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Obama’s Fast Track Attack on Women June 30, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Labor, Health, Women, Trade Agreements.
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Roger’s note: this article was published before the traitorous right wing Republican president Obama and the right wing Republican Congress aided by some twenty odd traitorous Democrats gave Obama the authority to fast track the traitorous Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.  If you are observant you will have noticed my repetition of the word “traitorous.”  However, if you somehow failed to notice this, let me repeat that Obama and the Republican and Democratic Party members of Congress who voted fast track are nothing less than traitors to American women and other working people as well as the environment and what little is left of democratic institutions in the country.

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Women protest against the Trans-Pacific Partnership during an international day of action in Seattle on Friday, January 31, 2015. “(Photos courtesy of Alex Garland Photography/cc/flickr)

The President is asking for “fast track” authority to let the White House be the sole negotiator on the Trans Pacific Partnership, a giant twelve-nation trade agreement between the U.S. and Pacific Rim nations. Fast track passed the Senate in May, and could come up for a House vote as early as this week.

Trouble is, the provisions are secret, and the Obama administration won’t tell Congress or the people what’s in it. But thanks to a few chapters released by Wikileaks online last year, we already know it’s a disaster for U.S. workers—especially women.

According to the Washington Post, around 600 corporations and a couple of labor unions have seen a draft. A few members of Congress have seen parts of it in a “secure soundproof reading room,” where cellphones and note-taking are not allowed. The majority of congressmembers and the public have not, and those members who have been given that extremely limited access are forbidden to discuss it with the public.

The so-called partnership is an insult to all U.S. workers, with many provisions that will hurt women the most. The Communications Workers of America says it will steal majority-female jobs from low wage workplaces like call centers, as well as higher wage sectors such as human resources. And according to Doctors Without Borders, the agreement may well cut off access to generic drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS—now predominately women and kids.

At the same time supporters in the Senate were beating their chests when they passed fast track for TPP claiming it will create jobs, they also passed a companion measure called the TAA –Trade Adjustment Assistance. And what would that do? Give assistance to U.S. workers displaced by free trade agreements. Huh? Didn’t they say the TPP would create jobs? Yeah, but they forgot to mention those much touted new jobs will be in low wage countries paying pennies per hour.

And then there’s the collateral damage. The TAA will be paid for by benefit cuts in Medicare, a program women depend on more than men do. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cuts will amount to $700 million. So add health care providers to the list of those against this rotten deal.

The final insult? Under rules, businesses incorporated in Trans Pacific Partnership countries would be guaranteed equal treatment with U.S. firms when bidding on government contracts. That means our tax dollars would be underwriting countries like Brunei, which imprisons unmarried women for getting pregnant and allows stoning of gays and lesbians.

If the President and Congress really want to help U.S. workers, why not start with something guaranteed to work quickly right here at home – like a higher minimum wage. But the Trans Pacific Partnership? Throw it overboard.

Martha Burk is a political psychologist, women’s issues expert, and director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO).

Brother Can You Spare a Dime June 29, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Economic Crisis, Poverty, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: A song the Republicans once tried to ban,  it is as relevant today as it was during the (not so) Great Depression

 

The War in Colombia and Why It Continues June 24, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Labor, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: it is only four word phrase, but it reflects an iron law of human society; No Justice, No Peace.  Be it the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America, conflict may appear ideological or religious, but it is always a question of justice.  That is why so-called settlements that do not address the inherent inequality of capital domination, can be at best stepping stones to genuine peace.  In Latin America we see this in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, where full-fledged and open armed conflict has been temporary suspended via agreements between the established “order” (I put this in quotes because it is in fact disorder) and organized rebellion; and the result is a continuation of suffocating neo-Liberal capitalism.  The settlement of virtually every conflict world-wide is further hindered by United States diplomatic, economic, military, and clandestine interventions for geopolitical reasons which inevitably boil down to the protection of corporate interests.

 

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Where Ecocide Turns Into Genocide

by W.T. WHITNEY Jr.

In Havana, representatives of the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been negotiating peace for 30 months. The war they are trying to end has killed or disappeared 250,000 Colombians over 25 years. The future of the talks is uncertain.

“Today the mountains and forests of Colombia are the heart of Latin America.” At an international forum on Colombia on June 8, former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica was saying that developments in Colombia, including the peace process, are “the most important in Latin America.”

Interviewed on May 30, head FARC negotiator Iván Márquez, asserted that “confidence at the negotiating table is badly impaired and that only a bilateral ceasefire can help the process advance.” He said deaths of “human rights defenders [including] over 100 members of the Patriotic March coalition” and “persecution of leaders of the social movements” were poisoning the atmosphere.

Since March in Cúcuta, thugs have killed four labor leaders, including on June 2 Alex Fabián Espinosa, a member of the MOVICE human rights group. In May assassins killed community leader Juan David Quintana and professor and social activist Luis Fernando Wolff, both in Medellin. Analyst Azalea Robles says that “a total of 19 human rights defenders were murdered in Columbia during the first four months of 2015.”

On April 15, FARC guerrillas killed 11 Colombian soldiers in Buenos Aires (Cauca). According to Márquez, “They were defending themselves following the disembarkation of troops [from aircraft] who were advancing on them.” In apparent retaliation, the Colombian military, bombing from the air, killed 27 guerrillas on May 21 in Guapi (Cauca).   The FARC immediately ended the unilateral, indefinite ceasefire it declared in December, 2014. Within days, government forces killed 10 guerrillas in Antioquia and five more in Choco Department. The dead included two FARC peace negotiators who were in Colombia updating guerrillas on the talks.

Negotiators have reached preliminary agreements on three agenda categories: land, narco-trafficking, and political participation. But now they’ve have spent a year on the “victims” agenda item; reparations and assignment of blame were prime topics. On completion recently of their 37th round of talks, they did agree to form a truth commission as “part of the integral system of truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition.” Work on that project may divert government negotiators from their steady focus on “transitional justice” which entails punishment and jail time for FARC leaders.

A pilot project on removing landmines and discussions by military leaders on both sides about ceasefire mechanisms are other markers of progress. Márquez insists on “reconciliation on the basis of actual history, far-reaching justice, comprehensive reparation, and no repetition [and] all of this is tied to structural transformations.” This last promises to be a sticking point.

Azalea Robles explains why: Emphasizing Colombian government dependency on powerful economic interests, she implies that the hands of government negotiators are tied. “The Colombian reality,” she says,” is shaped by dispossession and territorial re-accommodation destined for all areas … that are of economic interest. It’s a capitalist logic that allows no scruples and constitutes ecocide turned into genocide. In Colombia strategies of terror are promoted and they relate to capitalist plunder.”

For example, “80 percent of human rights violations and 87 percent of population displacements take place in regions where multinationals pursue mining exploitation, [and] 78 percent of attacks against unionists were against those working in the mining and energy areas.” Some “40 percent of Colombian land is under concession by multinational corporations.” She counts 25 environmentalists killed in 2014.

Capitalism in Colombia, Robles insists, rests on “state terrorism.” She cites “physical elimination” of the Patriotic Union party, “6.3 million dispossessed and displaced from their lands for the benefit of big capital,” and “60 percent of assassinations of unionists worldwide” having taken place in Colombia.

The fate of Wayuu Indians in La Guajira Department epitomizes the terror of extreme poverty and powerlessness. Some 600,000 of them occupy northern borderlands in Colombia and Venezuela. In 2012, 14 000 Wayuu children died of starvation and 36,000 survivors were malnourished; 38.8 percent of Wayuu children under age five died. La Guajira’s El Cerrejón, owned by the BHP Billiton and Anglo America corporations, is the world’s largest open-pit coal mine. Mine operators have destroyed Wayuu villages and poisoned soil and water. They pump 35,000 liters of water out of the Rancheria River each day thus depriving the Wayuu of water they need for survival

While ongoing violence and terror serve as backdrop for the peace process, that reality, ironically enough, originally prompted President Juan Manuel Santos to initiate the talks. He and his political and business allies worried that for civil war to continue might frighten off multinational corporations and international investors. To protect Colombia’s capitalist economy and its integration within the U. S. – led globalized system, they wanted it to end.

But, one asks, where is the common ground shared by a capitalist regime habituated to criminal brutality and Marxist insurgents still in the field after 50 years?

Maybe compromise is not to be, and civil war will continue. Writing for rebelion.org, Colombian political exile José Antonio Gutiérrez D. accuses the Santos government of using negotiations exclusively to create space for strengthening its military power, while beating up on its political opposition and the FARC. Peace, he implies, is not the government‘s objective.

In fact, the government anticipates a “neo-liberal peace.” Were that to occur, the FARC would be giving up on its basic objective of securing justice through political action. FARC negotiators have long called for a peace with mechanisms in place allowing for social justice and structural transformations to flourish. A constituent assembly is a prime example.

Commentator Fernando Dorado gives voice to the government’s line. Fearing that the FARC itself might use a bilateral truce to restore military capabilities, he specifies that, “The only solution is to de-escalate confrontation voluntarily and speed up the talks.” He regards ex-President Uribe’s recent switch to supporting peace on neo-liberal terms as facilitating this approach. Until now Uribe has masterminded obstruction to the peace process. Dorado claims the U.S. government is insisting that “the bloc of hegemonic power [in Colombia]’ unify itself in order to achieve its objective: ‘neo-liberal peace’ with tiny ‘democratic’ concessions.”

The spilt among conservative forces stems from the Santos-led group’s face-off against right wingers – ones Uribe speaks for – who are loyal to traditional forms of oligarchical power, among them: large landholdings, ranching, military force, paramilitaries, and more recently narco-trafficking.

The government now is riding high in the negotiations on account of its power, which is military in nature but rests also on its command of the economy and its U.S. alliance. To both achieve peace and rescue its goals, the FARC must, by any logic, also project power; good ideas are not enough. Indeed, ever such since negotiations began in 2012, FARC strategists have been clear on how to do that. They’ve called for popular mobilization in Colombia for peace with justice – for a people’s uprising.

In a recent interview FARC commander Carlos Antonio Lozada, a delegate to the Havana peace talks, explains: “What with vacillations by Santos and growing pressures from militarism against the peace process, the only guarantee of its continuing and its definitive consolidation is that the majority sectors who believe in a political solution to the conflict mobilize in its defense. Peace with social justice for our people will not come as a present from the oligarchy.” He regrets that, “Still there is no success in structuring a broad front that brings together and decisively mobilizes all the social and political forces that crave a peace with democratic changes.”

In the end, the outcome of negotiations probably will depend on what happens in Colombia. Jaime Caycedo, secretary – general of the Communist Party, announced on June 4 that “social and political organizations will be preparing a national mobilization in favour of peace and the demand for a bilateral cease fire.” It takes place in late July.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

 

 

‘Cultural genocide’? No, Canada committed regular genocide June 24, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Education, First Nations, Genocide.
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Roger’s note: for the most part the living conditions for Canada’s First Nations Peoples are a disgrace, characterized by high degrees of poverty, sickness, alcoholism and violence (primarily against women).  Do not look for truth much less reconciliation from Canada’s current hateful Tory government.

The word “cultural” seems to suggest that the residential school system was designed to destroy cultures but not people, a fact far from reality.

A classroom of St. Joseph's Residential School in Cross Lake, Man., in 1951. Residential Schools were predicated on the notion that Indigenous children were less human than other children, writes Jesse Staniforth.
HO / Canadian Press

A classroom of St. Joseph’s Residential School in Cross Lake, Man., in 1951. Residential Schools were predicated on the notion that Indigenous children were less human than other children, writes Jesse Staniforth.

Perhaps the most controversial issue to follow the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has been the affirmation that the government of Canada had committed “cultural genocide” against Indigenous people through the Indian Residential Schools (IRS) system.

The word “cultural” seems to suggest that the IRS system was designed to destroy cultures but not people, a fact far from the reality of Residential Schools. “Cultural” is a civilizing adjective: it says that our policies were not truly evil, just deeply misguided.

Already this strangely diplomatic term has been a flashpoint among people unwilling to admit that our country committed any kind of genocide, even one eased by a reductive adjective. Our history must make these critics uneasy. The IRS system, though its mandate did not include deliberately killing members of Canada’s Indigenous populations, was active in the following crimes, each of which constitutes genocide under the UN’s convention on Genocide (1948):

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Canada did not pack Indigenous people onto train cars and send them to be gassed, or march them into fields and execute them with machine-gun fire. However, our country committed not “cultural” genocide, but just regular genocide.

We forcibly took children from families — sometimes at gunpoint — and flew them to remote locations they could not escape — sometimes in tiny handcuffs — where they were submitted to a program of forced labour and “education” designed to destroy their cultures and civilizations. This desire to destroy cultures seems to be the reasoning for various public figures’ use of the adjective “cultural” before genocide. The other reason, I presume, is that some cling tightly — and childishly — to the idea that Canada has always been on the side of goodness and justice, and they find it very hard to accept, admit, and announce that we are a country that committed a program of genocide that lasted for many decades.

