Obama Inherits and Normalizes the Arrogance and Impunity of Nixon, Reagan and Both Bushes February 26, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, War.
Tags: bruce a. dixon, constitution, democracy, drones, george h.w. bush, George W. Bush, history, kill list, nixon, presidents, reagan, roger hollander, rule of law, terror tuesday, war president
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When Republican presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush waged secret wars based on mountains of lies and deceit, they were nearly impeached, but in each case Democrats in control of Congress could not pull the trigger. As a result, the Obama White House basks in a presidential culture of murderous arrogance and lawless impunity.
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Bruce A. Dixon
Back in the early seventies, when Richard Nixon secretly bombed Laos and Cambodia, two countries the US was not at war with, and concealed it from Congress and the public, the crime was serious enough to be the fourth article of impeachment drawn up against him. A dozen years later, when Ronald Reagan defied Congress to wage a bloody contra war in Central America funded by running drugs into the US from Central America and selling arms to Iran, Reagan only avoided impeachment by pretending he just couldn’t remember much of it any more and letting his henchmen take the fall. George W. Bush too was widely reviled as a murderous fraud for his lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and more, with millions of Americans and millions more around the world protesting his invasion of Iraq before it even began.
But in the end, none of these Republican warmongers were impeached while in office or indicted afterward because Democrats, in control of Congress every time, could never bring themselves to pull the trigger. So Tricky Dick Nixon stepped down. Reagan doddered off to the ranch, and Dubya’s at home right now watching American Idol. Barack Hussein Obama may be a different color and from a different party but he inherits their arrogance, their immunity, their impunity.
This White House openly brags about its “Terror Tuesday” meetings in which US special forces and drones have been dispatched to and from dozens of undisclosed countries to kidnap, torture or murder thousands of people, in the case of drone strikes mostly innocents, to the cheers and jokes of cruise missile liberals like Ed Schulz and Bill Maher, who calls Obama the “black ninja president.” The potent symbol of a black face in that high place has normalized the conduct of lawless aggressive war and secretive state murder among parts of the population which had no trouble calling a crime a crime when committed by a white Republican. In that sense, the First Black President is a little bit unlike, but mostly very much like his nefarious predecessors.
It’s worth noting that in the debates between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, kill-at-will drone wars, the militarization of Africa, Wall Street’s immunity from prosecution, and the push to privatize and charterize public education were points upon which both candidates were in complete agreement. But if Mitt Romney were president today wouldn’t many more of us be in the street about these things? Black apologists, as Davey D notes, try to shut criticism of this president down in the misguided name of black unity, and some white activists stay home because they don’t want to be seen as racist whites hating on the black president.
A Facebook friend in Atlanta remarked last week that whenever George Bush was rumored coming to town, his inbox would be full of emergency mobilization notices. But with the current War President about to visit, he said, it looked like his only correspondent might be the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
It’s going to be a long, long four more years.
For Black Agenda Radio, I‘m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via this site’s contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Open Letter to ACLU Director Anthony Romero February 23, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Tags: #occupy movement, aaron swartzs, aclu, al-jazeera, Anthony Romero, barrett brown, bracley manning, civil liberties, democracy, drones, fbi infiltartion, first amendment, gary webb, Homeland Security, josh mitteldorf, julian assange, protest, roger hollander, torture
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OpEdNews Op Eds 2/22/2013 at 16:59:12
Dear Mr Romero-
Tags: Abdulrahman, aclu, anwar awlaki, assassination, constituion, Criminal Justice, democracy, doj, drone missiles, due process, eric holder, extrajudicial killings, glenn greenwald, global battlefield, john brennan, obama hit list, presidential assassination, roger hollander, samir khan, terrorism, war on terror
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The president’s partisan lawyers purport to vest him with the most extreme power a political leader can seize
The most extremist power any political leader can assert is the power to target his own citizens for execution without any charges or due process, far from any battlefield. The Obama administration has not only asserted exactly that power in theory, but has exercised it in practice. In September 2011, it killed US citizen Anwar Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, along with US citizen Samir Khan, and then, in circumstances that are still unexplained, two weeks later killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman with a separate drone strike in Yemen.
Since then, senior Obama officials including Attorney General Eric Holder and John Brennan, Obama’s top terrorism adviser and his current nominee to lead the CIA, have explicitly argued that the president is and should be vested with this power. Meanwhile, a Washington Post article from October reported that the administration is formally institutionalizing this president’s power to decide who dies under the Orwellian title “disposition matrix”.
When the New York Times back in April, 2010 first confirmed the existence of Obama’s hit list, it made clear just what an extremist power this is, noting: “It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.” The NYT quoted a Bush intelligence official as saying “he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president”. When the existence of Obama’s hit list was first reported several months earlier by the Washington Post’s Dana Priest, she wrote that the “list includes three Americans”.
What has made these actions all the more radical is the absolute secrecy with which Obama has draped all of this. Not only is the entire process carried out solely within the Executive branch – with no checks or oversight of any kind – but there is zero transparency and zero accountability. The president’s underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the president – at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as “Terror Tuesday” – then chooses from “baseball cards” and decrees in total secrecy who should die. The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark.
In fact, The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ has been so fixated on secrecy that they have refused even to disclose the legal memoranda prepared by Obama lawyers setting forth their legal rationale for why the president has this power. During the Bush years, when Bush refused to disclose the memoranda from his Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that legally authorized torture, rendition, warrantless eavesdropping and the like, leading Democratic lawyers such as Dawn Johnsen (Obama’s first choice to lead the OLC) vehemently denounced this practice as a grave threat, warning that “the Bush Administration’s excessive reliance on ‘secret law’ threatens the effective functioning of American democracy” and “the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the [OLC] upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government.”
But when it comes to Obama’s assassination power, this is exactly what his administration has done. It has repeatedly refused to disclose the principal legal memoranda prepared by Obama OLC lawyers that justified his kill list. It is, right now, vigorously resisting lawsuits from the New York Times and the ACLU to obtain that OLC memorandum. In sum, Obama not only claims he has the power to order US citizens killed with no transparency, but that even the documents explaining the legal rationale for this power are to be concealed. He’s maintaining secret law on the most extremist power he can assert.
Last night, NBC News’ Michael Isikoff released a 16-page “white paper” prepared by the Obama DOJ that purports to justify Obama’s power to target even Americans for assassination without due process (the memo is embedded in full below). This is not the primary OLC memo justifying Obama’s kill list – that is still concealed – but it appears to track the reasoning of that memo as anonymously described to the New York Times in October 2011.
This new memo is entitled: “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force”. It claims its conclusion is “reached with recognition of the extraordinary seriousness of a lethal operation by the United States against a US citizen”. Yet it is every bit as chilling as the Bush OLC torture memos in how its clinical, legalistic tone completely sanitizes the radical and dangerous power it purports to authorize.
I’ve written many times at length about why the Obama assassination program is such an extreme and radical threat – see here for one of the most comprehensive discussions, with documentation of how completely all of this violates Obama and Holder’s statements before obtaining power – and won’t repeat those arguments here. Instead, there are numerous points that should be emphasized about the fundamentally misleading nature of this new memo:
1. Equating government accusations with guilt
The core distortion of the War on Terror under both Bush and Obama is the Orwellian practice of equating government accusations of terrorism with proof of guilt. One constantly hears US government defenders referring to “terrorists” when what they actually mean is: those accused by the government of terrorism. This entire memo is grounded in this deceit.
Time and again, it emphasizes that the authorized assassinations are carried out “against a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” Undoubtedly fearing that this document would one day be public, Obama lawyers made certain to incorporate this deceit into the title itself: “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida or An Associated Force.”
This ensures that huge numbers of citizens – those who spend little time thinking about such things and/or authoritarians who assume all government claims are true – will instinctively justify what is being done here on the ground that we must kill the Terrorists or joining al-Qaida means you should be killed. That’s the “reasoning” process that has driven the War on Terror since it commenced: if the US government simply asserts without evidence or trial that someone is a terrorist, then they are assumed to be, and they can then be punished as such – with indefinite imprisonment or death.
But of course, when this memo refers to “a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida”, what it actually means is this: someone whom the President – in total secrecy and with no due process – has accused of being that. Indeed, the memo itself makes this clear, as it baldly states that presidential assassinations are justified when “an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US”.
