In April 2007, one S&P analyst told another, “We rate every deal. It could be structured by cows and we would rate it.”
In a July 2007 exchange between an S&P analyst and an investment banking colleague, the banker wrote: “I mean, come on, we pay you to rate our deals, and the better the rating the more money we make?!?! What’s up with that? How are you possibly supposed to be impartial????”
The complicity of the credit rating agencies was previously documented in extensive government reports on the financial crisis. “The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report,” issued in January of 2011 by a commission established by Congress in 2009, wrote: “The three credit rating agencies were key enablers of the financial meltdown. The mortgage-related securities at the heart of the crisis could not have been marketed and sold without their seal of approval.”
The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations devoted 75 pages of its 639-page report on the Wall Street crash, released in April of 2011, to the role of S&P and Moody’s in facilitating the subprime mortgage swindle. It wrote: “It was not in the short-term economic interest of either Moody’s or S&P, however, to provide accurate credit ratings for high-risk RMBS and CDO securities, because doing so would have hurt their own revenues.”
The Senate report found that more than 90 percent of triple-A ratings given to mortgage-backed securities in 2006 and 2007 were eventually downgraded to junk status.
Whatever the outcome of the suit filed on Monday, the Obama administration has systematically worked, and will continue to work, to shield the banks and their accomplices from any accountability for their crimes, and create conditions for Wall Street to make more money than ever.
The same credit rating system—unregulated and dominated by the banks—remains in place today. The same credit rating companies continue to make millions by giving top ratings to high-risk bonds and derivatives and helping conceal violations of securities laws by the banks, creating the conditions for another, even more catastrophic financial crisis.

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Obama’s contraception climb-down and the separation of church and state

6 February 2013
Last week, the Obama administration announced final guidelines relating to coverage for contraceptives in the health insurance packages of religiously-affiliated organizations, giving broad leeway for such organizations to deny such coverage to workers.
At issue is the requirement in Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul that all employer-provided health insurance plans provide access to contraception and a number of preventative health care services at no additional cost. The religious right objected, insisting that all employers who harbored religious objections to contraception—including hospitals and universities that employ hundreds or thousands of people—should be exempt.
The administration’s final proposal essentially gives religious groups what they wanted by means of an extremely broad definition of what constitutes a religious organization. Any non-profit entity that declares itself opposed to providing contraception coverage will be able to qualify for exemption.
In an attempt to cover up its capitulation, the administration is setting up a convoluted procedure by which workers at such institutions will be able to get stand-alone contraception coverage free of charge from private insurers. The religious organizations, however, will not even be required to inform their workers of the existence of these plans.
The administration’s latest capitulation further jeopardizes access by working class families to vital health care services. But it has even more profound implications for the core constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.
Contraception has long been entirely legal in the United States. Religious doctrine, therefore, constitutes the only basis for the administration’s decision. In other words, the Obama administration’s capitulation facilitates the direct establishment of religious doctrine via state policy—precisely what is prohibited by the US Constitution.
Obama’s retreat was in response to a concerted campaign by well-funded religious groups to denounce the provision of birth control to women as a “war on religion” and a violation of “religious liberty.” In these arguments, democratic rights are turned upside down: the right of workers to health care is superseded by the “right” of employers to impose religious doctrine on their employees, and of religious organizations to dictate government policy.
The principle of separation of church and state held a vital place in the political foundations of the United States, which is reflected in its position in the first line of the First Amendment. The first ten words of the Bill of Rights are: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
The principle is grounded in the secularist principles of the Enlightenment and in the experiences of the bourgeoisie in its revolutionary period. The American revolutionaries understood that religion had long been on hand to sprinkle holy water on the suppression of popular movements, the prosecution of war, the defense of the privileges of the aristocracy, and the opposition to science and progress. As such, divorcing religion from the state was seen as necessary to opening up the path to democracy, reason and progress.
Thomas Jefferson, replying to a petition from a religious group, exalted the “wall of separation between Church & State” that the First Amendment had built. James Madison famously opposed allowing “three pence” of public funds to be spent on religion.
Even well into the 20th Century, such conceptions could still find articulation within the political establishment. Then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy said in a famous speech in 1960, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.” It is a telling fact that no American politician today—Democrat or Republican—could make such a statement without being politically ostracized. When he first announced his intention to capitulate to the demands of religious organizations early last year, Obama declared that he was acting “as a citizen and a Christian.”
Today, Jefferson’s “wall of separation” lies in ruins along with the rest of bourgeois democracy. Religious doctrine in the form of “intelligent design” has been infiltrated into public school science classrooms, religious schools are funded with government vouchers, religious organizations are granted special tax breaks and privileges, “faith-based” charities enjoy substantial government subsidies, and courts refuse to halt the erection of crosses on public land.
The attack on the separation of church and state goes hand-in-hand with the erosion of democratic institutions all down the line, a process inextricably linked to the extreme growth of social inequality. In clear violation of the fundamental constitutional guarantee of due process, the Obama administration now asserts the power to imprison, torture, and assassinate US citizens without any kind of judicial review.
Obama’s retreat exposes once again those who sought to conceal the rightward trajectory of American liberalism by touting Obama as some sort of progressive crusader for “women’s issues.” This is the hopeless dead end into which the embrace of categories based on identity, gender, and lifestyle, at the expense of class, has led.
The defense of reason and science in opposition to religious obscurantism remains a foundational principle of the socialist perspective for human liberation. With capitalism in crisis and liberalism neither willing nor able to defend basic rights, it falls squarely to the international working class to take the lead in the struggle to defend and expand fundamental democratic principles by means of a revolutionary struggle for socialism.
Tom Carter