Yet Residential Schools were predicated on the notion that Indigenous children were less human than other children, so they were worked like animals in the slave labour many schools mandated. For the same assumption of their lesser humanity, children in the IRS system were often deliberately malnourished and kept in cramped, filthy quarters. When they subsequently fell sick as a result of this racially motivated neglect and mistreatment, they were not provided adequate medical treatment and died by the thousands.

The Canadian government was happy to leave these children to die because they were Indigenous. In the early part of the century we stopped keeping track of how many children died: the commission concluded this was because it made us look bad as a country. We did not change any of the conditions — we just changed the habit of keeping track of the children our system killed. And when Indigenous children died, we often did not consider them human enough to inform their families, to record their genders or their ages or the causes of their deaths, or to mark their graves.

Which part of this sounds civilized enough that it deserves to be mitigated by the adjective “cultural”? I’m not talking about the sexual violence. That was closely connected but it wasn’t part of our state policy. The rest was, and it constituted a policy of genocide.

As a Canadian journalist working in Indigenous media, I have faced the fact that the history of this country is difficult and tragic. My great-grandfather was decorated for valour at Vimy Ridge at the same time as Aboriginal children were being taken at gunpoint to have their culture beaten and starved out of them. National histories are too big and complex to love simply.

I’m not so attached to my country to contort myself into defending our history of genocide — and I’d like to ask those who are: how would admitting that our country was guilty of this crime against humanity change your relation to this nation, to yourself, and to Indigenous people?

As of the closing of the TRC, the facts of the Canadian genocide of Indigenous peoples are now a part of the official record of this country’s history, both for those who wish to face it, and those who wish to pretend it isn’t there. These facts stand and will not change, because they are in the past. In the present day, it is only Canadians who can change — and will have to change — in order to acknowledge the disgraceful but fixed facts of our history.

Jesse Staniforth is a Montreal-based freelance journalist and a regular contributor to the Nation magazine, serving the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee and the communities around James Bay.

Hillary Clinton sold out Honduras: Lanny Davis, corporate cash, and the real story about the death of a Latin American democracy June 11, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Haiti, Hillary Clinton, Honduras, Human Rights, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: this entry partners with another (http://wp.me/pjfja-3cN) that describes the Clintons’ destructive if not genocidal presence in Haiti.  Hillary Clinton on foreign policy and military intervention is a super hawk, further to the right than some right-wing Republicans.  She supported the Iraq invasion and every other illegal and counterproductive US military adventure.  The notion of supporting her as the lesser of evil with respect to the Republican nominee I will not dignify with a response.  I learned a lesson in 1964 when I worked to elect the “peace candidate” Lyndon Johnson, who proceeded to escalate the Vietnam War resulting in millions of deaths.  Electing Democrats to the presidency has the ironic effect of destroying the peace movement.  We see this in spades with Barack Obama.

Monday, Jun 8, 2015 11:58 AM -0500

Want to know why Clinton’s State Dept. failed to help an elected leader? Follow the money and stench of Lanny Davis
Matthew Pulver

Riot police hit a truck after its occupants ran away as they protested the June coup against President Manuel Zalaya and today's general elections in San Pedro Sula, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009.  With President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a military coup last June, still holed up in the Brazilian embassy, voters will choose a new president Sunday from the political establishment that has dominated Honduras for decades.  (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

Riot police hit a truck after its occupants ran away as they protested the June coup against President Manuel Zalaya and today’s general elections in San Pedro Sula, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009. With President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a military coup last June, still holed up in the Brazilian embassy, voters will choose a new president Sunday from the political establishment that has dominated Honduras for decades. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

In this handout picture released by the Guatemalan Presidency, Hondura's President Porfirio Lobo talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Guatemala City, Friday, March 5, 2010. Clinton is on a one-day official visit to Guatemala. (AP Photo/Guatemala Presidency/Handout)

Hilllary hanging with the Honduran oligarch suits, including the illegally elected president: In this handout picture released by the Guatemalan Presidency, Hondura’s President Porfirio Lobo talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Guatemala City, Friday, March 5, 2010. Clinton is on a one-day official visit to Guatemala. (AP Photo/Guatemala Presidency/Handout)

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, considered by some to be the only real threat to Hillary Clinton, has joined Sen. Bernie Sanders to be the only two challengers to the former secretary of state. Republicans, whose seemingly limitless field seems poised for a “Hunger Games”-esque cage match, worry that a Clinton cakewalk through the primaries will leave her relatively unscathed in the general election against a beaten and beleaguered GOP nominee whose every foible will have been exposed.

And yet for some reason, GOP candidates lob tired Benghazi charges at the presumptive Democratic nominee during the short breaks in infighting. The issue only really excites the GOP base, and it’s highly unlikely that after almost three years of pounding the issue the tactic will work. Plus, House Republicans’ own two-year investigation into the attack absolved Clinton’s State Department of the worst GOP allegations, giving her something of her own “please proceed, Governor” arrow in the quiver if she is attacked from that angle.

It’s the SCUD missile of political attacks when there are laser-guided Tomahawks in the arsenal.

Republicans really hit on something when they started making noise about the Clintons’ relationship with foreign governments, CEOs and corporations, following the lead set by Peter Schweizer’s bestselling “Clinton Cash.” Cross-ideological ears perked up to rumored quid pro quos arranged while Hillary was atop State and Bill was out glad-handing global elites. Even liberals and progressives paid attention when the discussion turned to the Clintons and international elites making backroom, under-the-table deals at what Schweizer calls “the ‘wild west’ fringe of the global economy.”

Though it’s less sexy than Benghazi, the crisis following a coup in Honduras in 2009 has Hillary Clinton’s fingerprints all over it, and her alleged cooperation with oligarchic elites during the affair does much to expose Clinton’s newfound, campaign-season progressive rhetoric as hollow. Moreover, the Honduran coup is something of a radioactive issue with fallout that touches many on Team Clinton, including husband Bill, once put into a full context.

In the 5 a.m. darkness of June 28, 2009, more than two hundred armed, masked soldiers stormed the house of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. Within minutes Zelaya, still in his pajamas, was thrown into a van and taken to a military base used by the U.S., where he was flown out of the country.

It was a military coup, said the UN General Assembly and the Organization of American States (OAS). The entire EU recalled its countries’ ambassadors, as did Latin American nations. The United States did not, making it virtually the only nation of note to maintain diplomatic relations with the coup government. Though the White House and the Clinton State Department denounced only the second such coup in the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War, Washington hedged in a way that other governments did not. It began to feel like lip service being paid, not real concern.

Washington was dragging its feet, but even within the Obama administration a distinction was seen very early seen between the White House and Secretary Clinton’s State Department. Obama called Zelaya’s removal an illegal “coup” the next day, while Secretary Clinton’s response was described as “holding off on formally branding it a coup.” President Obama carefully avoided calling it a military coup, despite that being the international consensus, because the “military” modifier would have abruptly suspended US military aid to Honduras, an integral site for the US Southern Command, but Obama called for the reinstatementof the elected president of Honduras removed from his country by the military.

Clinton was far more circumspect, suspiciously so. In an evasive press corps appearance, Secretary Clinton responded with tortured answers on the situation in Honduras and said that State was “withholding any formal legal determination.” She did offer that the situation had “evolved into a coup,” as if an elected president removed in his pajamas at gunpoint and exiled to another country was not the subject of a coup at the moment armed soldiers enter his home.

It’s hard to see those early evasions by Clinton, though, as a Benghazi-like confusion in the fog of the moment. Nearly a month later, Secretary Clinton would call President Zelaya’s defiance of the coup government and return to Honduras “reckless” and damaging to “the broader effort to restore democratic and constitutional order in the Honduras crisis.” Thanks to Wikileaks, we now know from a cable from the Honduran embassy sent just the day prior how certain the State Department was that Zelaya’s removal was a cut-and-dried military coup: “The Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch,” wrote Ambassador Hugo Llorens, reporting from on the ground in Tegucigalpa.

And even months later, with the increasingly violent and basic rights-denying coup government still in place, State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley would incredulously maintain, “We aren’t taking sides against the de facto regime versus Zelaya.”

It was becoming widely believed that the Clinton State Department, along with the right-wing in Washington, was working behind the scenes to make sure that President Zelaya would not return to office. This U.S. cabal was coordinating with those behind the coup, it was being rumored, to bring new elections to Honduras, conducted by an illegal coup government, which would effectively terminate the term of Zelaya, who was illegally deposed in the final year of his constitutionally mandated single term. All this as Honduras was “descending deeper into a human rights and security abyss,” as the coup government was seen to be actually committing crimes worthy of removal from power. Professor Dana Frank, an expert in recent Honduran history at UC Santa Cruz, would charge in the New York Times that the resulting “abyss” in Honduras was “in good part the State Department’s making.”

Though the case has been made, it’s impossible to accuse Clinton of foreknowledge of the coup. Likewise, no smoking gun exists to definitively conclude that Clinton and her associates actively and willfully acted to maintain the coup government in league with the elite and corporate interests, but an abundance of evidence, combined with what we know about Clintonite ideals in foreign policy and global trade, makes a case deserving of a response from one of two or three people expected to become the most powerful person on earth.

Clinton herself even gets dangerously close to confessing a role in keeping Zelaya out of office in her book “Hard Choices,” in which she discussed the hard choice to ignore the most basic tenets of democracy and international norms:

“In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere…We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”

One of those strategic partners appears to have been Clinton family legal pitbull, Lanny Davis, deployed as an auxiliary weapon against the rightful, legal, democratically elected president of Honduras. Davis famously defended President Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings, and he’s been on Team Clinton for decades, most recently serving as a booster for Hillary’s campaign in its early days.

Davis, along with another close Clinton associate Bennett Ratcliff, launched a Washington lobbying offensive in support of the coup government and its oligarchic backers, penning a Wall Street Journal op-ed, testifying before a Congressional committee, and undoubtedly knocking on office doors on Capitol Hill, where he enjoys bipartisan connections, which valuable asset he demonstrated during his committee hearing.

“If you want to understand who the real power behind the [Honduran] coup is, you need to find out who’s paying Lanny Davis,” said Robert White, former ambassador to El Salvador, just a month after the coup. Speaking to Roberto Lovato for the American Prospect, Davis revealed who that was: “My clients represent the CEAL, the [Honduras Chapter of] Business Council of Latin America.” In other words, the oligarchs who preside over a country with a 65 percent poverty rate. The emerging understanding, that the powerful oligarchs were behind the coup, began to solidify, and the Clinton clique’s allegiances were becoming pretty clear. If you can believe it, Clinton’s team sided with the wealthy elite.

NYU history professor Greg Grandin, author of a number of books about Central and South America, boiled the coup down to a simple economic calculation by the Honduran elite: “Zelaya was overthrown because the business community didn’t like that he increased the minimum wage. We’re talking about an elite that treats Honduras as if it was its own private plantation.”

Grandin was echoed by a Honduran Catholic bishop, Luis Santos Villeda of Santa Rosa de Copan, who told the Catholic News Service, “Some say Manuel Zelaya threatened democracy by proposing a constitutional assembly. But the poor of Honduras know that Zelaya raised the minimum salary. That’s what they understand.”

One doesn’t have to believe professors and bishops, though; one of the central members of the oligarchic elite, Adolfo Facussé, admitted to Al Jazeera’s Avi Lewis two months after the coup that Zelaya’s reforms for the poor had angered the ruling economic cabal: “Zelaya wanted to do some changes, and to do that, instead of convincing us that what he was trying to do was good, he tried to force us to accept his changes.”

Facussé was, of course, describing democracy. The so-called “Diez Familias” of Honduras, the country’s 1 percent, were unhappy that the Honduran people—the families’ subjects, essentially—backed a leader who worked on behalf of the vast majority of Hondurans. Also known as, how representative democracy works.

Facussé’s family is one of, if not the, most powerful families in Honduras, with the family patriarch Miguel Facussé being described in a Wikileaked State Department cable as “the wealthiest, most powerful businessman in the country.” The elder Facussé was even vice president of the infamous Association for the Progress of Honduras (APROH) in the early 1980s, a time during which the right-wing, pro-Washington, ultra-capitalist business group had strong ties with the infamous US-trained death squads of Battalion 3-16.

The School of the Americas-trained death squads no longer terrorize Honduras and Central America at the behest of business interests, but the legacy and power remains in a more refined, technocratic, you might say “Clintonite,” means of effecting a good climate for the oligarchs and corporations who remain in control in the region. The coup leader, Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, is a two-time graduate of the Pentagon’s School of the Americas (SOA, now called WHINSEC), and he was able to enact a coup without the widespread ’80s-era bloodshed brought by the death squads.