This is the crucial point: the memo isn’t justifying the due-process-free execution of senior al-Qaida leaders who pose an imminent threat to the US. It is justifying the due-process-free execution of people secretly accused by the president and his underlings, with no due process, of being that. The distinction between (a) government accusations and (b) proof of guilt is central to every free society, by definition, yet this memo – and those who defend Obama’s assassination power – willfully ignore it.
Those who justify all of this by arguing that Obama can and should kill al-Qaida leaders who are trying to kill Americans are engaged in supreme question-begging. Without any due process, transparency or oversight, there is no way to know who is a “senior al-Qaida leader” and who is posing an “imminent threat” to Americans. All that can be known is who Obama, in total secrecy, accuses of this.
(Indeed, membership in al-Qaida is not even required to be assassinated, as one can be a member of a group deemed to be an “associated force” of al-Qaida, whatever that might mean: a formulation so broad and ill-defined that, as Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller argues, it means the memo “authorizes the use of lethal force against individuals whose targeting is, without more, prohibited by international law”.)
The definition of an extreme authoritarian is one who is willing blindly to assume that government accusations are true without any evidence presented or opportunity to contest those accusations. This memo – and the entire theory justifying Obama’s kill list – centrally relies on this authoritarian conflation of government accusations and valid proof of guilt.
They are not the same and never have been. Political leaders who decree guilt in secret and with no oversight inevitably succumb to error and/or abuse of power. Such unchecked accusatory decrees are inherently untrustworthy (indeed, Yemen experts have vehemently contested the claim that Awlaki himself was a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat to the US). That’s why due process is guaranteed in the Constitution and why judicial review of government accusations has been a staple of western justice since the Magna Carta: because leaders can’t be trusted to decree guilt and punish citizens without evidence and an adversarial process. That is the age-old basic right on which this memo, and the Obama presidency, is waging war.
2. Creating a ceiling, not a floor
The most vital fact to note about this memorandum is that it is not purporting to impose requirements on the president’s power to assassinate US citizens. When it concludes that the president has the authority to assassinate “a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida” who “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US” where capture is “infeasible”, it is not concluding that assassinations are permissible only in those circumstances. To the contrary, the memo expressly makes clear that presidential assassinations may be permitted even when none of those circumstances prevail: “This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful.” Instead, as the last line of the memo states: “it concludes only that the stated conditions would be sufficient to make lawful a lethal operation” – not that such conditions are necessary to find these assassinations legal. The memo explicitly leaves open the possibility that presidential assassinations of US citizens may be permissible even when the target is not a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat and/or when capture is feasible.
Critically, the rationale of the memo – that the US is engaged in a global war against al-Qaida and “associated forces” – can be easily used to justify presidential assassinations of US citizens in circumstances far beyond the ones described in this memo. If you believe the president has the power to execute US citizens based on the accusation that the citizen has joined al-Qaida, what possible limiting principle can you cite as to why that shouldn’t apply to a low-level al-Qaida member, including ones found in places where capture may be feasible (including US soil)? The purported limitations on this power set forth in this memo, aside from being incredibly vague, can be easily discarded once the central theory of presidential power is embraced.
3. Relies on the core Bush/Cheney theory of a global battlefield
The primary theory embraced by the Bush administration to justify its War on Terror policies was that the “battlefield” is no longer confined to identifiable geographical areas, but instead, the entire globe is now one big, unlimited “battlefield”. That theory is both radical and dangerous because a president’s powers are basically omnipotent on a “battlefield”. There, state power is shielded from law, from courts, from constitutional guarantees, from all forms of accountability: anyone on a battlefield can be killed or imprisoned without charges. Thus, to posit the world as a battlefield is, by definition, to create an imperial, omnipotent presidency. That is the radical theory that unleashed all the rest of the controversial and lawless Bush/Cheney policies.
This “world-is-a-battlefield” theory was once highly controversial among Democrats. John Kerry famously denounced it when running for president, arguing instead that the effort against terrorism is “primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world”.
But this global-war theory is exactly what lies at heart of the Obama approach to Terrorism generally and this memo specifically. It is impossible to defend Obama’s assassination powers without embracing it (which is why key Obama officials have consistently done so). That’s because these assassinations are taking place in countries far from any war zone, such as Yemen and Somalia. You can’t defend the application of “war powers” in these countries without embracing the once-very-controversial Bush/Cheney view that the whole is now a “battlefield” and the president’s war powers thus exist without geographic limits.
This new memo makes clear that this Bush/Cheney worldview is at the heart of the Obama presidency. The president, it claims, “retains authority to use force against al-Qaida and associated forces outside the area of active hostilities“. In other words: there are, subject to the entirely optional “feasibility of capture” element, no geographic limits to the president’s authority to kill anyone he wants. This power applies not only to war zones, but everywhere in the world that he claims a member of al-Qaida is found. This memo embraces and institutionalizes the core Bush/Cheney theory that justified the entire panoply of policies Democrats back then pretended to find so objectionable.
4. Expanding the concept of “imminence” beyond recognition
The memo claims that the president’s assassination power applies to a senior al-Qaida member who “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States”. That is designed to convince citizens to accept this power by leading them to believe it’s similar to common and familiar domestic uses of lethal force on US soil: if, for instance, an armed criminal is in the process of robbing a bank or is about to shoot hostages, then the “imminence” of the threat he poses justifies the use of lethal force against him by the police.
But this rhetorical tactic is totally misleading. The memo is authorizing assassinations against citizens in circumstances far beyond this understanding of “imminence”. Indeed, the memo expressly states that it is inventing “a broader concept of imminence” than is typically used in domestic law. Specifically, the president’s assassination power “does not require that the US have clear evidence that a specific attack . . . will take place in the immediate future“. The US routinely assassinates its targets not when they are engaged in or plotting attacks but when they are at home, with family members, riding in a car, at work, at funerals, rescuing other drone victims, etc.
Many of the early objections to this new memo have focused on this warped and incredibly broad definition of “imminence”. The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer told Isikoff that the memo “redefines the word imminence in a way that deprives the word of its ordinary meaning”. Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller called Jaffer’s objection “an understatement”, noting that the memo’s understanding of “imminence” is “wildly overbroad” under international law.
Crucially, Heller points out what I noted above: once you accept the memo’s reasoning – that the US is engaged in a global war, that the world is a battlefield, and the president has the power to assassinate any member of al-Qaida or associated forces – then there is no way coherent way to limit this power to places where capture is infeasible or to persons posing an “imminent” threat. The legal framework adopted by the memo means the president can kill anyone he claims is a member of al-Qaida regardless of where they are found or what they are doing.
The only reason to add these limitations of “imminence” and “feasibility of capture” is, as Heller said, purely political: to make the theories more politically palatable. But the definitions for these terms are so vague and broad that they provide no real limits on the president’s assassination power. As the ACLU’s Jaffer says: “This is a chilling document” because “it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen” and the purported limits “are elastic and vaguely defined, and it’s easy to see how they could be manipulated.”
5. Converting Obama underlings into objective courts
This memo is not a judicial opinion. It was not written by anyone independent of the president. To the contrary, it was written by life-long partisan lackeys: lawyers whose careerist interests depend upon staying in the good graces of Obama and the Democrats, almost certainly Marty Lederman and David Barron. Treating this document as though it confers any authority on Obama is like treating the statements of one’s lawyer as a judicial finding or jury verdict.
Indeed, recall the primary excuse used to shield Bush officials from prosecution for their crimes of torture and illegal eavesdropping: namely, they got Bush-appointed lawyers in the DOJ to say that their conduct was legal, and therefore, it should be treated as such. This tactic – getting partisan lawyers and underlings of the president to say that the president’s conduct is legal – was appropriately treated with scorn when invoked by Bush officials to justify their radical programs. As Digby wrote about Bush officials who pointed to the OLC memos it got its lawyers to issue about torture and eavesdropping, such a practice amounts to:
“validating the idea that obscure Justice Department officials can be granted the authority to essentially immunize officials at all levels of the government, from the president down to the lowest field officer, by issuing a secret memo. This is a very important new development in western jurisprudence and one that surely requires more study and consideration. If Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had known about this, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble.”
Life-long Democratic Party lawyers are not going to oppose the terrorism policies of the president who appointed them. A president can always find underlings and political appointees to endorse whatever he wants to do. That’s all this memo is: the by-product of obsequious lawyers telling their Party’s leader that he is (of course) free to do exactly that which he wants to do, in exactly the same way that Bush got John Yoo to tell him that torture was not torture, and that even it if were, it was legal.