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All party support for local authority cuts in Scotland

By Steve James 

6 February 2013

Further social cuts are being prepared across all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities that will remove thousands more public-sector jobs and impact all areas of social care and cultural provision. They will add to the social misery of youth unemployment figures of 90,000, double the 2008 figure, and adult unemployment of 207,000.

A shocking indicator of the real level of social stress was shown by a recent report of advice given at Citizens Advice Scotland bureaux. Volunteers at the advice and welfare agency were recently given suicide watch training because, in the words of the organisation’s head, Margaret Lynch, the welfare system is being “ripped asunder”.

The cuts are in line with the 8 percent budget cut to 2015 being implemented by the Scottish National Party (SNP) government in Edinburgh on behalf of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition in London.

Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council, which has shed 3,000 workers since 2010 and cut spending by £130 million (US$176 million), intends a further £70 million reduction over the next two years. As the city has already farmed out leisure, culture, car parking and home care to semi-private agencies, this year’s cuts will fall most heavily on education and social care, which form some 70 percent of the city’s remaining budget. Some 600 more workers are expected to lose their jobs.

Measures include the merger of specialist schools for children with learning disabilities and a consequent reduction in teacher numbers, saving £2.5 million. Teachers in nursery classes will be replaced by less skilled “child development officers”. Primary head masters and mistresses will supervise multiple schools. School maintenance and after-hours availability will be reduced. School dinner cost will be increased by 33 percent, while nursery costs will increase by 10 percent.

Social care services bought from external charities and companies will be cut by £2 million, while supported living budgets will be cut by £4.6 million. The “personalisation of care” programme, designed to push more services to external providers, will be extended to elderly dementia sufferers. Cordia, however, one of the agencies that provide home care, is itself expecting around 287 jobs to go.

In a typically mean move, the meals on wheels provision for pensioners will be reduced from three courses to two. Charges to be increased include car parking, stair lighting, bereavement services, and entry to leisure facilities.

East Ayrshire, run jointly by the SNP and the Conservatives, intends to cut £25 million over the next three years. Plans include hiving off libraries, sports facilities and community centres to stand-alone agencies, which can then reduce wages and staffing levels at will.

Major budget savings will also be found by increasing to three miles the distance beyond which transport will be provided to local schools. This is expected to save some £2.5 million. The council’s finance director, Alex McPhee, warned that more “radical” measures may still be needed.

Dundee City Council, run by the SNP, intends to cut £14 million from its budget over the next two years. All departments have been told to find 5 percent savings. School class sizes will be allowed to rise. As in other areas, some of the largest cuts will fall on external organisations providing social care and housing support for vulnerable people. Neighbouring Angus Council, also run by the SNP, intends to close 51 of the county’s 100 play parks.