Another SOA-trained Honduran military lawyer, Colonel Herberth Bayardo Inestroza, confessed to the Miami Herald just days after the coup that the Honduran military broke the law in kidnapping and exiling the president. But Inestroza still bore the ideological training he’d received under President Reagan’s pro-capitalist crusades in the region: “It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That’s impossible.”

The coup was cleaner, replacing Reagan-era death squads with high-priced PR and attorneys from Clinton’s world, but it still accomplished what the other, bloodier conflicts had aimed for in earlier decades: keeping Central America free of leftist leadership—or even progressive leadership, in Zelaya’s case—and keeping the region business-friendly. A post-coup government a couple years later would announce that Honduras is “open for business,” if not open for human rights and democracy. Foreign policy Clintonism may be more technocratic than the Republican model, but its goals are effectively the same. Clintonite mercenaries wear Brooks Brothers suits, not military fatigues.

Lanny Davis’ role as PR guerrilla is reminiscent of fellow Clinton team member James Carville, who worked in the 2002 campaign of multimillionaire Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (“Goni”) in Bolivia, another pro-globalization, pro-Washington, hyper-capitalist candidate running against socialist Evo Morales.

Detailed in the documentary “Our Brand is Crisis,” Carville’s role in Bolivia, along with other Clintonite luminaries, was much the same as the coup defenders nearly a decade later in Honduras, in that the expertise of Clinton team members were put in service of business elites. In 2002, Bolivia was convulsing after hyper-capitalist, neoliberal reforms had sold off the country’s state-owned resources at the order of international financial institutions. Goni had been a central figure in the neoliberal reforms during his first term as president. Losing office after his first term, Goni was trying to grab the reins again four years later.

The effects of his privatization plan—called “capitalization” in Bolivia—had come to be felt in the intervening years, especially in Bolivia’s third-largest city, Cochabamba, where even water service was sold off to multinational corporations, principally San Francisco-based Bechtel. The country’s majority indigenous population, mostly poor (Goni, called “El Gringo,” is rich, fairer-skinned and grew up in the U.S.), began to revolt as water prices suddenly rose by 50 percent after the corporation took control. Due to the giveaway Goni had initiated, residents even had to obtain a permit to collect rainwater. “Even rainwater was privatized,” said one of the principal activists. “Water sources were converted into property that could be bought and sold by international corporations.” Campesinos began to charge that the dystopian Bechtel, one of the largest contractors in the world, was “leasing the rain.”

Moreover, Bolivia’s long-suffering and indigenous poor majority was calling for constitutional reform, the same sort of measure Zelaya was floating in Honduras. The insurgent indigenous candidate Evo Morales, a lowly coca farmer, nearly defeated the Washington-backed and -assisted Goni on a platform that demanded constitutional reform. Throughout the past few decades as Latin American governments have begun to shed the vestiges of colonialism and Monroe Doctrine-based U.S. control, countries have democratically written new constitutions to replace former national doctrines in which racism, sexism, and radical inequity were constitutionally permitted in many cases.

Finally, Clinton’s State Department’s role in attempting to block a minimum wage increase in Haiti allows us to triangulate (so to speak) and speculate with some confidence on Clinton’s wishes vis-à-vis poor nations under the rule of oligarchs and corporate elites. State Department cables exposed by Wikileaks reveal that, according to The Nation, “[c]ontractors for Fruit of the Loom, Hanes and Levi’s worked in close concert with the US Embassy when they aggressively moved to block a minimum wage increase for Haitian assembly zone workers, the lowest-paid in the hemisphere.”

(The Haitian assembly zones are free trade enclaves of the sort the Clintons advocate, where corporations are permitted to take advantage of the hemisphere’s cheapest labor without paying high tariffs—tiny versions of President Clinton’s NAFTA.)

Just weeks before the coup in Honduras, the State Department acted on behalf of a “tiny assembly zone elite” and intervened in the Haitian government’s plan to raise the wage. This was after President Clinton had already ravaged the island nation and enriched U.S. agricultural companies with a devastating trade deal that led to Haitians eating dirt cakes to survive.

This sort of engineering of regional politics in the service of the economic elite appears to be something of a hallmark of the Clinton camp. A case is being built that it’s the family business to cater to the global elite, despite the Clinton campaign’s salt-of-the-earth optics in Iowa and New Hampshire, which appears disingenuous in light of virtually everything else we know about Clinton. And with a growing list of Clinton associates being complicit, concerns about a President Clinton’s criteria for cabinet and agency appointments grow, as well.

Keeping wages down in places like Honduras and Haiti virtually ensure that those formerly decently paying, often unionized, jobs will never return to the U.S. Going to bat by proxy for Bechtel, a conglomerate with close ties to the GOP and the military industrial complex, doesn’t seem like the best use of the political talent of members of the Clintons’ braintrust. It becomes fair to ask, “Who do the Clintons work for?”
More Matthew Pulver.

Progressive Apocalypse: Obama Opens Door to Nuclear Nightmare June 8, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Nuclear weapons/power, Peace, Saudi Arabia.
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Roger’s note: since the beginning of the nuclear era, the super powers who possess nuclear weapons (enough to destroy the planet several times over) have justified the expansion of their nuclear arsenals by the so-called Mutual Assured Destruction doctrine (appropriately known by its acronym MAD).  The theory being that knowing that a nuclear war would annihilate everyone, no one would be motivated to start one.  This Dr. Strangeglovian thinking fails to take into account accidents, misunderstanding, or good old fashion human craziness.  It ignores the environmental dangers of nuclear stockpiling over time, and above all, it depends upon a 100% success rate, for it only takes one nuclear event to make the whole house of cards come tumbling down.  Nuclear disarmament, as any first grader could tell you, is the only solution.

 

OpEdNews Op Eds 6/1/2015 at 23:31:52

Nuclear Holocaust

By (about the author)  

Reprinted from Empire Burlesque
As all the world knows, the United States government is fervently dedicated to advancing the cause of peace throughout the world. Tirelessly, selflessly — and thanklessly — America pursues this noble mission in every corner of the globe: standing shoulder to shoulder with Saudi extremists in slaughtering civilians in Yemen, with al Qaeda and ISIS beheading their way across Syria, with fascist militias in Ukraine. But recently, America’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning president went far beyond these localized acts of lovingkindness and made a beneficent decision that potentially could affect every single person drawing breath on our blue planet.

Late last month, the Peace Prize Prez (PPPOTUS) “blocked a global document aimed at ridding the world of nuclear weapons,” the Washington Post reports. Obama’s peace-loving action means that “the entire blueprint for global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation” has been killed dead in its tracks. It will now be five years until the next UN review of the landmark Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

You might think this is odd behavior from a president who has spent years tightening a stranglehold on Iran with an endless series of aggressive, bellicose acts just short of outright war, in order (ostensibly) to prevent that “rogue nation” from developing nuclear weapons. Very late in the day, he has recently decided to try to craft a non-proliferation deal with Iran that is very similar to the deal that Iran offered the United States more than 12 years ago — the kind of deal that has been on the table from Iran for his entire presidency. It’s likely that the main spur to his belated attempt at deal-making stems from his realization that he desperately needs Iran’s help to quell the ungodly maelstrom of murder, ruin and extremism he and his predecessor (and their Saudi allies) have unleashed in the Middle East.

In any case, he has long insisted that the proliferation of nuclear weapons must be opposed and thwarted at all costs. Why then has he stepped in to stop the global framework for, er, thwarting nuclear proliferation? To protect a “rogue” nuclear state which has illegally developed a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons — and which adamantly refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. (Unlike Iran, which has for years accepted an international inspection regimen far more rigorous than the Treaty calls for.)

The nuclear renegade is, of course, Israel. And the treaty review that Obama just killed would have called for a conference in 2016 on eliminating all nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Of course, only one nation in the Middle East actually has nuclear weapons. But Israel is concerned that such a conference would force it to acknowledge the existence of the large nuclear arsenal that everyone in the world already knows it has.

So the United States — with the slavish support of its London lapdog and Ottawa underling — moved to kill the negotiations for the conference. The decision “has alarmed countries without nuclear weapons, who are increasingly frustrated by what they see as the slow pace of nuclear-armed countries to disarm,” the Post reports. “Amid a growing movement that stresses the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, Austria announced that 107 states have now signed a pledge calling for legal measures to ban and eliminate them.”

Of course, Obama’s action was not merely a benevolent service for Israel. For not only does the United States want to keep Israel as its nuclear-armed crusader fortress in the Middle East — it also has no intention whatsoever of eliminating its own nuclear arsenal. This will never happen, no matter which faction of militarist courtiers happens to wrap their candidate in the imperial purple for a time in 2016 or 2020 or 2024, etc. So any undermining of genuine efforts toward nuclear disarmament also serves America’s bipartisan agenda of unipolar domination of world affairs.

This is far more important than ridding the world of nuclear weapons — or even trying to control their proliferation. Now there are five years of open field ahead for more nations to jump into the nuclear club — including America’s Saudi buddies, who say they might get some nukes for their own selves if Obama cuts a deal with Iran … which, as every Western intelligence agency has avowed, is not actually trying to build a nuclear weapon.

To speak plainly and with no addition: America’s bipartisan elite would rather put the entire world into more nuclear peril than surrender a single iota for their lust for loot and power.

Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many (more…)

CIA’s torture experts now use their skills in secret drones program June 8, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Torture, War.
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Roger’s note: I am reminded of the Richard Farina title: “I’ve been down so long, it looks like up to me.”  In our upsidedown world it has become normal to promote (and elect!) war criminals and punish those who speak and work for peace.

ab33230a-ad94-4ffb-a1d5-382226d1dc1e-620x372US drones are so secret that the White House barely mentions them by name. Photograph: MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

There are many similarities between CIA’s use of drones and torture: Secrecy, lack of oversight and yes, even some of the people overseeing the programs

The controversy over the CIA’s secret drone program has gone from bad to worse this week. We now know that many of those running it are the same people who headed the CIA’s torture program, the spy agency can bomb people unilaterally without the president’s explicit approval and that the government is keeping the entire program classified explicitly to prevent a federal court from ruling it illegal. And worst of all, Congress is perfectly fine with it.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that many of those in charge of the CIA’s torture program – the same people whose names were explicitly redacted from the Senate’s torture report in order to avert accountability – “have ascended to the agency’s powerful senior ranks” and now run the CIA drone program under the agency’s Counterterrorism Center. Rather than being fired and prosecuted, they have been rewarded with promotions.

The longtime Counterrorism Center chief who just stepped down, Michael D’Andrea, was previously in charge of the notorious CIA prison known as the Salt Pit, where prisoners were regularly tortured and some died. His replacement, Chris Wood, was also “central to the interrogation program”, according to the Times.

The only reason we know D’Andrea and Wood’s names is because the New York Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet commendably decided to publish them – unlike the many newspapers who refused to for virtually no other reason except for the fact that the CIA asked them not to. As Baquet put it to the Huffington Post: “It would have been weird to not name the guys who run it. They’re not undercover. They’re not unknown. They’re sort of widely known.”

Adding to the disturbing nature of the CIA’s ability to kill people in complete secrecy, the agency apparently now has a carte blanche to conduct drone strikes on its own. According to the New York Times, President Obama doesn’t individually approve them anymore – he lets the CIA unilaterally decide to kill people if the strikes “fit certain criteria.” We have no idea what those conditions are since virtually everything about drone strikes at the CIA is secret.

Prior to last week’s controversial drone strike, the public at least had the general outlines of what the supposed rules constraining drone strikes were. After the last major drone controversy in 2013, the president announced the government would need to know with “near certainty” that civilians would not get killed. Obama called it: “the highest standard we can set” in a highly publicized 2013 speech.

Yet, up until the Wall Street Journal reported it on Sunday, the public did not know that Obama secretly gave the CIA a “waiver” from those rules for drone strikes in Pakistan, the place where the vast majority of the CIA’s strikes over the last decade have occurred. The publicly-touted policy was made meaningless by a classified order the public had no idea about. (Sound familiar?)

The most absurd part of this whole debate is that the White House actually refused to admit that the two hostages killed in Pakistan died in a US drone strike. Despite an almost universal acknowledgement by media reports – and a multitude of leaks by anonymous US officials – that the hostages were killed by a CIA drone, the administration has attempted to argue that it was a “counterterrorism operation” that resulted in the hostages’ deaths. This led to an awkward exchange between the press and the White House press secretary Josh Earnest, in which it was clear to everyone in the room what had happened, but the White House could not utter the word “drone.”