That’s why courts, not the president’s partisan lawyers, should be making these determinations. But when the ACLU tried to obtain a judicial determination as to whether Obama is actually authorized to assassinate US citizens, the Obama DOJ went to extreme lengths to block the court from ruling on that question. They didn’t want independent judges to determine the law. They wanted their own lawyers to do so.
That’s all this memo is: Obama-loyal appointees telling their leader that he has the authority to do what he wants. But in the warped world of US politics, this – secret memos from partisan lackeys – has replaced judicial review as the means to determine the legality of the president’s conduct.
6. Making a mockery of “due process”
The core freedom most under attack by the War on Terror is the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process. It provides that “no person shall be . . . deprived of life . . . without due process of law”. Like putting people in cages for life on island prisons with no trial, claiming that the president has the right to assassinate US citizens far from any battlefield without any charges or trial is the supreme evisceration of this right.
The memo pays lip service to the right it is destroying: “Under the traditional due process balancing analysis . . . . we recognize that there is no private interest more weighty than a person’s interest in his life.” But it nonetheless argues that a “balancing test” is necessary to determine the extent of the process that is due before the president can deprive someone of their life, and further argues that, as the New York Times put it when this theory was first unveiled: “while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”
Stephen Colbert perfectly mocked this theory when Eric Holder first unveiled it to defend the president’s assassination program. At the time, Holder actually said: “due process and judicial process are not one and the same.” Colbert interpreted that claim as follows:
“Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock, paper scissors, who cares? Due process just means that there is a process that you do. The current process is apparently, first the president meets with his advisers and decides who he can kill. Then he kills them.”
It is fitting indeed that the memo expressly embraces two core Bush/Cheney theories to justify this view of what “due process” requires. First, it cites the Bush DOJ’s core view, as enunciated by John Yoo, that courts have no role to play in what the president does in the War on Terror because judicial review constitutes “judicial encroachment” on the “judgments by the President and his national security advisers as to when and how to use force”. And then it cites the Bush DOJ’s mostly successful arguments in the 2004 Hamdi case that the president has the authority even to imprison US citizens without trial provided that he accuses them of being a terrorist.
The reason this is so fitting is because, as I’ve detailed many times, it was these same early Bush/Cheney theories that made me want to begin writing about politics, all driven by my perception that the US government was becoming extremist and dangerous. During the early Bush years, the very idea that the US government asserted the power to imprison US citizens without charges and due process (or to eavesdrop on them) was so radical that, at the time, I could hardly believe they were being asserted out in the open.
Yet here we are almost a full decade later. And we have the current president asserting the power not merely to imprison or eavesdrop on US citizens without charges or trial, but to order them executed – and to do so in total secrecy, with no checks or oversight. If you believe the president has the power to order US citizens executed far from any battlefield with no charges or trial, then it’s truly hard to conceive of any asserted power you would find objectionable.
DOJ White Paper
Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.
Tags: arab spring, Blackwater, bradley manning, cablegate, civilian casualties, climate change, cluster munitions, daniel ellsberg, democracy, drone missiles, environment, hillary clinton, human rights, International law, Iraq war, julian assange, Media, Nisour Square Massacre, pakistan, press freedom, roger hollander, terrorism, thailand, torture, war on terror, wikileaks
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On the two-year anniversary of the start of Cablegate, the Wikileaks founder highlights some of the stories that have emerged. (Screenshot via firedoglake.com)
Thursday, November 29th, Bradley Manning testified for the first time since his arrest two and a half years ago in Baghdad. Today also marks the two-year anniversary of the first front pages around the world from Cablegate, an archive of 251,287 U.S. State Department diplomatic cables — messages sent between the State Department and its embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions around the world. In collaboration with a network of more than 100 press outlets we revealed the full spectrum of techniques used by the United States to exert itself around the world. The young intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was detained as an alleged source.
WikiLeaks came under attack, with American politicians and right-wing pundits calling for all of us to be designated as terrorists, some even calling for my assassination and the kidnapping of our staff. Speaking on Meet The Press, Vice President Joe Biden referred to me as a “high-tech terrorist,” while Senator Joe Lieberman demanded that we be prosecuted under the U.S. Espionage Act. The Department of Justice spokesperson Dean Boyd admitted as recently as July 2012 that the Department of Justice investigation into WikiLeaks is ongoing, and the Pentagon renewed its threats against us on September 28th, declaring our work an “ongoing crime.” As a result, I have been granted political asylum and now live in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, surrounded by armed police while the FBI portion of the “whole of government” investigation against us, according to court testimony, had reached 42,135 pages as of December last year.
Earlier this week, WikiLeaks released European Commission documents showing that Senator Lieberman and Congressman Peter T. King directly influenced decisions by PayPal, Visa and MasterCard to block donations to WikiLeaks, which has blocked 95 percent of our donors since December of 2010. Last week the European Parliament expressed its will that the Commission should prevent the arbitrary blockade of WikiLeaks.
Bradley Manning, who is alleged to be a source of the cables, started testifying on Thursday about his pre-trial treatment, which UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez said was “at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the Convention against Torture.” Captain William Hoctor, the government psychiatrist with 24 years of experience who evaluated Manning at Quantico base in Virginia, testified that brig commanders had ignored his recommendations for Manning’s detention, something he had not even experienced in his work at Guantánamo bay prison.
Bradley Manning has been detained without trial for 921 days. This is the longest pre-trial detention of a U.S. military soldier since at least the Vietnam War. U.S. military law says the maximum is 120 days.
The material that Bradley Manning is alleged to have leaked has highlighted astonishing examples of U.S. subversion of the democratic process around the world, systematic evasion of accountability for atrocities and killings, and many other abuses. Our archive of State Department cables have appeared in tens of thousands of articles, books and scholarly works, illustrating the nature of U.S. foreign policy and the instruments of U.S. national power. On the two-year anniversary of the start of Cablegate, I want to highlight some of the stories that have emerged.
A War of Terror
The United States’ War on Terror has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, inflamed sectarian violence, and made a mockery of international law. Victims and their families struggle to have their stories acknowledged, and the U.S.’ systematic avoidance of accountability for war crimes implicitly denies their right to be considered human beings. Moreover, as the U.S. increasingly relies on clandestine military operations conducted outside the scrutiny of government oversight, the execution of this expanding War on Terror becomes increasingly uncoupled from the democratic process. While President Obama had promised the American people in 2008 that he would end the Iraq War, U.S. troops were only withdrawn when information from a cable revived international scrutiny of abuse occurring in Iraq, resulting in a refusal to grant continued immunity to U.S. troops in 2012 or beyond.
In 2007 the U.S. embassy in Baghdad obtained a copy of the Iraqi government’s final investigation report on the massacre of 17 civilians on September 16th, 2007 in Nisour Square. The report concluded that the incident was an unprovoked attack on unarmed civilians, asked for $8 million in compensation for each death and $4 million for each injury, and demanded that the private security firm Blackwater be replaced within six months. Blackwater continued to operate in Iraq for two years afterwards, and the U.S. Embassy compensated victims with $10,000 for each death and $5,000 for each injury. Five years later, the offending Blackwater mercenaries have escaped from accountability to Iraq, and attempts to bring them to justice in the U.S. have resulted in a long chain of dismissed cases and one undisclosed settlement. WikiLeaks’ Iraq War Logs release of 391,832 U.S. Army field reports uncovered 14 additional cases where Blackwater opened fire on civilians, along with numerous other incidents of abuse. The Iraq War Logs also showed how the United States handed over prisoners to be tortured in gruesome detail — stories of electrocution, mutilation and of victims being attacked with drills.
The fact that, five years on, the victims of the have seen no meaningful accountability is an atrocity. But it is unfortunately no surprise that the U.S. claims immunity for its forces in other countries, then fails to administer justice at home.
These events — and in particular one cable detailing the summary execution of 10 Iraqi civilians, including four women and five children — by U.S. soldiers and a subsequent airstrike to cover up the evidence, forced the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. The story of handcuffed execution and cover-up sparked outrage around the world in the midst of negotiations to extend U.S. troop presence into 2012 and, in response to international coverage, Iraq revived its investigation into the incident. Iraq ultimately refused to grant immunity to U.S. troops in 2012, forcing the U.S. to withdraw in December 2011.