The City of Edinburgh authority is run jointly by the SNP and Labour. By 2013, the city’s workers, who have faced a pay freeze for three years, will have lost between 10 and 15 percent of their real terms income. The council, however, intends to cut £90 million from its budget over the next three years at a cost of 1,200 jobs lost through “natural wastage”—the standard euphemism for not replacing workers who leave, retire, or are forced out.

Other targets include cuts to school management and support and the closure of a Blindcraft factory offering jobs to disabled workers. Charges are set to rise for parking and other services. Half of the city’s public toilets are to close. Neighbouring Midlothian Council has concluded that school children in primary one and two will no longer receive free fruit.

North Lanarkshire, run by Labour, is pressing ahead with its previously announced 1,200-1,400 job losses to save £105 million over three years. Measures include the closure of care homes, cuts to numerous support and maintenance services, extension of the school year by three weeks, the closure of school swimming pools and large headcount reductions on leisure and environmental services.

In all instances, the teaching and public services unions have responded to the threat of devastating job losses and service degradation with outright support, indifference or routine posturing and bluster.

Speaking in December, prior to a token protest outside North Lanarkshire’s HQ in Motherwell, Unison’s Scottish secretary, Mike Kirby, offered support to the local authorities, agreeing that “finance and welfare reform are two big issues facing all local authorities”. Kirby’s response was to suggest that the Scottish government increase the council tax—thereby increasing the tax burden on most working people—while insisting that only “compulsory” redundancies would be opposed.

The Unison trade union has 6,000 members in North Lanarkshire alone. It is also a leading light of the misnamed Scottish Anti-Cuts Alliance (SACA), which in early 2011 claimed its formation was an “historic” step forward in the fight against austerity. The SACA web site does not even appear to have been updated since. In general, the ex-lefts who for a brief period set up a number of similar anti-cuts and anti-austerity alliances, have moved into the campaign for a yes vote in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.

A recent demonstration outside Glasgow City Chambers reflected the same dangerous and bankrupt perspective. Protesters against the closure of disability day care centres in Cardonald, Summerston and Maryhill were opposing the destruction of facilities that hundreds of vulnerable people rely on for daily support. The demonstration attracted around 100 supporters who called for the council’s cuts to disabled services to be put on hold.

Along with the ex-lefts, one of the speakers was writer Alasdair Gray, a well-known local artist, writer and lifelong Scottish nationalist. Gray recently complained of the influence of English “colonists” and “settlers” in the arts world.

In reality, the cuts being imposed by Scottish local authorities are inseparable from the general assault on the health, education and welfare of working people across Britain. The suggestion—by the trade unions, the ex-lefts and the nationalist writers such as Gray—that the cuts can be opposed on the basis of Scottish nationalism, or pressure on the Scottish government, is false to the core and utterly divisive.

Rather, working people viewing with anger the ongoing destruction of vital social services must study the NHS FightBack campaign launched by the Socialist Equality Party (Britain). The lessons of the struggle against the destruction of socialised health embodied in the NHS apply entirely to those seeking to oppose cuts to every area of social care and education.

The SEP states: “The defence of health care and every other basic social right can only be taken forward through a break from the unions and the Labour Party. Action committees must be formed by patients, hospital staff and the workers and youth whose lives and health are being jeopardised.” The SEP calls for “a mass movement of the working class to bring down the coalition government and replace it by a workers’ government based on socialist policies”.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/06/scot-f06.html

Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy implicated in corruption scandal

By Alejandro López and Alejandro de Castro 

6 February 2013

Top Popular Party (PP) officials, including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and government ministers, are embroiled in a major Spanish corruption scandal.

Evidence from the PP’s internal accounts indicates that between 1990 and 2008, leading politicians were paid regular sums of money from secret slush funds provided by construction companies and other businesses.

Thousands have taken part in demonstrations, and nightly protests are being held outside the PP’s Madrid headquarters. In just four days, 850,000 people demanded online that Rajoy should resign.

Rajoy is the official whose name appears most regularly in the accounts. The 45 entries suggest he received a total of €322,231 (US$436,000), including €25,200 ($34,000) a year from 1997 to 2008, while a minister of public administration and then deputy prime minister. He received another €33,207 for clothing.