The reason for this denial apparently has nothing to do with legitimate secrets; the administration just wants to avoid a court ruling their program illegal. The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday: “the Attorney General’s office warned Mr. Obama that publicly disclosing the CIA’s role in this case would undermine the administration’s standing in a series of pending lawsuits challenging its legality”.

Think about that for a second: The Obama administration has promised more transparency around drone strikes, yet at the same time, won’t even acknowledge that the controversial drone strike it’s apologizing for even happened – just because such admission might force courts to hold the government accountable for its actions.

The dismal state of affairs around drone strike transparency was perfectly summed up in an exchange in early 2013, when the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman, then writing for Wired, asked Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Dianne Feinstein why, if the CIA repeatedly and brazenly lied to Congress about torture, she trusted the spy agency to tell the truth about drone strikes. Senator Feinstein’s response still encapsulates the current debate: “That’s a good question, actually. That’s a good question.”

More than two years later, we still don’t have an answer.

The Unknown Whistleblower June 4, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Genocide, History, Imperialism, Torture, Vietnam, War, Whistle-blowing.
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Roger’s note: torture and corrupt imperial aggression didn’t begin with George W. Bush (1492 might be a good place to start).  Here we have documented Vietnam War the torture regime (under presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon) and the beginning of the murderous (and counterproductive) doctrine and strategy of massive bombing that is alive and well in Iraq and Syria today (along with its little brother drone killing machine).

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The Secret Origins of the CIA’s Torture Program and the Forgotten Man Who Tried to Expose It

 

most_dangerous_man_ellsburgrussosmallcropped_photo_file_3

Daniel Ellsberg (left) and his less well known colleague Anthony Russo (r) were charged with theft and unauthorized possession of classified documents under the Espionage Act in 1971, but were eventually acquitted. (File)

The witness reported men being hung by the feet or the thumbs, waterboarded, given electric shocks to the genitals, and suffering from extended solitary confinement in what he said were indescribably inhumane conditions. It’s the sort of description that might have come right out of the executive summary of the Senate torture report released last December. In this case, however, the testimony was not about a “black site” somewhere in the Greater Middle East, nor was it a description from Abu Ghraib, nor in fact from this century at all.

The testimony came from Vietnam; the year was 1968; the witness was Anthony J. Russo, one of the first Americans to report on the systematic torture of enemy combatants by CIA operatives and other U.S. agents in that long-gone war. The acts Russo described became commonplace in the news post-9/11 and he would prove to be an early example of what also became commonplace in our century: a whistleblower who found himself on the wrong side of the law and so was prosecuted for releasing the secret truth about the acts of our government.

Determined to shine a light on what he called “the truth held prisoner,” Russo blew the whistle on American torture policy in Vietnam and on an intelligence debacle at the center of Vietnam decision-making that helped turn that war into the nightmare it was. Neither of his revelations saw the light of day in his own time or ours and while Daniel Ellsberg, his compatriot and companion in revelation, remains a major figure for his role in releasing the Pentagon Papers, Russo is a forgotten man.

That’s too bad. He shouldn’t be forgotten. His is, unfortunately, a story of our times as well as his.

The CIA Interrogation Center, Saigon

Before him sat the enemy.  VC.  Vietcong. He was slender, a decade older than the 28-year-old American, and cautious in his initial responses.  The American offered him a cigarette. “Smoke?”

Anthony Russo liked to befriend his subjects, finding that sharing a cigarette or a beer and congenial conversation could improve an interview’s results.

This man’s all right, Russo thought — unlike the one he had interviewed when he first arrived in Saigon. That prisoner hadsat before him, quivering in fear, pleading for his life.“Are you going to kill me?” the distraught man had said repeatedly, his thumbs red and bulbous from being strung up.

Torture was not something Russo had anticipated when he took the job. A civilian with a rank equivalent to major working for the RAND Corporation, he had arrived in the South Vietnamese capital on February 22, 1965, and was briefed on his mission. Russo was to meet the enemy face-to-face and figure out what made them tick. On that first day, he could hear General Richard Stilwell, chief of staff of Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), barking orders from the next room: “You get every goddamn plane in the air that you can!”

Russo thought the war would be over in a few weeks,months at worst.

Instead of the limited conflict he expected, years slipped by. Bombs fell, villages were decimated, the fabric of Vietnamese life assaulted. Russo persisted with his interviews ofVietcong prisoners, witnessing the after-effects of torture in nearly every instance.

It’s hard to pinpoint just when the shift occurred in the young man who came to Southeast Asia to “promote democracy.” But as one tour of duty extended to two, contact with the enemy changed not their hearts and minds, but his. On the eve of the 1968 Tet Offensive, he returned to the United States intent on challenging the war, a chance he would get, helping his friend and RAND co-worker Daniel Ellsbergwith the Pentagon Papers.

That secret history of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam, a massive compilation of internal government memoranda and analyses, had been quietly commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967 to assess what had gone wrong in Vietnam. Ellsberg leaked the Papers to the press in mid-1971, setting off a political firestorm and First Amendment crisis. He would be indicted on charges of espionage, conspiracy, and theft of government property, and would face a maximum penalty of 115 years in prison. Charges were also brought against Russo, who was suspected of complicity, after he refused to testify before a grand jury. He was jailed for 47 days for contempt and faced a possible sentence of 35 years in prison if convicted.

Ellsberg’s leak led to a Supreme Court decision on prior restraint, a landmark First Amendment case. Though all the charges were ultimately dropped, the leak and its aftermath had major political fallout, contributing to the demise of the presidency of Richard Nixon and forming a dramatic chapter on the path to U.S. defeat in Vietnam.

Ellsberg became a twentieth-century hero, applauded in print and film, his name nearly synonymous with the Pentagon Papers, but Russo, the young accomplice who goaded Ellsberg to go public, has been nearly forgotten. Yet he was, according to Ellsberg, the first person to document the systematic torture of enemy combatants in Vietnam. If no one knows this, it’s because his report on the subject remains buried in the vaults of the RAND Corporation, the think tank that did research for the Pentagon in Vietnam. Similarly, while the use of unprecedented airpower against the civilian populations of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia inspired international calls for war crimes trials in the 1970s, Russo’s exposure of the fabrication of data that propped up that air war remains but a footnote in Vietnam War historiography, unknown to all but a handful of academics.

He has remained “the other conspirator.” Ellsberg later conceded that he probably wouldn’t have thought of releasing the Papers if Russo hadn’t prodded him to “put that out” and helped copy them in a series of all-night sessions. But Russo would take a backseat to Ellsberg, who had snuck the massive set of documents out of RAND headquarters and released them to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and 18 other news organizations.

The two of them would become the antiwar movement’s odd couple. Ellsberg was articulate, suave, and fashionable; Russo opted for hippie attire, long hair, and impossibly bushy sideburns, a style of dress that fit with his growing political radicalism. Russo and his attorney, Leonard Weinglass, devised a bold — some said reckless — defense strategy focused on using expert witness testimony to put the U.S. prosecution of the war on trial. Weinglass would emerge as a star attorney on the case, even — in the opinion of some observers — eclipsing Ellsberg’s senior lawyer, Leonard Boudin. But his client kept getting into trouble: scrawling a wiseacre comment on evidence before the court, handing a prosecution witness a press release that accused him of war crimes, peppering his statements to the press with movement jargon. In the end, Russo’s leftwing antics would help marginalize him and bury the story he had to tell.

The Think Tank

It all started in a nondescript mid-century building on Main Street in sunny Santa Monica, California. There, the RAND Corporation, a quasi-private think tank with a cozy relationship with the Air Force and Washington power brokers, dreamed up study projects for the Department of Defense.

RAND, an acronym for “research and development,” was launched in 1946 as a private research arm of the Army Air Forces, whose successor, the Air Force, would remain its primary financial backer and client for years to come.  The think tank’s work ranged from weapons development to advanced strategic thinking on how to wage — or avert — nuclear war.  RAND theorists would set the parameters for strategic defense thinking for decades, with the likes of Herman Kahn, once dubbed the “heavyweight of the megadeath intellectuals”; Thomas Schelling, Nobel laureate in economics for his work on game theory and the originator of “tacit bargaining”; and Albert Wohlstetter, the godfather of RAND’s nuclear strategists who devised the concepts of “second strike,” “fail safe,” and what he called the “delicate balance of terror” (aka “deterrence”).

In 1961, as President John F. Kennedy launched a counterinsurgency effort that would see its first expression in Vietnam, the think tank took on the study of guerilla war, falling into an easy alliance with the Department of Defense and Robert S. McNamara, the numbers man at its head. Thinking he could apply a systems analysis approach to national defense, Secretary of Defense McNamara had turned to the leader in the field for ideas and manpower. From RAND, he recruited heavily to help lead the counterinsurgency charge in Vietnam, creating a team popularly known as “McNamara’s Whiz Kids.” And he turned to RAND for an answer to an essential strategic question: “What makes the Vietcong tick?”

“M&M” would become the institution’s shorthand for the Vietcong Motivation and Morale Study that resulted, an attempt to apply social science to the study of enemy motivation. Russo was eager to join the effort. Elizabeth Gibbs, who married him in 1964, said that her young husband was preoccupied with the threat of guerilla war and wanted to see action on the front lines of the counterinsurgency effort.

Fascinated by flight, Russo had pursued aeronautical engineering in a cooperative work-study program run by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and NASA’s Langley Research Center, where he worked on the first Mercury space capsule.  He then went to graduate school at Princeton, specializing in plasma physics. After just a year there, however, he took up the study of national defense policy at its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, receiving master’s degrees in both engineering and public affairs in 1964. An ambitious academic, he also exhibited an unruly, prankster side.  In one of his moments of youthful excess — a story he liked to tell — he cemented a commode to a Virginia war memorial, an act that might be considered a foreshadowing of things to come.

At Princeton, Russo studied under four men he called “heavyweights”: Oskar Morgenstern, an originator with Schelling of game theory; Cold War theorists Klaus Knorr and George Kennan; and Richard Falk, an expert on international law and the lone dove among Russo’s mentors. Falk argued against the move to RAND. But Russo, impressed by the think tank’s influence in the highest echelons of U.S. policymaking, jumped at the opportunity. Within six months he had secured an assignment to Vietnam.

Russo arrived in Saigon in February 1965 and met Leon Goure, his boss and future nemesis, just as the U.S. bombing campaign against North Vietnam was beginning and only two weeks before the first United States Marines landed at Danang.  His job was to meet the enemy.

The M&M

“How many people in your village work for the Front?”

“Everyone in the village works for the Front,” the prisoner responded in Vietnamese, translated by the young man at Russo’s side.  His village was in the Cu Chi district, an area near Saigon under Vietcong control. Russo would later describe it as the birthplace of southern resistance to the French and then American armies. Despite their vastly superior arms, the South Vietnamese Army and its American allies rarely ventured into the prisoner’s village for fear of the VC’s deadly resistance methods.  

“How was your village defended?” he asked.

“It had pit traps with bamboo spikes, grenade booby traps.  It was surrounded by bamboo hedges,” the prisoner responded and then explained in detail how the villagers organized their resistance.

Physically fit and tall, Russo towered over the former cadre.  He felt anything but complacent, however, about the enemy he faced, having barely escaped a bomb that had recently exploded in a Saigon restaurant where he was planning to have dinner.

“Why does the Vietcong use terrorism against women and children?” Russo asked.  Until now, he had been careful to call the enemy military by its homegrown name, “the Front,” rather than the pejorative “Vietcong.” Emotion must have caused him to break protocol.

He was part of the second M&M study team. Joseph Zasloff and John Donnell, analysts from the initial team, had reported their results in Washington at a meeting attended by Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs John T. McNaughton and Henry Rowen (who would later head RAND). They described the Vietcong as a unified, disciplined army that already acted as an alternative government in large swaths of SouthVietnam with widespread support from the population, prompting a shocked McNaughton to comment that it sounded as if the U.S. had signed up with the wrong — and losing — side. Daniel Ellsberg, who then worked for McNaughton, witnessed the exchange.

The Zasloff-Donnell report, however, came too late for an audience that had already made up its mind. The previous March, President Lyndon Johnson’s National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy had urged an expanded war even as the president campaigned for a full term in office with a promise to keep American soldiers out of Vietnam. Meanwhile, within the military, a struggle for dominance was underway, with Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay, instrumental in the founding of RAND, agitating for a bigger role for air power.

Then came the Tonkin Gulf incident in August 1964. As presented by President Lyndon Johnson, the destroyer USS Maddox was innocently sailing through the Gulf of Tonkin when attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats followed, two nights later, by a second attack on the Maddox and the USS Turner Joy.  Johnson orderedmilitary action “in reply,” and Congress quickly passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution giving the president carte blanche to repeatedly intensify the war. The claim of two separate attacks would, however, prove untrue, as Daniel Ellsberg would attest. It had been his first night on the job in the Pentagon.