This systemic violence and cover-up extends to the war in Afghanistan. When news emerged that a midnight bombing campaign on the Afghan village of Granai in 2009 had possibly resulted in the death of up to 100 civilians, U.S. officials publicly asserted that most of the dead had been Taliban fighters. A State Department cable written shortly after the event summarizes a meeting between the Red Cross’ Afghanistan chief Reto Stocker and U.S. Ambassador Carl Eikenberry in which they discussed findings from an investigation of the event. In the cable, Stocker is referred to as “one of the most credible sources for unbiased and objective information in Afghanistan.” The Red Cross report estimated that 89 of the dead and 13 injured were in fact civilians. Neither the U.S. government nor the Red Cross publicly revealed these figures.
WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring
The Tunisian cables describe the extreme corruption and lack of transparency of the Ben Ali regime. The Ben Ali extended family are described as the worst offenders, their lavish life accompanied by “a wide-range of corrupt schemes,” including “property expropriation and extortion of bribes.” We also learned that Ben Ali family assets included an airline, several hotels and a radio station. One cable describes state censorship of Tunisia’s only private broadcast satellite TV station, and a surprise tax judgment against the station of almost $1.5 million.
In its 2011 annual report, Amnesty International praised WikiLeaks and its media partners for catalyzing the revolution in Tunisia:
“While the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in Tunisia would not have happened without the long struggle of brave human rights defenders over the last two decades, support for activists from outside the country may have been strengthened as people scrutinized the WikiLeaks documents on Tunisia and understood the roots of the anger. In particular, some of the documents made clear that countries around the world were aware of both the political repression and the lack of economic opportunity, but for the most part were not taking action to urge change.”
When Tunisia’s president Moncef Marzouki spoke with me on The World Tomorrow, he thanked WikiLeaks for its work, saying, “I am very grateful for all that you have done for promoting human rights, truth, and I admire and support your efforts.”
Shortly following Tunisia’s revolution, protests erupted in Libya, and a new batch of cables revealed the strategic calculations behind U.S. support of the Gaddafi regime. In Egypt, cables revealed that Mubarak would rather die in office than step down and that his son would likely succeed him. Then, just as evidence emerged that Vice President Suleiman was tipped to replace Mubarak, cables were released detailing his former role as intelligence chief, as well as his close ties to Israel. Such elements became a crucial part of the ongoing Egyptian uprising.
A Global Death Squad Consulting Firm?
For years, WikiLeaks faced a chorus of accusations by U.S. officials and right-wing pundits of making the world a less-safe place, and of having potentially caused harm through publication of embarrassing secrets. In reality, the cables show that torture and killing are not isolated events, but the violent manifestations of an aggressive policy of coercion used by the United States in the pursuit of its strategic commercial and political goals around the world.
While U.S. law bans the training of military units with a history of human rights violations, in practice the law is easily and often circumvented. The Indonesian army’s elite special forces unit KOPASSUS has brutally repressed the West Papuans’ freedom movement (West Papua has been occupied by Indonesia since 1963), as has been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch. Despite this, U.S. diplomats in Jakarta judged in 2007 that the time had come to resume collaboration with KOPASSUS, for the sake of “commercial interest” and “the protection of U.S. officials.”
A diplomatic cable from November 2009 mentions as a side note that right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia were responsible for the death of 257,089 victims, a figure well above the estimations of local human rights activists. The U.S. has nonetheless offered generous support to the Colombian military; Amnesty International, which has called for a complete cut-off of U.S. military aid to Colombia, has estimated that total U.S. aid in 2006 amounted to $728 million, of which 80 percent was given to military and police assistance. As of 2012, U.S. military support to Colombia is ongoing.
Such examples illustrate the United States’ liberal interpretation of the laws banning the training of military units with a history of human rights violations. In another cable from August 2008, U.S. officials acknowledge that the Bangladeshi death squad, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), has been involved in obvious human rights violations, making support for the RAB difficult — U.S. officials hoped, however, to improve the RAB’s record and polish its public image. U.S. officials praised the RAB for having “succeeded in reducing crime and fighting terrorism, making it in many ways Bangladesh’s most respected police unit.” In a diplomatic cable from 2009, it was also revealed that the UK had been training the RAB for the previous 18 months “in areas such as investigative interviewing techniques and rules of engagement.”
Foreign Service Spies
In 2009, Hillary Clinton sent an intelligence gathering directive to 33 embassies and consulates around the world. The directive asked diplomats to gather intelligence on UN officials, including credit card numbers and online handles. A similar cable requested intelligence on officials from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundy, Rwanda and Uganda, and specifically mentioned the collection of DNA samples, iris scans and computer passwords.
Another state department cable revealed that a mole within the German government was spying for the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, frequently updating U.S. officials on negotiations between Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and Westerwelle’s FDP on the formation of a new coalition government in 2009. Helmut Metzner, formerly chief of staff to Germany’s foreign minister, admitted to being the mole mentioned in these cables when this story broke in the press, and was subsequently fired.
Lobbying for Unaccountability — Manipulation of Judicial Process in Other Countries
Abuse that occurs in war, as it did in Iraq, is often dismissed by its perpetrators as exceptional, and we are often assured that when abuse has occurred, the accountability mechanisms in place will bring justice. The diplomatic cables have given us numerous concrete examples of the coercion used by the U.S. to manipulate and undermine judicial processes in other countries, and they establish a clear policy for the evasion of accountability in any form.
During the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, two journalists — including the Spanish journalist José Couso — were killed and three others were wounded when a U.S. tank fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. An investigation into the event was subsequently launched in Spain, and an international arrest warrant was issued for three U.S. soldiers involved. Cables showed that the U.S. aggressively fought to have Spanish officials drop the case. Writing about the case in one cable, U.S. Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre emphasizes: “While we are careful to show our respect for the tragic death of Couso and for the independence of the Spanish judicial system, behind the scenes we have fought tooth and nail to make the charges disappear.” Shamefully, this quote was redacted in the original reporting on the subject from El Pais and Le Monde.
In another example from 2003, a German citizen of Lebanese origins, Kalid el-Masri, was kidnapped while on vacation in Macedonia, renditioned to Afghanistan by the CIA, and tortured for four months. When his captors finally decided he was innocent, he was flown to Albania and dumped on a country road without so much as an apology. In a cable from 2007, we learn that when a German prosecutor issued arrest warrants for agents involved in el-Masri’s kidnapping, the U.S. ambassador in Berlin warned German officials that there would be repercussions. No arrests have yet been made and el-Masri is still seeking justice.
The U.S.’ manipulation extended to the UK, where a cable shows that during a British public inquiry led by Sir John Chilcot into the UK role in the Iraq War, the Ministry of Defence had “put measures in place” to protect U.S. interests.
Global Powers Work to Break Environmental Solidarity, and to Exploit “Opportunities” of Climate Change
On environmental issues, cables show that the U.S. routinely makes symbolic gestures rather than initiating substantial practices to combat climate change, and works aggressively to tailor international agreements to its own commercial interests.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked embassies to gather intelligence on the preparations for the Copenhagen UN Convention on Climate Change Meeting in December 2009, asking for biographical details of representatives from China, France, Japan, Mexico, Russia and the European Union. Cables show that in Copenhagen the U.S. manipulated the accord talks by offering “gifts” to poorer countries to derail opposition to the accord proposed by first world powers. Another cable from the Secretary of State revealed that in 2010, a Maldives ambassador designate had stressed the importance of “tangible assistance” from larger economies to smaller ones. As a consequence of this meeting, the accord offered financial compensation to poor countries suffering from the effects of global warming.
In a visit to Canada in 2009 David Goldwyn, the State Department’s Coordinator for International Energy Affairs discussed public relations assistance to be offered to the oil sands industry. Goldwyn proposed consulting experts, scholars and think tanks to “increase visibility and accessibility of more positive news stories.” The cable was later used by environmentalists in their battle against the Keystone XL pipeline, which ships crude oil across the U.S.-Canada border. In early 2012, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, but recently publicly announced support for another proposal. It also turns out that Goldwyn eventually went on to work for Sutherland, a lobbying group in favor of Keystone XL.