Other figures alleged to have received payments include PP former secretaries general Ángel Acebes, Javier Arenas and Francisco Álvarez-Cascos, former economics minister and IMF managing director Rodrigo Rato and former interior minister Jaime Mayor Oreja. There are also notes of payments to “J.M.”, who could be José María Aznar, prime minister from 1996 to 2004.

Last Saturday, Rajoy denied that he received any money, but on Monday, with Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel at his side, he stated that “It is all untrue, except for some things”.

So far, the PP has claimed that the allegations are inventions by El País, a newspaper close to the opposition Socialist Workers Party (PSOE). The PP accuses El País of being unpatriotic for launching “unproved allegations” while Spain is in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the end of Francoism. Former prime minister Aznar has said he will sue the newspaper for defamation.

Even so, some PP officials, including former PP deputy José Trías Sagnier and PP Senate speaker Pío García Escudero, have admitted to receiving regular large cash payments along with their normal salaries.

The latest revelations emerged after former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas, in charge of the party’s accounts, admitted last week in the Spanish High Court that he had repatriated €10 million from a secret Swiss bank account. He had taken advantage of a tax amnesty passed last year by his colleague, Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro, which allowed tax evaders to repatriate capital from abroad in return for just a 10 percent tax.

At one point, Bárcenas held €22 million in Switzerland before transferring the funds to other accounts after being impeached in the Gürtel money-laundering case (see “Spain: Popular Party embroiled in corruption scandal“). It was the Gürtel case that saw the downfall of top investigative judge Baltasar Garzón. He was suspended from his job for 11 years, effectively ending his career, after the Supreme Court found him guilty of illegally tapping the phones of suspects and lawyers about to move money beyond the reach of his investigations.

In total, more than €5 million of the €7.5 million listed as payments to party leaders prepared by Bárcenas may have exceeded the legal limits under the law that was in effect at the time.

The finance legislation for parties in force from 1987 to 2007, when the law changed, said that “parties may not receive, either directly or indirectly, contributions from the same person or legal entity above the amount of 10,000,000 pesetas [about €60,000] a year. Also forbidden are contributions from companies with current contracts to provide services or perform work or be a supplier to any public agency.”

The law stipulated that all donations be held in bank accounts opened specifically for donations. This means that all of the donations from Bárcenas’s secret accounts are illegal, as handwritten notes repeatedly specify that all donations were made in cash. El País noted that “at the height of the slush-fund system, Bárcenas’ box had over €900,000 in it. Records show that, once the payouts to PP leaders and other expenses had been met, any remaining money was transferred into an account for donations that the PP kept at Banco de Vitoria (later bought out by Banesto). Around €1.2 million were deposited in this account. The other €7.5 million were used to pay PP leaders and cover various operational costs.”

Among the donors who contributed millions to the PP and were listed in Bárcenas’s notes are some of the best-known construction magnates in Spain. They amassed fortunes from government contracts worth billions of euros during the construction boom in Spain from 1997 to 2007.

Also named is Pablo Crespo, who is also named in the ongoing Gürtel investigations. He is considered number two in the corruption network headed by the businessman Francisco Correa—charged with committing crimes relating to bribery, influence peddling, money laundering, tax fraud, conspiracy and forgery. Attorney General Eduardo Torres-Dulce has ordered an investigation into the links between the Gürtel and Bárcenas cases.

The PP is not the only party and government, nor the only institution that has been involved in corruption. Currently, investigations are being held into the illegal payment network used by companies to pay commissions to the ruling Convèrgencia I Unió party in Catalonia.

The monarchy has also been implicated. Inaki Urdangarin, the duke of Palma, who is married to the daughter of King Juan Carlos, is being investigated over claims he misused public funds given to a foundation he ran.

Last June, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Carlos Dívar resigned after being accused by a fellow judge of claiming business expenses for vacations—as many as 32 long weekend trips, according to investigations carried out by journalists.

Gerardo Díaz Ferrán, former head of the Spanish Confederation of Business Organisations, is currently in jail for forging a mortgage on properties and companies that were about to be repossessed by the bank. He is infamous for his declaration that Spanish workers should “work more and earn less”.