At RAND, the stage was set for Leon Goure, an analyst acclaimed for his work on Soviet civil defense preparations. Goure had toured Vietnam and visited RAND’s Saigon operation in 1964. Upon his return to the U.S., he proposed that the M&M project be redefined with a critical twist. No longer would it focus solely on an assessment of enemy motivation and morale. It would now identify what kinds of weaponry would be most likely to demoralize that enemy, with an emphasis on air power.

A meeting with his friend LeMay cemented the deal. He would later report that “by the strings he pulled, LeMay assured continuation of the project” under Goure’s lead. At that time, the Air Force still provided two-thirds of RAND’s funding, a connection the new lead analyst made no attempt to hide.

The Answer Is Always Bombing

Susan Morrell could scarcely believe it. As RAND’s Saigon-based administrative assistant, it fell to her to pick up her new boss at the airport on his arrival. Making the Vietnam version of small talk on the way back to town, she asked Goure if he planned to use the existing protocol for enemy interviews or wanted to start over from scratch.

“I’ve got the answer right here,” he responded with a pat on his briefcase.

“What do you mean?” asked Morrell.

“When the Air Force is footing the bill, the answer is always bombing.”

Decades later, Morrell told RAND historian Mai Elliott that it was a moment seared into her memory and in those early days she wasn’t the only RAND staffer to observe Goure’s special affinity for the Air Force. At their first meeting, for instance, Russo remembered Goure commenting on that service’s unhappiness with the Zasloff-Donnell study.  Zasloff himself was still in Saigon when Goure arrived and would soon accuse his successor of pandering to the Air Force. Half a century later, in a phone interview just before his death, Zasloff still lamented that his intelligence data hadn’t changed the course of the war and Goure’s had.

Goure’s work on Soviet civil defense was then widely known. In 1961, he claimed that the Soviets had trained 50 million citizens in civil defense procedures, were readying a massive system of bomb shelters to ride out a nuclear conflagration, and so were preparing to absorb a preemptive nuclear strike. His research seemed to have frightening implications: U.S. reliance on what was then called mutual assured destruction, or MAD, to stop a nuclear war suddenly appeared insufficient. The Soviets could strike preemptively if they thought national survival after a nuclear attack was possible. Kennedy stepped into the heated debate in July 1961 with a call for a $207 million appropriation for civil defense. That October, he began to encourage Americans to build their own private shelters for protection from nuclear fallout. Goure became a sought after expert.

In fact, his work would be challenged by New York Times journalist Harrison Salisbury, who questioned Goure’s sources, found observers who vigorously challenged his conclusions, and made his own 12,000-mile trip across the Soviet Union and found them unsubstantiated.  But nothing, it seemed, could crack Goure’s reputation in Washington.

The year 1961 had been a seminal moment for Russo, too.  His lifelong friend and future technology consultant William Grossmann recalled them driving to their NASA jobs together, one day in Russo’s white 1959 Ford convertible, the next in Grossmann’s white Chevy convertible — and on weekends, sharing heady conversation and wooing girls. The two like-minded Southerners had each taken stands against segregation, while worrying about the bomb, totalitarianism, and the “containment” of Communism. They were impressed that Kennedy had forced the Russians to stand down in the Cuban missile crisis. The same, both believed, could happen in Vietnam. On arrival in Saigon, Russo wrote Grossmann that the Vietnamese “are going to have to get used to it. We’re going to have to be the policemen for a while.”

Russo found himself at the epicenter of American intelligence-gathering in Vietnam. RAND’s Saigon villa became the requisite “prestige stop” for anyone with an interest in the war. By day, it served as a command center; at night, it hosted dinner parties for visiting luminaries, high-ranking figures in the military, the CIA, and members of the press. Goure was the star attraction. In that initial critical period of massive escalation, he provided the perfect mix of optimistic analysis and an engaging personality and so became the “go to” intelligence man in town.

Though Goure wrote research memoranda, RAND’s usual stock in trade, it was on the briefing circuit that he truly shone. His message, reported directly to Westmoreland,the top military commander in Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense McNamara, and others at the Pentagon, was unambiguous: the Vietcong were losing their resolve in the face of U.S. military might, especially airpower. Goure quickly established himself as the Air Force’s best pitchman.

It’s hard to overstate his influence. McNamara was so enamored of his message that, on first hearing him in June 1965, he offered to up the M&M budget on the spot from $100,000 to $1,000,000. As one analyst later quipped, the secretary of defense “lapped up Goure’s analysis like good scotch.” Journalists repeated his claim that the Vietcong were heading for defeat as the daily body count became a staple of war coverage.

Russo, who attended some of Goure’s Saigon briefings, remembered how he liked to brag that RAND had “the best damned intelligence in Saigon.” It would take some time for Russo to realize that his boss’s prescription for military success didn’t match the data.

The Cadre from Cu Chi

Intent on answering McNamara’s question about what made the Vietcong tick, Russo focused on his interviews with enemy prisoners. With full access and a small team of Vietnamese interviewers under his supervision, he visited detention sites all over South Vietnam, including the CIA’s National Interrogation Center in Saigon. Of all the interviews he conducted, the one with that cadre from Cu Chi would most deeply challenge his assumptions about Vietnam. He kept a copy of it, which he published in the left-leaning magazine Ramparts in October 1972, and spoke about it whenever he could, including at his Pentagon Papers trial.

He never knew the prisoner’s name; he was identified in the transcript only as AG132. Over the course of two days in May 1965, Russo sat in his cell listening to his views on Vietnamese history, the political forces at play in his country, and Vietcong organizing strategy and tactics. When the cadre blamed the Americans for the deaths of women and children, Russo took a new tack, initiating what he called a “friendly chat” about world politics, the American role in Vietnam, and the civil rights movement in the U.S.

“Even though I don’t know first hand what it means to be burned out, pillaged, and raped, I grew up knowing it had happened to my ancestors,” Russo would later say.  While there is no record of how Russo described his personal history to that cadre, his comments to me years after in private interviews and public conversation provide a window onto what he might well have said. Unemployed and with time on his hands in 1990, Russo held daily court at the Boulangerie, a cafe on Main Street in Santa Monica, just blocks from the RAND Corporation. There, he regaled a small audience with old stories and political analysis.

With a twinkle in his eye, he would say that the short answer to why he got involved with the Pentagon Papers was that the British had burned his hometown of Holland, Virginia, to the ground. He was proud to call it a hotbed of sedition.

While he liked to portray himself as the descendent of America’s first revolutionaries, his Civil War heritage was harder to reconcile. Race was the first issue to challenge his personal worldview. Russo attended a segregated high school and then hung out with black friends he had met working at the local golf course.  By the time he got to Virginia Polytechnic, the battle over court-mandated school integration had engulfed the state, with Senator Harry F. Byrd leading the segregationist charge. When Russo got Lionel Hampton to play for a school dance he organized, the university dean, anticipating that a black musician would attract a mixed crowd, demanded that the audience be segregated. Russo defied the order and black and white attendees packed the event.

“We integrated Burrus Hall,” Russo would say.  “I see that as my first political act.  We stood up for justice.”

He had a way of telling and retelling the stories that were most important to him, so I suspect that he told the Cu Chi cadre of his own experience with civil rights in the South. And perhaps, even under those circumstances — and even through a translator –made the prisoner laugh, as he had a way of telling a spirited tale.

Whatever he said, it appeared to affect the cadre as he hoped it would for he scribbled in the margin of his notebook, “The chat proved to be very successful and the subject’s attitude changed visibly.” Their talk then turned back to the situation at hand and the cadre accused the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies of blocking the election, agreed upon in the 1954 Geneva Accords that ended the French War, an election which would almost assuredly have brought Communist leader Ho Chi Minh to power and reunified Vietnam. A group of schoolteachers from his village, AG132 told Russo, had been imprisoned simply for writing a petition demanding those elections and peace.

The prisoner added that local government officials were, in his opinion, directed and controlled by the Americans who had the same intentions as the French colonialists before them. “The concrete evidence,”said the cadre, “makes the Americans identical to the French. But much more clever.”  He summed the situation up this way: “The aims of the Americans are very nice. They fight for freedom and equality. It is very nice to talk about a free world, but I have not seen any good deeds. All I saw was evil.”

By the end of the interview, AG132 had confronted every issue that would later prove troublesome to Russo, including the indiscriminant bombing campaigns, the use of chemical defoliants, and torture.

The cadre’s analysis clearly unsettled the young American, who saw himself as a liberator, not an occupier. In an interview with filmmaker Peter Davis, he would later acknowledge how disturbed he was when the prisoner insisted that the Vietnamese hated the Americans and admitted that he then tried to defend his country, to show that “everything about America wasn’t bad.”

“He was very disdainful of me, but I was fascinated by him,” Russo said.  By the end, “I had a great deal of admiration for him. He recited a poem for me. It was very moving to hear him recite this poem right in the middle of this interrogation room in a jail where I knew people had been tortured, if not killed.”

AG132, Russo later testified, had been tortured on multiple occasions. Historical research, including the work of Alfred McCoy, an expert on CIA torture practices, buttresses Russo’s statements about the brutal treatment of Vietcong prisoners. McCoy, for instance, quotes a military intelligence veteran who told a 1971 House subcommittee that, during his 18-month stint in Vietnam, not a single Vietcong suspect had survived the interrogations he witnessed.

Russo’s interview with AG132 took place only three months after he landed in Saigon. Though he would return to it again and again in the ensuing years, some time would pass before he became convinced that he was actually on the side of the aggressor.

His wife remembers him still defending U.S. intentions in Vietnam in the spring of 1965. By that summer, however, Russo and other RAND analysts were questioning their boss’s methodology and intentions. They still found themselves reaching conclusions nearly identical to those of Zasloff and Donnell: that the Vietcong represented peasant aspirations and weren’t likely to be bested by air power or any other kind of U.S. military action.

On a sweltering June day in 1965, Russo and Goure were together when word came in that the most powerful bombers in the U.S. arsenal, B-52s, had been approved for use in Vietnam. Russo knew airplanes and understood full well the kind of destruction B-52s would bring with them. For Goure, the decision was advocacy put into action and he would extol the B-52’s power to destabilize the enemy in his next report. In it, he was careful to note that civilians should be warned of such bombings by leaflets dropped in advance of a raid to insure against any popular backlash.

A month later, Russo would meet an old man at a detainment center clutching one of those warning leaflets. His village had been warned, just as Goure had said, but the bombers came a day early, wiping out nearly all of its inhabitants. “Why?” he cried.  It was a moment Russo would not forget.

Breaking the Enemy

Torture hadn’t been part of the job description when Russo signed on at RAND.  Of the first victim he met, he said, “I never will forget. He was washed out, looked very sad. He told the translator that he had been hung up by his thumbs and that they beat him real bad. They thought he had thrown a bomb,” though he proclaimed his innocence.

“That was one of the first interviews that I did. It was very sobering. I saw that a person could be broken badly.” The interview tape then goes silent for more than a minute as Russo struggled to regain his composure.

He reported the incident to the American captain who was his contact there only to experience the first of many official brush-offs when it came to torture. Russo said prisoners were tortured “as a matter of course” and reported specific forms of abuse including men being hung by the feet or thumbs, waterboarding, electric shocks to the genitals, and solitary confinement in “a dark cell, a dark, dank, dirty — very dirty cell.”

It is no accident that the torture methods he documented are strikingly similar to those revealed in the December 2014 Senate torture report. Vietnam was the first testing ground for what historian McCoy termed a new paradigm in the practice of torture developed by the CIA. The Agency had launched a multi-billion dollar research program on human cognition in search of techniques to protect U.S. forces in the event of capture by the Soviets. Finding that a potent combination of sensory deprivation and “self-inflicted pain” was more effective than centuries-old methods of physical torture and produced profound psychological regression in their test subjects, the CIA applied the same techniques to enemy interrogation. While they emphasized destruction of the psyche, physical brutalization was also employed. In Vietnam, this included electric shocks, beatings, rape, and the deaths of prisoners in “pump and dump” procedures, named for the process of pumping detainees for information and then dumping their bodies. Russo was witnessing the beginnings of what would become institutionalized CIA torture practices that would span four decades and four continents.

When asked about torture performed by Americans, Russo said a “CIA man” at the National Interrogation Center in Saigon told him in great detail on numerous occasions about the Agency’s torture techniques, including in one case the hanging of a man by his feet while a “piano wire noose was slipped around his genitals.” The CIA operative, he said, grinned as he told him that the prisoner never talked.