The cables also reveal that the U.S. is carefully positioning itself to take advantage of new opportunities for harvesting hydrocarbons and minerals from the Arctic as climate change melts polar ice. U.S. diplomats were hoping to offer Greenland support for its independence from Denmark in exchange for access by American gas and oil companies to exploit the country’s resources. The U.S. has been closely watching Russia, America’s main competitor for Arctic resources, but American officials also showed concern over Canada’s potential territorial claim to the Arctic’s Northwest passage.
Secret Agreements — Circumvention of the Democratic Process
The State Department cables revealed that the United States and its allies systematically make secret arrangements with various governments, hiding details not only from the country’s public, but sometimes even from the country’s representatives, ministers and oversight bodies.
In 2009, Jeremy Scahill and Seymour Hersh broke a story in The Nation on secret U.S. special operations forces combat missions and drone strikes in Pakistan. When questioned about the story, Department of Defense spokesperson Geoff Morrell dismissed the claims as “conspiratorial theories.” Only one year later, cables released by WikiLeaks confirmed their story. In addition, cables quoted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani telling U.S. officials: “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people — we’ll protest about it in the National Assembly and then ignore it.” Stories based on State Department cables also revealed agreements between the U.S. and Yemen in which the Yemeni government would claim responsibility for attacks launched by the U.S. on local militia groups. The release of State Department cables resulted in total transparency with respect to certain aspects of the War on Terror.
State Department cables also revealed that the U.S. worked with Australia to weaken the text of an international agreement banning the use of cluster munitions — bombs which spray thousands of smaller bomblets over a large area. Out of more than 13,000 casualties of cluster munitions registered by Handicap International, over 98 percent are civilian and one-third of those are children. Despite this, cables also revealed that the UK’s then-Foreign Minister David Miliband secretly approved the use of a legal loophole to allow the United States to store cluster munitions on UK territory, despite the fact that the UK is a signatory to a convention banning them. The United States is not a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and even attempted in 2011 to have the ban lifted by the UN.
In 2007, former Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley asked U.S. officials for predator drones to help shore up liberal support for a sustained Canadian presence in the war in Afghanistan. At the time, Manley was leading a government-appointed panel charged with investigating Canada’s interests in a future role in Afghanistan. In August 2012, the Ottawa Citizen reported that the Canadian government is seeking to spend up to $1 billion on a state-of-the-art armed drone fleet.
The cables also revealed that Canada’s conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper secretly promised NATO in January 2010 that Canada would remain in Afghanistan to conduct army training even after the end of its mission in 2011. The Canadian public was shocked when the government announced that it would be extending its mission in November of that year. Harper expressed concern to U.S. diplomats that an early departure of Canadian troops from Aghanistan would seem like a “withdrawal,” reflecting the low public support for Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.
In 2008, the U.S. proposed an “informal agreement” to Swedish government officials for the exchange of information on terrorism watch-lists. U.S. officials explained that they feared scrutiny by the Swedish parliament would jeopardize “law enforcement and anti-terrorism cooperation.” Cables also revealed that in 2009, the U.S. resumed full intelligence-sharing with New Zealand after it had been restricted in retaliation for the country’s ban against nuclear-powered or armed vessels in its ports. Both governments agreed that the newly resumed cooperation should be kept hidden from the public.
The Realpolitik of Commercial Lobbying
State Department cables illustrate that U.S. officials and their commercial partners take a default position of having an intrinsic right to resources and market dominance around the world.
In a 2007 cable to the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. Ambassador Craig Stapleton suggested taking a hard-line approach towards the European Union over its resistance to American genetically modified products and foods. France’s refusal to embrace GMOs and agricultural biotechnology, according to Ambassador Stapleton, would lead to a general European rejection of GMOs, and he suggested retaliation to help the French see things differently:
“Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory.”
The cables also showed that the U.S. revoked visas of then-Ecuadoran presidential candidate Xavier Neira and seven others due to their involvement in a legal case against the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer for unfair competition. The timing of the decision to revoke their visas coincided with the upcoming presidential elections and an impending court decision on the case. In its explanation of the revocation, officials cite “corruption” and the case against Pfizer.
The U.S.-based Shell Oil company has a long and sordid history in Nigeria, and its representatives spoke openly about activities in the country. In a 2009 meeting, Shell representatives told U.S. officials that they would be able to influence the Nigerian government’s 2009 Petroleum Industry Bill to suit their interests.
Cables from 2005 highlight U.S. determination to “improve the investment climate” for mining companies in Peru. Representatives from Canada, UK, Australia, Switzerland and South Africa met to strategize ways of circumventing anti-mining protests coming from a diverse group of NGOs, the Catholic Church and indigenous Peruvians. Once protests had turned violent, the U.S. used this as an excuse for monitoring NGO groups such as Oxfam and Friends of the Earth, and asked the Peruvian government to enhance security by taking control of roadways and transit areas.
In other cases, officials in the U.S. Embassy assisted in lobbying for or against particular pieces of legislation according to U.S. commercial interests. U.S. officials lobbied on behalf of Visa and MasterCard against a bill in Russia which would have created a national card payment system, taking away Visa and MasterCard’s market share.
Strategic Duplicity on Human Rights and Press Freedom
A cable summarizing a meeting with a director of Al Jazeera shows that U.S. officials expected a special report with graphic images of injured Iraqis to be changed and its images removed. In another cable, the director is asked to explain Al Jazeera’s lack of coverage of the Iran elections and protests as opposed to their “heavy” coverage of Gaza.
The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in the kingdom of Bahrain, and the U.S. has maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with the country’s leaders over the past years. In one cable, the U.S. ambassador to Bahrain praised the country and its king, pointing out that U.S. companies had won major contracts there. This same regime brutally cracked down on protesters during the Arab Spring, and Bahraini authorities shut down dissident websites and publications. While the U.S. State Department harshly condemned the crackdown on protests after Iran’s 2009 elections, it remained silent on the killings in Bahrain.
Thailand’s Monarchy Exposed
Thailand’s lèse majesté law prevents anyone in the country from speaking openly about the monarchy without risk of severe punishment. As such, any reports about political developments in the country are censored, and there is a huge gap in public knowledge about the country’s political environment. WikiLeaks’ release of State Department cables gives an unprecedented view of not only the monarchy’s deep impact on the politics of the country, but also the close relationship that Thailand had with the U.S. Journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall quit his job at Reuters to write his book Thailand’s Moment of Truth, using the Thai cables exposing obscured and taboo aspects of Thailand’s politics, history and international relations for the first time.
U.S. Aims to Reshape Global Views and Law on Intellectual Property and Copyright
U.S.-based lobbying groups work hand in hand with U.S. State Department officials around the world to aggressively lobby for legislation and trade agreements that favor American companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, or large film studios such as Disney, Paramount, Sony and Warner.
A 2006 cable from Japan describes the first draft proposals for a “gold standard” in intellectual property rights enforcement, called ACTA. This standard was meant to give intellectual property owners much stronger powers, even at the expense of citizen privacy and due process. ACTA was subsequently negotiated in secret, unknown to the general public, until WikiLeaks leaked the first draft in 2008. In the film industry, the lobbyist group for motion picture studios conspired with their Australian counterpart to establish a legal precedent for holding an Internet service provider accountable for copyright infringement in Australia. What is the effect of this push and pull? It is a global environment where legislation and legal precedents are set to benefit intellectual property owners who are rich, powerful and influential — even at the expense of public good.
Breaking the Monopoly on Influence
The examples I present above represent only a small fraction of what has been revealed by WikiLeaks material. Since 2010, Western governments have tried to portray WikiLeaks as a terrorist organization, enabling a disproportionate response from both political figures and private institutions. It is the case that WikiLeaks’ publications can and have changed the world, but that change has clearly been for the better. Two years on, no claim of individual harm has been presented, and the examples above clearly show precisely who has blood on their hands.
In large Western democracies, the political discourse has been so highly controlled for so long, that it is no longer shocking when Western experts fill in to speak for third world victims, or when an American president stands up at a podium to accept his Nobel Peace Prize, and makes the case for war. It is, in fact, no longer safe to presume that a media outlet such as The New York Times would perform the same act today as they did in 1971 when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers.
In a panel discussion with Daniel Ellsberg and New York Times editor Jill Abramson discussing the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg voiced his dissent over the Times‘ acquiescence to the Bush administration’s request to delay James Risen’s story on warrantless NSA wiretapping until after the 2004 elections. Abramson equivocated:
“The thing is when the government says — you know — by publishing a story you’re harming the national security, you’re helping the terrorists. I mean, there are still people today who argue that the NSA program was the crown jewel, the most valuable anti-terrorism program that the Bush administration had going, and that it was terribly wrong of the Times to publish.”