The whole post-Franco bourgeois order is falling apart. The same ruling elites who are involved in tax evasion, money laundering and other crimes are the same ones who are imposing harsh austerity measures in the name of “collective sacrifice”. Under these conditions, the corruption scandal involving vast sums paid in kickbacks is having an incendiary impact among millions whose lives consist of appalling poverty or a seemingly endless struggle to make ends meet.

With some 5 million now unemployed, nearly 26 percent, markets on Monday saw sharp falls in the benchmark indexes in Spain (by 3.8 percent) and Italy (4.5 percent), due to fears of a popular backlash rendering the continued imposition of savage cuts impossible.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/06/spai-f06.html

Justice Department memo sanctions state assassinations of US citizens

By Bill Van Auken 

6 February 2013

A confidential Justice Department white paper on the legality of “lethal operations” against US citizens made public Monday night argues that virtually unlimited power is placed in the hands of the American president to order the assassination of perceived enemies of the state anywhere around the globe.

While spelling out certain conditions that would purportedly make the targeted killing of an American citizen legal—such as the target being an “operational leader of Al Qaeda or an associated force” who poses an imminent threat of violent attack and whose capture is not feasible—the paper goes on to provide arguments that essentially render these conditions meaningless and non-restrictive.

As if that were not enough, the term “associated force” is defined so broadly that a member of virtually any armed movement deemed hostile to US interests can be targeted. Moreover the paper specifically states that while the conditions it presents are “sufficient” to make such a state killing legal, the absence of one or all of them does not mean that an assassination would be illegal.

“This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful, nor does it assess what might be required to render a lethal operation against a US citizen lawful in other circumstance, including an operation against … a US citizen who is not a senior operational leader of such [Al Qaeda] forces.” it states.

In other words, the document leaves the selection of assassination victims—including non-Al Qaeda opponents of US imperialism—to the discretion of the president and his military and intelligence operatives.

The document, first reported by Michael Isikoff of NBC News, was prepared by the Obama administration as a summary of a legal memo issued by the Justice Department’s OLC. It was given last summer to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees on condition that its contents be kept secret from the American public.

The memo upon which the white paper is based was prepared to provide a pseudo-legal justification for the Obama administration’s order to assassinate New Mexico-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in a September 2011 drone strike. Samir Khan, a naturalized American citizen, was murdered in the same missile attack, and al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, born in Colorado, was assassinated two weeks later in another drone strike in Yemen.

Questioned repeatedly about the white paper at a White House press briefing Tuesday afternoon, Obama spokesman Jay Carney offered a prepared defense of the entire drone killing program, which by conservative estimates has claimed the lives of nearly 5,000 men, women and children around the globe. Carney insisted that the drone killings “are legal, they are ethical and they are wise.”

US Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that the Obama administration only takes “these kinds of actions when there is an imminent threat, when capture is not feasible and when we are confident that we’re doing so in a way that is consistent with federal and international law.”

Neither Carney nor Holder directly addressed the leaked document or dealt in any detail with the legal sophistry it advances to justify the assassination of American citizens.

“This is a chilling document,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, said of the white paper Tuesday. “Basically, it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen … It recognizes some limits on the authority it sets out, but the limits are elastic and vaguely defined, and it’s easy to see how they could be manipulated.”

The Obama administration has gone to enormous lengths to keep documents relating to the drone killing program from the American public. Lawsuits brought by the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act to force release of these documents were dismissed last month by a federal judge in Manhattan who complained in her ruling that laws and legal precedents dealing with national security and state secrets “effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for its conclusion a secret.”

The release of the white paper coincided with a demand by 11 US senators—eight Democrats and three Republicans—for the administration to provide Congress with all legal opinions supporting “the President’s authority to deliberately kill American citizens.”

It also comes just days before John Brennan, Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser and nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is to appear at a Thursday confirmation hearing convened by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Brennan has served as the architect and director of the administration’s drone killing program, and he became its first public defender. Under his leadership, the killing campaign has become systematized under a program known as “disposition matrix,” while procedures governing assassinations have been codified in a “rule book.”