Russo documented every instance of torture he encountered. He later wrote that the interview reports were full of “embarrassing stories of atrocities and crimes against humanity” and he argued bitterly with Goure over his boss’s order to “sanitize” the interview transcripts by removing all mention of abuse. Though Russo defied the order, Goure controlled the final drafts.

Then there was the torture paper that Ellsberg has repeatedly said was the first to document American complicity in the routine use of torture and one of three papers that would ultimately get Russo fired. That document was either squashed in internal review or it remains classified, presumably buried somewhere in the think tank’s archives.

There is no reliable information on how much of RAND’s Vietnam-era work still remains off limits to the public. The think tank responded to a 2013 request of mine for Russo’s and other missing reports by saying that the “documents you have requested have not been cleared for public release and are not available.”

Making Russo’s missing torture report public, if it still exists, would provide eyewitness data supporting the burgeoning body of evidence that CIA torture practices have a long and sordid history beginning in Vietnam.

Trouble with the Data

Goure had fabricated his data to emphasize the efficacy and importance of air power and his analysts knew it. At the RAND villa, an open split developed, with Russo leading the group who wanted to expose their boss. He and his roommate, analyst Douglass Scott, spent long nights discussing “what to do about Leon.” Finally, with a third analyst, Russell Betts, they wrote the head of RAND’s Social Science department in the spring of 1966 about the improprieties they had found in Goure’s research methodology.

A succession of three RAND envoys came to Saigon to investigate and by summer a controversy raged on both sides of the Pacific. Russo and Scott had been particularly incensed that Goure signed their names to a February 1966 memorandum that again cited the benefits of air power, which was increasingly targeting rural villages, and proposed that the refugee crisis offered “a major opportunity to pacify” the population. It also pointed out that the chemicals that came to be known as Agent Orange could control movement of the population while also denying food to the guerillas. Russo and Scott fought to get their names removed without success. Around the time their whistleblowing letter hit Santa Monica, Goure amplified his arugument, proposing that the U.S. adopt a deliberate program to generate refugees.

Meanwhile, Goure’s prescriptions for success were being passed up the chain of command. The president’s phone records show McNamara using the February report to offer encouragement to Johnson that the American counterinsurgency operation was working. Influential Washington columnist Drew Pearson would capture Goure’s effect on the president in his famous May 1966 comment: “For the first time [he] sees light at the end of the tunnel.”

At this point, RAND’s leadership knew that Goure’s data, relied upon by both the Pentagon and President Johnson, was questionable at best and decided to pull Goure from the M&M study. The think tank couldn’t, however, get rid of him. He had secured his position with a direct line to the White House through National Security Adviser Walt Rostow, a hawk, architect of Vietnam policy, and staunch Goure supporter. Thanks in part to him, President Johnson, who reportedly sometimes carried a summary of Goure’s conclusions in his pocket for discussions with journalists, would continue to ride a wave of optimism in this period.

Though Russo never let his wife in on his conflict with Goure — he was, Gibbs said, too conscious of his secrecy oath to disclose such problems — she saw a changed man when he visited her in Bangkok on leave in November 1965.He wasmorose and withdrawn. When they returned to Santa Monica at the end of his first tour of duty in September 1966, Russo set to work at RAND headquarters trying to counter the most pernicious aspects of what he’d witnessed. Off work, he took to the hills of Topanga Canyon on his motorcycle, leaving Gibbs home alone. They would soon divorce.

Outside of RAND, the flaws in Goure’s analysis would gradually be noted. Westmoreland expressed his first doubts in late 1965 and McNamara began to worry when the general upped his request for new ground troops to 410,000 that winter. In February 1966, the secretary of defense confided to a few journalists that “no amount of bombing can end the war,” though he continued to maintain a façade of confidence in the war effort.

The bombing levels were by then unprecedented in the history of air power. From March 1965 through November 1968, Operation Rolling Thunder unleashed 800 tons of munitions a day on North Vietnam, a total of a million bombs, rockets, and missiles. Even more bombs were dropped in the South with estimates ranging from seven million to eight million tons of them, not to mention 70 million liters of defoliants, as well as napalmand other anti-personnel weapons.  Then, of course, there was the massive bombing of neighboring Laos and later Cambodia.

Yet victory never came into view. Instead of drawing down, the administration only intensified the air war, sidelining the doubters, including — as he grew ever more disillusioned — McNamara himself. In August 1967, he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the air raids had not broken Vietcong morale and that, short of the “virtual annihilation of North Vietnam and its people,” the air war could not succeed. Johnson quickly forced him out of the administration. At his farewell luncheon, a Johnson aide reported that the secretary of defense’s voice broke and there were tears in his eyes as he spoke of the futility of the air war. Later, he would acknowledge more than two million Vietnamese deaths. 

Knowing the cause was lost, McNamara had by then ordered the production of the Pentagon Papers, the secret history that he hoped would avert future such disasters.

The Second Tour of Duty

Back in Santa Monica, Russo wrote a critical evaluation of the Motivation and Morale Study, which is still classified. He was also drafting an argument against the defoliation program, already in its sixth year, when, in September 1967, he was called back to Vietnam for a six-month tour of duty.

He found Saigon changed — Americanized, overrun with prostitution and corruption, expensive and dirty. Goure at least was gone, removed from the M&M crew in April by RAND’s new president Henry Rowen, who had been at that Zasloff and Donnell debriefing years earlier.

Once again, Russo felt hopeful that fact-based intelligence could rule the day. His cost analysis of defoliation, written in what he called “RAND systemspeak,” showed that while the chemicals sprayed did little to deprive revolutionary forces of food, they were having a profoundly destructive impact on the civilian population.  He estimated that for every pound of food that defoliation denied a guerilla, 100 pounds were denied to civilians. But when he got his moment to brief Westmoreland’s scientific advisor on the subject, he was dismissed in under 15 minutes. Frustrated but undeterred, he set to work disproving a RAND socio-economic study that claimed widespread peasant support for the U.S. backed South Vietnamese army. Again, his work would not be well received.

Russo left Saigon just as the Tet Offensive, a vivid demonstration of the enemy’s resilience, began to unfold on January 30, 1968. He said he could see wrecked planes beneath him as he passed over Danang Air Base.

It’s likely that he wrote the missing torture report in the early months of 1968, a period when the CIA’s use of torture expanded dramatically under the notorious Phoenix Program.

During Russo’s stint in Vietnam, the CIA actually oversaw three separate operations that employed torture: its own interrogation centers, 40 provincial interrogation centers run by Vietnamese with CIA training and supervision, and a training program that schooled 85,000 Vietnamese police in torture techniques, part of a worldwide operation. Russo left Vietnam shortly after the Agency brought the three operations under one counterinsurgency umbrella. The Phoenix Program, designed to destroy the “civilian infrastructure” of the National Liberation Front, would be one of its major operations.

William Colby, the chief of “pacification” in Vietnam who would later become the CIA’s director, informed a House Operations Subcommittee in July 1971 that the Phoenix Program had killed 20,587 Vietcong suspects. Other sources quote figures as much as four times higher. Russo’s paper had done nothing to stop the carnage.

In May 1968, the new head of RAND’s economics department fired him. Associates were told to keep their distance from him during the six-month grace period he was given to find other employment. Ellsberg was the only RAND associate who argued for his reinstatement.  

Meanwhile, though relieved of leadership of the M&M, Goure held onto a job at RAND, even returning to Vietnam in 1968 as head of a new study of enemy infiltration rates. He would finally leave in 1969 to become the director of Soviet studies at the University of Miami. There, he would contribute his “expertise”to another front in the war against Communism: Cuba.

In fact, Goure’s “best damned intelligence” had proved to be an intelligence debacle for the ages. After Ellsberg and Russo took the Pentagon Papers public, Russo was eager to expose one thing that mammoth document hadn’t: how a single think tank under contract to the government and far from the public eye, along with its highly touted expert in counterinsurgency warfare, had disastrously affected policy from behind the scenes.

His two Ramparts exposés (one aptly titled “The RAND Papers”) and his testimony at his trial were generally ignored by the mainstream media. Goure’s reputation remained remarkably unsullied and he would continue to be a player in the formulation of foreign policy. In 1980, for example, he was invited onto a panel of advisers to presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan. In 1991, by then the director of Soviet studies at Science Applications International Corporation, he participated in an International Security Council round table discussion of future Russian military policy. Past and future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was in attendance.

Much of his work, however, was conducted in the shadows. He died in 2007. Stanford University holds the Goure Papers collection, a testament to his enduring legacy. Anthony Russo would not fare so well.

Charged With Espionage

“Russo weeps as he tells jury about change in views on war,” read the New York Times headline on the 66th day of the Pentagon Papers trial when Russo told the story of the Cu Chi cadre to the jury.

He had already published the cadre interview in Ramparts. Now, he again turned to the Vietcong prisoner who had come to symbolize for him all that was wrong with U.S. policy in Vietnam. As he would confide to filmmaker Peter Davis, the memory of that prisoner never left him. He was convinced that if other Americans met their enemy, if he could give that enemy a human face, the public would fully abandon Washington’s efforts to destroy them.

He compared the depersonalization of the Vietnamese to the Nazi depiction of the Jews. “If you don’t know who the Vietnamese people are, it is much easier to be racist.  It’s much easier to kill them.  This really is a lesson from World War II. Racist attitudes made it possible to manifest hatred and to undertake the extermination campaigns. Well, this really is what the United States is doing in Vietnam. The United States is exterminating the Vietnamese. And the United States couldn’t do this, no American, no human being could do this, if he really knew who the Vietnamese are.”

In the trial’s aftermath, Russo would be progressively marginalized, his claims about the M&M study ignored or written off as the ravings of a leftwing radical. But in its heady days, he reveled in his whistleblower role. Ten months after it began, prosecutor David Nissen’s case was in shambles. Revelations that the government wiretapped the defendants had resulted in a Supreme Court-ordered stay and then mistrial in its first round. And it had only got worse.

Soon enough, the press revealed that President Nixon’s right-hand man, John Erlichman, had introduced presiding trial judge William Byrne, Jr., to the president in his home and had discussed his possible appointment as FBI director — a clear impropriety in the middle of an espionage case. And then it hit the news that convicted Watergate conspirators G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, Jr., had burglarized the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

On April 30, 1973, just days after the first news of that burglary, which tied the Pentagon Papers case to Watergate, a set of dominoes lay on the prosecution table. Each domino was labeled — Hunt, Liddy, Erlichman, Byrne, and so on — the last domino had Nixon’s name. It was Russo’s prank.

On May 1st, Erlichman’s domino fell when the news broke that he had admitted to the FBI his knowledge of the break-in at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.  On May 2nd, the last domino did indeed fall.  It was revealed that President Nixon had been informed of that break-inat least a week before the court knew about it.

On May 11th, Judge Byrne dismissed all charges against Ellsberg and Russo.

Postscript: Validation by RAND

Seventeen years later, Russo told me that a single realization had changed his mind about the war. He had, he said, been misinformed about the Vietcong. “They were not the enemy we were told they were.”

I asked what had most surprised him in his interviews with Vietnamese prisoners.

“The extent to which they cared about principle,” he answered. “The extent to which they had legitimacy, every reason in the world to be fighting. They were very admirable and very likeable. Very likeable. Natural friends of Americans.”

As for his participation in the release of the Pentagon Papers, he summed up his reasons in a single sentence: “It would have been un-American not to do it.”

Russo died in 2008 before RAND verified his claims about the Motivation and Morale Study in an extensive history written by Mai Elliott (herself a former M&M interviewer and interpreter) under contract to RAND and published in 2010. Her book, RAND in Southeast Asia: A History of the Vietnam War Era, forms a fitting sequel to the Pentagon Papers, with a carefully documented tale of how intelligence can go terribly wrong.

Elliott’s book validates nearly all of Russo’s claims. It confirms, for instance, that Goure did act as a pitchman for the air war, selling a prescription for military success that didn’t faintly match the data at hand. It details Goure’s outsized influence on policymakers and Russo’s claim that evidence of torture by U.S. forces and allies was systematically removed under Goure’s orders. She even quotes former RAND President Gus Shubert’s admission that the assignment of Goure to the Motivation and Morale Study appeared to represent collusion between his RAND predecessor and the Air Force, which he termed a “disgrace.”

In the end, Elliott, and by extension RAND, corroborate and elaborate on nearly every claim Russo made in his 1972 Ramparts articles. Only one of Russo’s charges was rejected: that the think tank was complicit in war crimes.

Never one to mince words, Russo called the M&M a “whitewash of genocide” and “a justification of genocide cloaked in the mantle of RAND social science,” accusations that echoed growing popular sentiment for war crimes trials and that must have held terrible personal resonance for a man whose name is there in black and white, attached to the call for the ever greater use of air power, defoliation, and the displacement of rural populations as tools of war.  