On the same panel, Daniel Ellsberg said of the Pentagon Papers:
“The secrecy of these documents has so far condemned over 30,000 Americans to death and several million Vietnamese. And the continued secrecy of them will undoubtedly contribute to the death of tens of thousands more Americans, and so forth. I think that’s true. But that comes up in the WikiLeaks case, right now.”
Since the release of the diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks has continued its operations despite the financial blockade, publishing leaked documents from companies selling mass interception units to state spy agencies around the world; detainee profiles for almost all of the people detained at Guantánamo Bay prison; U.S. policy manuals for detention of military prisoners in the War on Terror; intelligence databases from the private intelligence firm Stratfor; and millions of documents from inside the Syrian government. The information we’ve disclosed frustrates the controlled political discourse that is trumpeted by establishment media and Western governments to shape public perception.
We will continue our fight against the financial blockade, and we will continue to publish. The Pentagon’s threats against us do the United States a disservice and will not be heeded.
One Man is Selling Our Our Democracy November 21, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Economic Crisis, Foreign Policy.
Tags: avaaz, Canada, canada china, democracy, environment, fippa, health, roger hollander, Stephen Harper, trade deal
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Harper’s about to sign Canada up to a crazy deal that allows China’s companies to sue us if we pass laws protecting our health and environment that effect their profits. But massive public opposition has thrown him, and if we crank up the pressure we can actually stop this disaster.Join the call now:
Harper is about to sign a crazy deal with China that would set up secret courts where China’s companies can sue Canada if we pass laws to protect our health and environment that effect their profits.
But Harper’s been thrown by the growing public opposition to his plan – even among conservatives — and we actually have a chance to kill this disaster. He’s already delayed signing the deal, and if we can crank up the pressure we can force him to back down.
We need to show just how many people oppose this thing if we’re going to win. Join the campaign now and forward this to everyone you know — when we’re 50,000 strong, we’ll take our voices to Ottawa with a message Harper can’t ignore:
The treaty, known as the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPPA), is a bad deal for Canada: China keeps way more exemptions for national subsidies, protects more industries from Canada’s investors and it creates a secret tribunal that’s unlikely to do any good for Canada if China breaks the terms of the deal — in the last 15 years, no country has successfully sued China under one of these agreements!
This is also a desperate attempt by Harper to ramp up exploitation of our natural resources. The treaty could drastically hamper our ability to legislate to protect our environment. Big business in China has already spent $13 billion on the tar sands and want a large stake in the Northern Gateway pipeline — and this deal could mean any attempt to stop or regulate those projects could cost billions in Canadian taxpayer dollars.
Belgium signed a similar deal with China and it’s already being sued for billions. We can make sure this doesn’t happen here. For once, Harper’s been genuinely thrown by the depth of opposition to this deal, and we have to keep up the pressure. Sign now and share with everyone:
Together, we know we can beat the worst of Harper’s brutal agenda. Last year, more than 100,000 Canadian Avaazers came together to defeat an attempt to set up a “Fox News North” and protect balanced reporting in Canada. With thousands of Canadians already speaking out against this sovereignty fire-sale to China we can stop Harper and safeguard our democracy again.
Jeremy, Emma, Ari, Ricken, Melanie and the rest of the Avaaz team
Canada-China investment deal allows for confidential lawsuits against Canada (Toronto Star): http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1264290–canada-china-investment-deal-allows-for-confidential-lawsuits-against-canada
14 reasons why Canada-China investment deal needs more time, debate (Vancouver Observer): http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/commentary/14-reasons-why-canada-china-investment-deal-needs-more-time-debate
‘Flawed’ investment treaty with China on fast track to ratification (Canadian Business): http://www.canadianbusiness.com/article/102764–flawed-investment-treaty-with-china-on-fast-track-to-ratification-critics
Canadians are nervous about China trade pact. They should be (iPolitics): http://www.ipolitics.ca/2012/11/14/dnp-trew/
China Treaty Uproar Signals Growing Rift Between Ottawa, Grassroots Conservatives (Dogwood Initiative): http://dogwoodinitiative.org/blog/china-canada-treaty
Avaaz.org is a 16-million-person global campaign network that works to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people shape global decision-making. (“Avaaz” means “voice” or “song” in many languages.) Avaaz members live in every nation of the world; our team is spread across 19 countries on 6 continents and operates in 14 languages. Learn about some of Avaaz’s biggest campaigns here. To ensure that Avaaz messages reach your inbox, please add email@example.com to your address book. To change your email address, language settings, or other personal information, www.avaaz.org/en/contact, or simply go here to unsubscribe.
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Why Chavez Won Again October 31, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: afro-venezuelan, chavez government, danny glover, democracy, economic justice, henrique capriles, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, poverty, roger hollander, Venezuela, venezuela democracy, venezuela election, venezuela government
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I had the privilege of traveling to Venezuela and witnessing the country’s October 7 presidential election and watching the South American country’s extraordinarily active and engaged citizenry in action. An impressive 81 percent of the electorate participated in a transparent and secure electoral process that former president Jimmy Carter reportedly referred to as the best in the world.
President Hugo Chavez’s 10-point margin of victory over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles stands as a testament to the enduring popularity of his participatory democracy programs and his government’s focus on addressing the needs of the poor.
Capriles campaigned on a platform that supported the government’s social programs, while criticizing inefficiencies in many government sectors and capitalizing on fears over high rates of violence and unchecked corruption. In reality, as former key supporters revealed, and the majority of voters affirmed at the ballot box, Capriles and his allies backed a sweeping neo-liberal program fundamentally opposed to the current government’s state-led, pro-social economic policies and support for direct collaboration with citizens in improving their wellbeing.
In contrast to his prior contempt for the democratic decisions of Venezeulans—including a failed coup in 2002—Capriles formally conceded defeat shortly after the election results were announced. Although media coverage of Venezuelan politics might have led one to think otherwise, these presidential elections were about much more than Chavez, as significant as he may be as torch-bearer of the poor and marginalized.
I began to get a sense of the bigger picture when I visited the country for the first time nine years ago at the invitation of the Afro-Venezuelan Network. I saw how Venezuela’s Afro-descendents—among the most under-educated, marginalized, and impoverished people in the country—were becoming proactive as full citizens under the Chavez government, increasingly participating in political decision-making at the local level and claiming a voice in regional, national, and even international affairs. And I became increasingly aware of the growing political collaboration among Afro-Venezuelans, the Chavez government, and the approximately 150 million people of African descent throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
My initial impressions, informed by my university studies in economics and my professional experience in community development in San Francisco, were confirmed on each of my subsequent visits. I observed numerous social, educational, cultural, and economic development projects that were improving the lives of marginalized communities and facilitating direct citizen participation and critical engagement in broader national, regional, and global affairs.
The Chavez government has also helped raise awareness about the historical links between racial exploitation and disempowerment and the socio-cultural relationship between wealth and luxury versus inequality and misery. The government’s policies, for which the majority of Venezuelan citizens of all backgrounds have voted for the last 13 years, are addressing the legacy of slavery and helping expose and overcome generations of discrimination based on race, class, and gender.
On my most recent trip to witness the elections, I was greatly moved by the extraordinary civility and enthusiasm of voters from across the political spectrum, despite the fact that the opposing campaign agendas clearly represent radically different visions for the people and the country. Though media accounts create the impression that extreme political polarization is pervasive throughout Venezuela, I witnessed an atmosphere of respect and tranquility at the voting centers. At every voting booth, volunteers from both campaigns were present to ensure that citizens had access to the ballot box and could freely exercise their choice for president.
But the most important moment of my trip was the day after the election when I met with local leaders and activists from the Afro-Venezuela community of San Jose in Barlovento, on the northern coast of Venezuela. I conversed with community leaders descended from the “maroons”—Venezuelans who had escaped slavery and created self-sustaining communities over 400 years ago.
Youth leaders described the educational missions and government programs that provided them with unprecedented access to higher education. Members of workers’ cooperatives discussed new state cacao processing factories co-managed by managers and workers that had helped lift the local economy and offered fair prices and social support to poor farmers. Other representatives of the community explained how new health and education missions were addressing the needs of communities that had had little or no access to basic services. In the small, poor community I visited, I learned about a state-run clinic focused exclusively on women’s health issues. Though local leaders by and large expressed admiration for President Chavez and his policies, they also noted unresolved issues that they wanted to see addressed.