While Brennan’s confirmation is generally regarded as assured, the hearing is expected to feature questions about the assassination campaign as well as his defense of extraordinary rendition and torture while serving a top official at the CIA under the Bush administration. Four years ago, Democratic opposition over this record forced Obama to drop his bid to make Brennan CIA director when he first entered the White House. The acceptance of Brennan now is an unmistakable measure of the shift to the right by the Democratic Party and the entire political establishment.

In both its criminal content and its pseudo-legalistic tone, the white paper resembles nothing so much as the so-called “torture memos” that were drafted under Bush and released by the Obama administration in April 2009 in what it claimed at the time was the inauguration of a new era of “transparency and openness.”

The administration has defended those responsible for torture and other crimes ever since, while establishing the tightest reign of secrecy in American history. As the summary of the assassination memo make clear, the criminality that existed under Bush has escalated sharply under his successor.

The conditions that the white paper sets for declaring a targeted assassination lawful are predicated on the proposed victim being a “senior operational leader of al-Qaeda or an associated force.” The paper simply presumes that the target is such a leader, without explaining how that designation is decided. The implication is that unidentified “high-level officials” of the US government, in other words, Obama, Brennan and their aides, make such determinations on their sole discretion, without the target of state murder having any knowledge of the proceeding, let alone an opportunity to rebut the charge.

In the case of al-Awlaki, no evidence was ever presented that he played an “operational” role in al-Qaeda, and experts on Yemen dispute this description. What is clear from the rest of the conditions, however, is that once the US president or his underlings make such a designation—without presenting charges, much less proving them—assassination is “lawful” according to the Justice Department.

Cast aside are the most fundamental democratic rights enshrined in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, first among them the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that “No person shall … be deprived of life … without due process of law.” The paper essentially reduces “due process” to the discussions now taking place in the so-called “terror Tuesday” sessions at the White House, where Obama and his military and intelligence aides secretly pick victims to be killed by Hellfire missiles.

As for the supposed “conditions” that the paper purports would make an assassination legal, all of them are fraudulent. First it states that a targeted individual must present “an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States.” This determination, the paper explains, “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” Having to produce such evidence, it argues, “would not allow the United States sufficient time to defend itself.”

The condition of “imminent,” the white paper continues, is determined not by known crimes past, present or future attributed to the individual targeted for assassination, but rather by the classification of the targeted victim as a “senior operational leader” and the “limited window of opportunity” that the US military and intelligence apparatus has to murder this individual. Under this “broader concept of imminence,” preemptive killing is permitted once the president or an “informed high-level official” has fingered someone as an enemy of the state.

The supposed condition of capture of the targeted individual being infeasible is likewise an empty shell. The white paper includes in this definition the problem of a capture not being possible during the “window of opportunity,” refusal of the country where the targeted individual is to allow a capture operation and “undue risk to US personnel” of attempting such a capture. In short, wherever assassination is deemed expedient, it is “lawful.”

The white paper argues that Authorization of the Use of Military Force passed by Congress in September 2001 justifies assassinations and drone strikes anywhere on the planet. It recycles the claims made by the Bush administration that the entire world is a battlefield in the war on terror.

Among the sources cited in support of this contention are speeches given by Nixon administration officials in defense of the 1970 invasion of Cambodia. That Nixon’s Cambodia policy was subsequently an article in his impeachment apparently doesn’t faze Obama and his underlings.

The document asserts that there “exists no appropriate judicial forum” to consider whether presidentially ordered assassinations of US citizens raises constitutional issues. Any court review, either before or after the killings, it states, would improperly interfere with “specific tactical judgment” of the president and “officials responsible for operations.”

The rest of the paper consists largely of assertions that the extra-judicial executions of US citizens by means of drone strikes violate neither the US Constitution, nor the US ban on assassinations, nor international law and cannot be construed as war crimes. Much like the torture memos drafted a decade ago, these claims are meant to reassure those following the criminal orders of the White House.

What is spelled out here is a presidency which has arrogated to itself the “right” to act as judge, jury and executioner in carrying out secret assassinations of American citizens as well many thousands of other human beings around the globe. The overturning of any limitations on this power of life and death lays the groundwork for a police-state dictatorship.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/06/memo-f06.html

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