Today, Anthony Russo is gone, his report on torture disappeared, and his legacy perhaps doomed to obscurity.  RAND, meanwhile, continues to churn out studies for the military; the Air Force continues to drop bombs and fire missiles from Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan to Yemen; the CIA continues to cover-up its torture policies. But Russo’s spiritual descendants, whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning of WikiLeaks fame, John Kiriakou who exposed CIA torture,and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden live on, each putting his freedom on the line just as Russo did. Whether or not any of the whistleblowers of the post-9/11 era knew Russo’s story, they benefitted from a tradition he, Ellsberg, and others of their generation had helped to pioneer.

It’s a testament to the explosive nature of Russo’s revelations that, almost 50 years later, RAND still keeps his report on CIA torture in Vietnam a secret — as the Pentagon Papers might be today if he had not convinced Daniel Ellsberg to make them public. It’s a tribute to Russo that his critical evaluation of the Motivation and Morale Study remains classified as well.

Call it an irony, but Dwight D. Eisenhower, the president who articulated the domino theory that brought Russo to Vietnam, crafted the words that might be most fitting for his epitaph years before he arrived in Vietnam. In his 1961 farewell address, Eisenhower focused on twin internal threats: “the military-industrial complex,” which he first named, and its forgotten corollary: that public policy could become the captive of a “scientific-technological elite.” Russo, who railed against RAND’s secret and deadly influence until his dying day, couldn’t have said it better.

 [Note: Special thanks go to Peter Davis for his use of his interview with Anthony Russo, provided courtesy of the University Archives & Special Collections Department, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts, Boston: Hearts and Minds collection, 1970-1974.]

Barbara Myers is a journalist, educator, and activist. She has written for the Miami Herald and edited and produced multi-media for the San Francisco Chronicle. In the 1970s, she worked with the Indochina Peace Campaign in Los Angeles, where she attended the Pentagon Papers trial and first met the subject of her TomDispatch story, Tony Russo.

Why Israel Should Not Exist May 27, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Imperialism, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Roger: the title of this article is provocative; but it shouldn’t be taken in the sense of the “drive Israel into the sea” rhetoric of anti-Israeli extremists, such rhetoric used by the Israeli Apartheid regime to justify is aggression in the name of self-defense.  No this title signifies what is the only viable long term solution to the explosive situation in Palestine.  At first blush, the two-state solution seems logical, particularly from the point of view of giving status to the oppressed Palestinians.  And maybe a two-state solution is a necessary step, but in the final analysis, a single secular state that provides equal rights to all its citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity, is the only final goal that is worthy of anyone who is interested in justice and lasting peace.  This article puts the Israel/Palestine conundrum in its proper historical context.

An Illegitimate Consequence of Western Imperialism

by GARRY LEECH

By suggesting that the state of Israel should not exist, I am not being anti-Semitic. I am, however, being anti-Zionist. There is a distinct difference. An anti-Semite is someone who is prejudiced against Jews. An anti-Zionist, on the other hand, is opposed to that sector of the Jewish population who see it as their God-given right to establish a Jewish state in the Holy Land at the expense of the Palestinian people who have lived there for two thousand years.

The creation of a Jewish state in the middle of the Arab world not only represents the continuation of European colonialism in Palestine, it has also consisted of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the establishment of an apartheid system by a rogue nation that has repeatedly violated international law. Given this reality, and the fact that Palestine is the Holy Land of three religions, the only just solution to the Zionist project of the Israeli state and its Western backers is the establishment of a single country: a democratic secular state of Palestine in which Jews, Arabs and Christians all have equal rights.

The Rise of the Zionist Movement

The Zionist movement emerged in Europe in the late 19th century and encouraged European Jews to escape anti-Semitism by migrating to Palestine, which was ruled by the Ottoman Turks at the time, with the goal of creating a Jewish state in the Holy Land. This migration saw the Jewish population in Palestine increase from 4 percent in 1850 to 11 percent in 1917, the year that the British government’s Balfour Declaration stated: “His Majesty’s government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.”

Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War One, the countries of the region were ruled by Britain and France under mandates from the League of Nations (predecessor of the United Nations). But World War Two brought about the downfall of the European empires as colonies throughout the world gained independence. Accordingly, Lebanon (1943) and Syria (1946) gained independence from France while Jordan (1946) was liberated from British rule. The exception was Palestine, which had been ruled by Britain since 1922.

By all rights, Palestine, like its neighbors, should have become an independent nation following World War Two, but the Western-backed Zionist project prevented this from happening. In accordance with the Balfour Declaration, Britain and the United States sought to ensure the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Under British rule, the Jewish population in Palestine had increased from 11 percent in 1922 to 32 percent in 1948, with many having arrived following the end of the war.

In 1947, the newly-established United Nations adopted the Partition Plan for Palestine without any consultation with the Palestinian people. The plan called for 56 percent of Palestine to become the Jewish state of Israel with 43 percent of the territory turned into a Palestinian state. Despite a large Arab majority in Palestine, Israel’s share of the territory was larger in order to accommodate the anticipated increased migration of European Jews. The remaining 1 percent of Palestine, consisting of the Holy City of Jerusalem, was to be an international territory administered by the United Nations.

Jewish groups supported the partition plan but Palestinians and the surrounding Arab states opposed it on the grounds that it violated the principles of national self-determination in the UN charter under which Palestinians should have the right to decide their own destiny. The plan was not implemented. Nevertheless, the Jewish population in Palestine unilaterally announced the creation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948.

The New European Colonialism

By the end of 1949, according to Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, Israel had destroyed more than 400 Palestinian villages, massacred thousands of civilians and forcibly displaced almost a million Palestinians, who ended up in refugee camps in neighboring Arab countries. In other words, with the Jewish people having just endured the horrors of the Holocaust, the Zionists were now carrying out, according to Pappe, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

This process of ethnic cleansing allowed Israel to expand and encompass 77 percent of Palestinian territory, all but East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Over the next three years, 700,000 Jews immigrated to Israel, mostly from Europe. This Jewish Leech_Capitalism_Cover-191x300colonization of Palestine represented a continuation of European colonialism as the wielding of power over the Palestinian people shifted from the British government to European Jews in the form of the new Israeli state.

Following the 1967 war with several Arab states (Syria, Jordan and Egypt), Israel militarily occupied the remaining 23 percent of Palestine (East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza). The UN Security Council responded by passing Resolution 242 demanding the “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” The United States has since used its veto power in the Security Council on 41 occasions to ensure that the numerous UN resolutions condemning Israel’s illegal occupation have never been enforced.

It wasn’t until after the Palestinians were forced to exist under Israel’s illegal military occupation following the 1967 war that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) decided to make armed struggle the centerpiece of its campaign to achieve a Palestinian state. And it wasn’t until after 20 years of enduring an oppressive military occupation and the unwillingness of the international community to enforce UN resolutions that sectors of Palestinian society became increasingly radicalized and the Islamic group Hamas was formed. Hamas began using suicide bombing as a tactic in the early 1990s because it could not combat the vastly superior US-backed Israeli military through conventional warfare. Beginning in 2001, it also began launching primitive and inaccurate rockets into Israel from its Gaza strongholds.

Even though Israel withdrew its military from Gaza in 2005, it implemented a military blockade of the tiny territory the following year through which it strictly controls all access of people, food, medicines and other materials. Some analysts claim that Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants has created the world’s largest prison camp.

Meanwhile, Israel has not only continued its illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it has further violated international law by forcibly displacing Palestinian communities and encouraging Jews to move into the Occupied Territories. It is now estimated that almost half a million Jews live in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem despite UN resolutions demanding that they be dismantled.

Israel has also constructed a giant wall known as the separation barrier throughout the West Bank in order to segregate the illegal settlements from Palestinian communities and to restrict the movement of Palestinians. Meanwhile, in addition to establishing the illegal settlements, Israel has also constructed industrial zones in the West Bank in which Palestinian laborers are forced to endure low wages and poor working conditions.

The flagrant discrepancy in rights afforded to the Jewish settlers in comparison to Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories constitutes a system of apartheid. In fact, as John Dugard, a South African human rights lawyer and former UN Special Rapporteur, has noted, “I have no hesitation in saying that Israel’s crimes are infinitely worse than those committed by the apartheid regime of South Africa.”

In 1947, the year before Israel declared itself a sovereign state, Palestinians lived in 94 percent of Palestine. Today, they inhabit a mere 15 percent with some five million living in refugee camps in the West Bank and surrounding countries. The population densities in Palestinian refugee camps are among the highest of any place on earth. For example, more than 10,000 refugees live in the one square kilometer al-Amari camp in the West Bank, which amounts to five times the population density of New York City. As one third-generation refugee in the al-Amari camp told me, “We have a dream to return to our lands. How long it will take and what generation it will be, we don’t know.”

The disproportionate number of Palestinians killed in the long-running conflict is a reality hidden from many in the West. Over the past 15 years, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, 8,701 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis compared to 1,138 Israelis killed by Palestinians. The disparity in the number of Palestinian children killed is even greater with a total of 1,772 killed during that period compared to 93 Israeli children.

Given this history, the repeated claim made by the United States and other Western nations that Israel’s military actions are merely acts of self-defense contradicts the reality on the ground. Surely it is the violence carried out by people forced to live under a violent illegal military occupation and blockade that should be considered an act of self-defense. After all, the French Resistance to the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two is viewed as a heroic struggle for national liberation. In stark contrast, Palestinian resisters are labelled ‘terrorists.’

Despite the best efforts of the United States and other Western governments as well as the mainstream media to portray Israel as the victim in this conflict, the numbers make evident who is doing most of the killing and who is doing most of the dying. The fact that a people forced to live under an illegal foreign military occupation are portrayed as the aggressors constitutes a stunning example of Orwellian doublespeak.

Collaborating with the Colonizers

This violent expansion of Israeli control over all of Palestine fulfils the European Zionist dream initiated in the late 19th century. Sadly, over the past couple of decades, some Palestinian leaders have been complicit in the Zionist project. The Oslo peace process during the 1990s saw the PLO recognize the state of Israel and in return Israel permitted the Palestinians limited self-governance in parts of the West Bank and Gaza. However, the so-called peace process postponed addressing the crucial issue of ‘the right of return’ for Palestinian refugees.

The first Palestinian parliamentary elections under the Oslo Accords were held in 1996 and were won by Fatah, the PLO’s political party, which then headed the new Palestinian Authority government. The Palestinian Authority began receiving significant aid from Western governments. In return, the Palestinian Authority has policed the Palestinian population on Israel’s behalf in the areas of the Occupied Territories that it governs. In other words, in the same way that Indian administrators and police oversaw the day-to-day governing of colonial India on behalf of the British colonizers, the Palestinian Authority has served the Israeli colonizers of the Occupied Territories in return for Western aid and a reduced Israeli military presence.

The infusion of foreign aid, especially funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is intended to achieve ‘economic peace’ by allowing sectors of the Palestinian population to attain a certain material comfort without challenging the ongoing Israeli occupation and the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which violate both the Oslo Accords and international law. In reference to the long-running, oft-stalled peace talks, former UN Special Rapporteur Dugard recently stated, “I think the strategy of Israel and also of the United States is simply to allow talks to go on forever and ever, while Israel annexes more land and takes over Palestinian territory.”

Meanwhile, the economic model emerging in the West Bank is not sustainable because it is almost entirely dependent on foreign aid and international NGOs. Furthermore, the benefits from the economic model are largely restricted to Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority government, creating what is known in the West Bank as the ‘Ramallah bubble.’ As Dr. Hanan Chehata, a professor of law and former correspondent for the Middle East Monitor, explains,

… while those in Ramallah may currently travel throughout that small city relatively unimpeded, Palestinians in the rest of the region are subjected to daily humiliation at Israeli road blocks and military checkpoints; they also have to endure indiscriminate arrests and unjustified interrogations leading frequently to torture and sometimes to death. While the residents of Ramallah can go to work in the day reasonably secure in the knowledge that they will return home in the evening to a hot meal and well-rested family members, other Palestinians leave their homes not knowing if their houses will still be standing when they return or if they will have been demolished by Israeli Caterpillar bulldozers in order to make room for new Israeli settlements.

In other words, if the Palestinian Authority and its supporters cooperate with the Israeli colonizers they will receive economic rewards and be spared the excessive brutality wielded by the Israeli military. But those who insist on actively resisting the colonizers will bear the full force of Israeli aggression. Not surprisingly, in the eyes of many Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority has sold out to the colonizers by colluding with Israel and the United States to achieve ‘economic peace’ at the expense of national liberation.

The growing discontent with the Palestinian Authority became evident in the 2006 general elections when Fatah was handily defeated by Hamas. Following the election, Fatah refused to hand over power in the West Bank and, with the support of Israel and Western nations, has continued to rule for the past nine years as an un-elected government—while Hamas has governed Gaza.