A Better Life
More generally, life has improved for a great number of Venezuelans over the last decade. Poverty has been cut in half and extreme poverty cut by 70 percent. Free health care, education, and public pension programs have been greatly expanded, the minimum wage has steadily increased, and unemployment has dropped below 8 percent.
The most promising aspect of the Venezuelan government’s social development agenda is the proactive effort to promote democratic engagement and citizen control over local conditions and possibilities. We should all take note that these efforts are taking place in the middle of a global financial, economic, and ethical meltdown, when many countries are sharply scaling back social policies and embracing the neoliberal polices Venezuela has repeatedly rejected.
A great deal of the foreign media coverage of Venezuela gives the impression that Chavez’s social and economic policies are incoherent, unsustainable, and based on short-term electoral considerations. For years, the financial press has predicted an imminent collapse of the Venezuelan economy. But, in fact, Venezuela enjoys a large trade surplus and has relatively little public debt. That provides the government with lots of room for continued expansionary fiscal, monetary, and social development policies.
The press also often vilifies Chavez and portrays his supporters—a strong majority of the country—as poor, reverent masses who are blindly manipulated by populist rhetoric and occasional cash handouts. This portrayal is not only false, it is denigrating and injurious to the basic workings of democracy: ordinary people expressing their desires with visions of an improved quality of life, development projects, and a choice of political stewards to achieve their goals. Yet, nearly 14 years after Chavez was first elected, misrepresentations and outright fabrications still prevail in mainstream U.S. papers, television news programs, and in the statements of politicians from both major parties.
If you want to understand how the Chavez administration continues to win free and fair elections, you need only hear the stories of formerly marginalized communities and look more carefully at the country’s social and economic indicators. As I spoke with Afro-Venezuelans about their support for President Chavez and his agenda, I was reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said that we as a nation must undergo a “true revolution of values.” As King explained, “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…and say, ‘This is not just.’”
In the Oct. 7 elections, as in more than a dozen previous electoral cycles, Venezuela has shown that the majority of its people have a clear notion of justice and how it can be achieved. It is now time for those of us in the United States to look at our alliance with the elites of Latin America and say: This is not just.
Egypt: End Game June 23, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Egypt.
Tags: arab spring, democracy, egypt, egypt coup, egypt democracy, egypt election, egypt military, gywnne dyer, mubarak, muslim brotherhood, roger hollander, tahrir square
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“If we find that SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) stands firm against us as we try to fulfill the fulfill the demands of the revolution,” said Fatema AbouZeid of the Muslim Brotherhood as the final results of Egypt’s presidential election last weekend rolled in, “we will go back to the streets and escalate things peacefully to the highest possible level.”
“Now we have a new factor in Egyptian politics, the Egyptian people themselves…” she continued. “(They) will not accept a return to the old regime in any form, not after so much Egyptian blood was shed to remove it.” Well, maybe.
There’s nothing like an election to make things clear. Now all the cards are on the table in Egypt, and the last round of bidding has begun. The army has opened with a very high bid in the hope of scaring everybody else off, and now the other players have to decide whether to call or fold.
Sometimes, even in long-established democratic states, the players simply fold in order to avoid a destructive constitutional upheaval. That’s what the Democratic Party did when the United States Supreme Court awarded the state of Florida and the presidency to George W. Bush in the disputed election of 2000.
It was an outrageously partisan decision by the 5-4 Republican majority in the Supreme Court, but if the Democrats had rejected it the United States would have faced months or even years of political turmoil. If they had foreseen the devastation that the Bush presidency would cause they might have done otherwise, but at the time their decision seemed wise.
It is possible that the Egyptian “opposition” – a uneasy amalgam of the secular and leftist young who overthrew the dictator Hosni Mubarak on Tahrir Square sixteen months ago and the Muslim Brotherhood (which initially avoided direct confrontation with the old regime) – will also just fold. After sixteen months of upheaval so many ordinary Egyptians just want “stability” that the army might win a showdown in the streets.
The problem is that the Egyptian army has bid much higher than the US Supreme Court ever did – so high that if the other players fold they lose almost everything. This is a brazen bid to revive the old regime minus Mubarak, and restore the armed forces to the position of economic privilege and political control that they have enjoyed, to Egypt’s very great cost, ever since Gamal Abdel Nasser’s coup in 1952.
On 14 June, just 48 hours before the polls opened for the second round of the presidential election, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court announced that last year’s parliamentary election, in which Islamic parties won almost three-quarters of the seats, was conducted by rules that contravened the constitution.
There was a legitimate question about whether the political parties should have been allowed to run candidates in the seats reserved for independents. No, said the court, all of whose judges were appointed by the old regime. But rather than just ruling that there must be by-elections in those seats, they declared that the whole parliament must be dissolved.
This bizarre decision presumably meant that the 100-person constituent assembly created by the parliament to write Egypt’s new constitution was also dissolved. The army still swears that it will hand power over to the new democratically elected president on 30 June – but he will now take office with no parliament and no constitution to define his powers.
Might there have been some collusion between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Supreme Constitutional Court in this matter? Is the Pope a Catholic?
Last Sunday, only three days after the Court handed down its judgement and just as it was becoming clear that the old regime’s candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, would probably lose the presidential election, the SCAF issued an “interim constitutional declaration”. It effectively gives the military legislative powers, control over the budget, and the right to pick the committee that writes the new constitution.
Since that committee will not report until the end of the year, in the meantime there will be no election for a new parliament. There will be an elected president, but he will not even have authority over the armed forces: the army’s “interim constitution” strips him of that power, and no doubt its tame committee will write it into the new permanent constitution as well.
The SCAF can’t have come up with all this in just 72 hours after the decision of the Supreme Constitutional Court on the 14th. There had to be a lot of coordination between the military and the Court beforehand. You could call this a “constitutional coup,” but the more accurate phrase is “military coup.” So what can Egyptians do about it?
They can go back to Tahrir Square, this time student radicals and Muslim Brothers together, and try to force the army out of politics. That will be very dangerous, because this time, unlike February of last year, the generals may actually order the soldiers to clear the square by gunfire. Or the opposition, aware that the mass of the population has no appetite for more confrontation and instability, may just submit and hope for a better day.
If it does that, the Egyptian revolution is dead.
Gwynne Dyer has worked as a freelance journalist, columnist, broadcaster and lecturer on international affairs for more than 20 years, but he was originally trained as an historian. Born in Newfoundland, he received degrees from Canadian, American and British universities. His latest book, “Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats“, was published in the United States by Oneworld.
In Egypt, a President Without Power June 21, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Egypt, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: democracy, egypt, egypt coup, egypt democracy, egypt election, egypt military, egypt parliament, egypt revolution, military dictatorship, mubarak, muslim brotherhood, roger hollander, sharif abdel kouddous
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Last week’s presidential elections in Egypt were supposed to mark the final step in what has been an arduous transition from military rule to an elected civilian government. Instead, sixteen months after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising calling for freedom and social justice, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces has assumed near-full control of all of the key branches of state.
Shafiq (left) or Mursi (right). Either way, turmoil is guaranteed. (Photo: AP)
M inutes after polls closed Sunday evening in the country’s first-ever competitive presidential election, which pitted the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi against Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister, the SCAF issued a set of constitutional amendments that strip the incoming president of almost all significant powers and cement military authority over the post-Mubarak era.
The move by the ruling generals came days after the dissolution of the popularly elected parliament by a court packed with Mubarak-appointed judges, as well as a decree by the Minister of Justice reintroducing elements of martial law to the country by granting the military broad powers to arrest and detain civilians.
“Egypt has completed its full transition into a military dictatorship,” wrote Hossam Bahgat, head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, after the amendments were made public.
The eleventh-hour declaration awards the ruling generals sweeping powers, including the right to issue legislation in the absence of a sitting parliament, and total control over the military’s affairs, shielding the army from any presidential, parliamentary or public oversight. Most prominently, the amendments remove the president’s role as commander-in-chief—with SCAF head Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi assuming that power—effectively transforming the SCAF into a fourth branch of state, constitutionally separate from the executive, legislative and judiciary.
“The provisions really do constitutionalize a military coup,” writes Nathan Brown, an Egypt expert at George Washington University.
The military also tightened its grip over the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution by granting itself an effective veto over any clauses that don’t meet with its approval. It can even go further and directly handpick the 100-member body that will write the constitution. The Constituent Assembly, elected by the Muslim Brotherhood–dominated parliament two days before it was dissolved, faces allegations by secular forces that it is dominated by Islamists who have secured themselves the lion’s share of seats. The new amendments allow the SCAF to dissolve the current body if “encounters an obstacle”—a disturbingly vague condition—and select the Constituent Assembly themselves.
The military council further eroded the authority of the executive with another decree, made public on Monday, to form a seventeen-member National Defense Council, to be chaired by the incoming president, but which will include eleven senior military commanders and will make decisions based on a simply majority vote.
Meanwhile, the head of the SCAF Advisory Council, Sameh Ashour, suggested the winner of the election might only serve on an interim basis, until the new constitution is written. “The newly elected president will occupy the office for a short period of time, whether or not he agrees,” Ashour told Al Jazeera.
Activists and rights campaigners decried the series of moves by the military, which they said render the SCAF’s promise to hand over power by June 30 effectively meaningless. The sentiment was reflected in the front-page headline of the privately owned daily Al-Shorouk the morning after the election: “A president without powers.”
The runoff itself was deeply divisive, marked by heavy negative campaigning by both sides. Shafik, a stalwart of the former regime, campaigned on a law-and-order platform, vowing to use force to crush protesters, while vilifying the Brotherhood and pledging to act as a bulwark against the rise of Islamists in government. Meanwhile, Morsi sought to portray himself as the revolutionary candidate facing off against the remnants of Mubarak’s regime.
Both men were polarizing figures, and their candidacies evoked the binary political landscape that prevailed in Egypt in the decades leading up to the revolution. Enthusiasm among the electorate was clearly low, with many voters saying their choice of candidate was based largely on preventing the other from reaching the presidency.
The Brotherhood has claimed it won the poll, releasing figures that show Morsi with nearly 52 percent of the vote to Shafik’s 48 percent. The results appear to coincide with reports from local media outlets and independent observers. However, the Shafik campaign is vigorously denying their candidate has lost and insists Shafik came out ahead with a tally of 51 percent. Both sides have launched appeals against the conduct of the vote before official results are announced on Thursday, June 21.
The Brotherhood has come out strongly against the constitutional amendments and says it does not recognize the Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling to dissolve parliament, a decision widely viewed as highly politicized. The army deployed troops outside the parliament on Saturday to prevent MPs from gaining access to the building.
“This is against the people’s will and the SCAF does not have a genuine intention to hand over power,” the Brotherhood said in a statement. On Tuesday, the group helped lead a protest of tens of thousands in Tahrir Square and outside parliament, along with a number of other political forces, including the Salafi Nour party and the April 6 Youth Movement.
Adding to the chaos, that very night, the official state news agency caused a firestorm when it reported that Mubarak had been declared “clinically dead” after suffering a stroke. The former president was transferred from his prison cell where had been held since June 2, after receiving a life sentence on charges of involving the killing protesters in January 2011. Conflicting reports soon emerged that he was in fact stable and on a respirator. Reports of Mubarak’s failing health had frequently appeared in the media ever since charges were brought against him last year and the latest news was treated with widespread criticism in Egypt. The next day, The New York Times reported that his lawyer denied the former president had nearly died, insisting he simply fell down in the prison bathroom.
Meanwhile, the Carter Center, one of three international organizations accredited to witness the election, expressed “grave concern” about the military’s actions. “It is now unclear whether a truly democratic transition remains underway in Egypt,” the group said in a preliminary statement released Tuesday.
In Washington, the reaction was similar from both the State Department and the Pentagon. “We are particularly concerned by decisions that appear to prolong the military’s hold on power,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
US policy towards Egypt has remained unchanged since before the revolution, when Washington backed the Mubarak regime for decades with $1.3 billion in annual military aid. In March, the Obama administration used a national security waiver to bypass new restrictions imposed by Congress that would have made aid to Egypt conditional on certification from the State Department that the SCAF was making progress on the transition to democracy. The move came in the wake of a crisis in which Egyptian authorities raided several NGOs in Cairo, including three funded by the United States, not to mention continued and widespread human rights abuses committed by the military and security forces.
“[The United States] will either have to suspend the aid or be openly in favor of SCAF’s constitutional coup if they continue it,” writes Cairo-based blogger and analyst Issandr El-Amrani. “The time has come: the US may not be able to influence developments in Egypt, but at least it can stop underwriting them.”
The presidential elections mark the third time Egyptians have gone to the polls only to find their votes rendered meaningless. A nationwide referendum on nine amendments to the constitution in March 2011 was supplanted by SCAF a few days later when it unilaterally issued a “Constitutional Declaration” that included over sixty articles. The parliamentary elections last fall were cancelled by this month’s court ruling to dissolve the People’s Assembly. Now, millions have elected a president who was stripped of most of his authority by the SCAF in a last-minute power grab.
If voting has come to mean nothing with the military in charge, the masses that united to oust Mubarak may soon begin to seek other avenues for change.
Tags: Canada, cartagena summit, china, Cuba, democracy, Humor, oas, political satire, president obama, roger hollander, satire, saudi arabia, Stephen Harper, trade embargo, white houe correspondent
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In one of the most bizarre moments ever witnessed at a presidential news conference, President Obama was taken aback when confronted by the former doyenne and rare iconoclast amongst White House correspondents Helen Thomas. The latter, who had lost her credentials for anti-Israel comments, apparently was able to enter the presidential briefing disguised as New York times columnist David Brooks. Just returned from his highly successful Cartagena Summit, where only a handful of his Secret Service protectors got caught underpaying Colombian hookers (in violation of the principles of the proposed US Colombia free trade agreement and the War on Sin), the President re-iterated his opposition to Cuba’s participation in the OAS (where only 33 Latin American presidents stood up against the US and Canada, in other words, a technical minority).
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Cuba, unlike the other countries that are participating, has not yet moved to democracy, has not yet observed basic human rights. I am hopeful that a transition begins to take place inside of Cuba. And I assure you that I and the American people will welcome the time when the Cuban people have the freedom to live their lives, choose their leaders, and fully participate in this global economy and international institutions.
It was at this point that Thomas qua Brooks went where no White House correspondent had gone before and asked the President how Cuba was any different on human rights violations and democracy than major US trading partners China and Saudi Arabia. President Obama, a legal scholar and a man known for transparency, honesty and loose change you can believe in, responded with: “Oh my God, you’re right. I hadn’t noticed.”
The President then surprised everyone by postponing the rest of the conference so that he could confer with his economic advisors to consider this new information.
Several hours later the President returned to announce trade sanctions against the undemocratic and totalitarian regimes of China and Saudi Arabia. In his statement Obama belittled the loss of Saudi oil, saying that it only represents 11% of US imports and that could be made up by draining more oil from our loyal Canadian neighbors, where the Harper Conservative government (a government with an absolute majority in parliament despite only 40% of the popular vote — a singular strength of Canadian democracy) was the only support against the Latin American ingrates ganging up against North American largesse in Cartagena. The President added that he had his eyes on all that Canadian fresh water as well.
The President admitted, however, that the Chinese embargo might present more of a problem for Americans in that amongst China’s major exports to the United States included apparel, footwear and toys and sports equipment. “As with our successful interventions to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan”, the President noted, “the American people have shown themselves to be more than willing to make sacrifices in the name of democracy.” The President added that he was particularly concerned about the loss of toys for American children, the vast majority of which come from totalitarian, undemocratic, Communist China (thanks to that notorious pinko Richard Nixon). He therefore announced that his government would be buying up all the toy outlets from the nation’s number one toy retailer and renaming it Democracy “R” Us. Children from every nook and corner of America will be invited to learn about democracy in sessions where they will debate and vote on resolutions authored by lobbyists from the military and major corporations including arms manufacturers, big Pharma, Dick Cheney’s oil buddies, the prison-industrial complex, major HMOs and other paragons of American democracy.
When asked for a comment, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney stated that he was too busy trying to find a way to convince Evangelical Christians that Mormonism is not a cult and that his grandparents probably were not polygamists to be able to make a statement at the moment. He added, however, that we could count on hearing at least two conflicting opinions from him in the near future.