The one place that elections have been allowed to take place is in universities and these are seen as a barometer that reflects the political views of the broader Palestinian population. In the student council elections at Birzeit University in Ramallah last month, the Hamas-affiliated Islamic Wafaa’ Bloc defeated Fatah’s student party, winning a majority of the seats. Nadine Suleiman, a fourth-year public administration student, explained why she voted for Hamas: “I detest the corruption of the PA [Palestinian Authority], their security coordination with Israel which involves arresting and killing Palestinians who are on Israel’s wanted list while Palestinians get nothing in return. The PA is only interested in keeping its wealth and privilege.”

The Palestinian Authority’s US-funded security forces quickly responded to the Birzeit University election results by arresting four students belonging to the winning party and then interrogating and beating them. In total, 25 students throughout the West Bank were arrested and scheduled elections in An-Najah National University and Hebron University were postponed. According to Human Rights Watch, “It is deeply worrying that students are being held by Palestinian forces for no apparent reason other than their connection to Hamas or their opinions.”

So while on the international front the Palestinian Authority has challenged Israel by gaining membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC), on the ground in the West Bank it regularly arrests, interrogates, imprisons and tortures Palestinians who are viewed as sympathetic to Hamas or who aggressively challenge the Israeli occupation in their quest for liberation. As a result of its failure to call new elections, its corruption with regard to handling foreign aid and its collusion with the illegal Israeli occupation, many Palestinians no longer view the Palestinian Authority government as legitimate.

In contrast, Hamas is seen by many Palestinians as actively resisting Israel, and it is this perception—and its relative lack of corruption—that lies at the root of its popular support. This resistance has also led Israel to launch three large-scale military assaults against Gaza during the past seven years (2008, 2012 and 2014). According to the United Nations, the Israeli military’s seven-week invasion of Gaza last year resulted in the deaths of 2,025 Palestinians, including 1,483 civilians, of whom 521 were children. Meanwhile, 71 Israelis died, of which 66 were soldiers. Additionally, more than half a million Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes by the assault.

The One-State Solution

The Palestinian Authority has accepted the two-state solution proposed as part of the Oslo peace process. The basic idea being that the West Bank and Gaza would constitute a Palestinian state (only 23 percent of Palestine) with the remainder being Israel. But the Palestinian Authority’s support for a two-state solution is at odds with the wishes of the majority of Palestinians. In a poll conducted last year, 60 percent of Palestinians believed in a one-state solution while only 27 percent supported the two-state option.

The two-state solution constantly being touted by the United States and other Western nations, and backed by the Palestinian Authority, is completely out of touch with the reality in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. According to Tariq Dana, a professor at Birzeit University in Ramallah, “A two-state solution is not possible. It is not viable given the reality on the ground.”

The reality that Dana is referring to is the constantly expanding illegal Jewish settlements that are now home to almost half a million Jews. The settlements now cover more than 40 percent of the West Bank, dominating the best agricultural land and access to the region’s principal water supply. As Daniella Weiss, a Zionist former mayor of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, admitted a few years ago, “I think the settlements prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the land of Israel. This is the goal. And this is the reality.” Clearly, any two-state solution that creates a viable Palestinian state would require the dismantling of these settlements and removal of the settlers from what the Zionists consider to be their Holy Land.

Far from dismantling the settlements, Israel’s policies are further entrenching them. With its building of the separation barrier, the Israeli government is seeking to annex the settlements into the state of Israel, which would leave the Palestinians with three small, unconnected chunks of arid and rocky land that lack access to essential water supplies. Such an outcome would not constitute a viable Palestinian state.

Many Palestinians support the establishment of a single state of Palestine in which Arabs and Jews would have equal rights. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the second largest member of the PLO after Fatah and a terrorist group in the eyes of the United States, Canada and the European Union because it advocates armed struggle, is opposed both to the Palestinian Authority government and the two-state solution. According to the PFLP,

The Palestinian liberation movement is not a racial movement with aggressive intentions against the Jews. It is not directed against the Jews. … The aim of the Palestinian liberation movement is to establish a democratic national state in Palestine in which both Arabs and Jews will live as citizens with equal rights and obligations and which will constitute an integral part of the progressive democratic Arab national presence living peacefully with all forces of progress in the world.

Hamas also sees the one-state solution as the only answer, albeit an Islamic state in which the rights of Jews are protected. But creating an Islamic Palestine would simply replace one religious state (Israel) with another. Given that Palestine is the Holy Land of three religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) and the fact that a significant portion of the Palestinian population supports a secular state, the solution to this seemingly intractable conflict could be the replacement of a Zionist state with a secular democratic nation in which all citizens—Jewish, Christian and Muslim—have equal rights and responsibilities.

Conclusion

The establishment of a Zionist state in the middle of the Arab world for Jewish migrants from Europe was only possible due to the support of Western imperialist powers including the United States, Britain and Canada. And Israel’s existence and ongoing expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem constitutes the continuation of European colonialism into the 21st century at the expense of the Palestinian people who have lived there for two thousand years.

Given this reality, the Jewish state of Israel should be viewed as both illegitimate and yet another catastrophic consequence of Western imperialism. The only just solution to this entrenched conflict is to finally allow Palestinians to establish the independent state they should have attained following World War Two and to allow for the return of all refugees. In other words, a single, secular Palestinian state in which Jews, Christians and Muslims all share equal rights. Such a one-state solution is not anti-Semitic, it is sensible.

Garry Leech is an independent journalist and author of numerous books including Capitalism: A Structural Genocide (Zed Books, 2012); Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia (Beacon Press, 2009); and Crude Interventions: The United States Oil and the New World Disorder (Zed Books, 2006). ). He is also a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Cape Breton University in Canada.

 

How the Saudis Wag the Dog May 26, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia.
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Roger’s note: Anarchism as a political theory has some merit, particularly in its consideration of government’s limiting of individual freedom.  But anarchy in the sense of disorder and chaos can be most dangerous.  And “anarchistic” is how I would characterize the current world (dis) order.  This is reflected in the diplomatic, security and military relationships that the United States maintains with various governments.  Only by massive public relations efforts and pandering to myths and racism do the ruling classes maintain the surrealistic narrative and the cover up of its manifest contradictions.  A little historical and critical analysis can go a long way towards untangling the knot and helping us to understand what is really going on in our upside down world.  I hope this article helps.

 

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Even Without a Bomb or a Lobby
by ANDREW LEVINE

American diplomacy favors (majority) white, English-speaking countries (the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and non-Hispanic European settler states (Canada, Australia and New Zealand again, but also Apartheid South Africa and, of course, Israel).

South Africa eventually fell out of favor, thanks in part to boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts in Western countries.

Similar efforts now underway directed towards Israel are beginning to change public opinion too; though elite opinion, in the United States and the other settler states especially, has, so far, hardly budged.

Thanks to its lobby and its strategic location, Israel is still, for America, the most favored nation of all.

Western European countries are also favored, though to a lesser extent – thanks, again, to cultural affinities and historical ties. Those that sent large numbers of emigrants to North America generally have a leg up. France didn’t send many emigrants, but it is also favored, at least some of the time, for philosophical and historical affinities dating back to the American and French Revolutions.

With Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies, there are no deep or longstanding cultural and historical ties; quite the contrary. Nevertheless, those nations, Saudi Arabia especially, receive favored treatment too.

The events surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden provide a window into this strange and revealing state of affairs.

*  *  *

When Barack Obama lied about how Navy Seals murdered bin Laden, he blew apart a carefully constructed cover story concocted in Washington and Islamabad intended to conceal the role of Pakistani intelligence and the Pakistani military.

According to Seymour Hersh’s account in The London Review of Books, bin Laden had been in Pakistani custody at least since 2006. American intelligence learned of this some four years later, when a “walk-in” gave them information that checked out.

The raid itself took place a year after that, in time for the 2012 Presidential election in the United States.

The Pakistanis had reasons for keeping bin Laden in custody and out of American hands. It gave them leverage with the Taliban and with the remnants of Al Qaeda, as well as with other radical Islamist groups.

The Saudis wanted bin Laden kept in Pakistan too; away from the Americans. According to Hersh, they paid Pakistan generously for their trouble.

Hersh’s article does not dwell on their motives, but, in interviews he has given after his article went on line, he is less reticent.

The Saudis didn’t want the United States to get its hands on bin Laden because they didn’t want him to talk about Saudi involvement in 9/11 and other operations directed against Western interests.

This is only a conjecture, but it makes eminently good sense. It isn’t even news. Like the fact that the Israeli arsenal includes nuclear weapons, everybody knows about the Saudis’ role, but nobody in official circles or in the media that toes its line talks about it.

Since his article appeared, official Washington and mainstream media line have gone after Hersh with a degree of vehemence reminiscent of their attack on Edward Snowden.

They hate it when their bumbling is revealed, almost as much as when the hypocrisy of their claims to respect human rights and the rule of law is exposed.

But, for all the sound and fury, they have not effectively rebutted a single one of Hersh’s contentions – nor, for that matter, any of Snowden’s.

If Hersh is right, as he surely is, then two of America’s closest allies were, to say the least, not acting the way that allies should.

Capturing bin Laden was officially – and probably also really – a high priority for the United States.   Pakistan and Saudi Arabia kept him from being captured.

However, none of this appears to have harmed U.S.-Pakistani or U.S.-Saudi relations.

The rulers of both countries depend on American support to survive.   And yet, when they choose, they defy their protector with impunity. Israel isn’t the only country that wags the dog.

Pakistan gets carte blanche because, like Israel, it has the Bomb. Keeping the Bomb out of the hands of anyone who might use it – especially, against the United States or its interests abroad — is, understandably and legitimately, a goal of American diplomacy.

And so, the United States will do what it must to keep the Pakistani military and intelligence communities happy and on board.

This is not easy: the Pakistanis have been involved with radical Islamists from Day One. By all accounts, contacts survive to this day.

The United States encouraged these connections, especially when the prospect of getting the Soviet Union bogged down in Afghanistan clouded the thinking of diplomats in the Carter and Reagan administrations.

But, since even before the Americans became involved, the Pakistanis have been going their own way in Afghanistan – partly for cultural and historical reasons of their own, and partly to keep India at bay.

For all these reasons, the Americans have found it expedient to buy off the leaders of the Pakistani military and intelligence communities.   Therefore, whenever possible, in light of the totality of their concerns, they give them what they want. What the Pakistanis wanted with the bin Laden killing was plausible deniability.

This was the point of the story that Obama blew. Therefore when he, or his political operatives, decided that, with the 2012 election looming, the moment was opportune to announce bin Laden’s death, they had to concoct a different story that would also keep the Pakistani role secret.

The one they made up had the added benefit of reinforcing the swashbuckling image that the Navy Seals, Obama’s Murder Incorporated, try to project. Hollywood got the message, and made the most of it.   So did the Obama campaign.

But, for reasons Hersh explains, the fable they concocted was transparently implausible; a point not lost on observers at the time.

To point this out, back in the day, was to risk being taken for a “conspiracy theorist” – or, worse, a Romney supporter.

Now that a definitive account of what happened has appeared, it is plain who the real conspirators were.

And so, by now, only the willfully blind – and the Washington press corps — believe the tale Obama told.

Needless to say, it is not exactly news when Obama lies; in the “man bites dog” sense, it would be news if he didn’t.

And neither is the duplicity of Pakistan’s military and intelligence leadership surprising.   Politics in the Indian sub-continent is as devious and convoluted as anywhere in the world.

In Pakistan, as in Iraq and Syria, the stewards of the American empire – the ones who worked for Bush and Cheney, and the ones who have worked for Obama and his hapless Secretaries of State — are in way over their heads. They are like the proverbial bull in the china shop; powerful and therefore destructive, but ultimately clueless.

American obeisance to the wishes of the Saudi royal family is not unusual either.  The United States has been toadying up to them since the days of Franklin Roosevelt. They have oil, and we want to control what they do with it.

However, the fact that the American public, and its counterparts in other Western countries, goes along, almost without dissent, is puzzling in the extreme.

The American way, after all, is to villainize first, and ask questions later.

The Saudi royals, and the ruling potentates in the other Gulf kingdoms, are prime candidates for villainization. They are characters out of central casting.

One would think that a public that loathes, or has been made to loathe, Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad – and that still goes livid at the very thought of the Iranian Ayatollahs and Saddam Hussein — would be out with pitchforks demanding the heads of each and every member of the Saudi ruling class.

They were, after all, if not the perpetrators, at least the protectors of the perpetrators, of 9/11, a “day of infamy,” our propaganda system tells us, equal only to the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

And yet the public’s ire seldom turns the Saudis’ way.

This is all the more remarkable because they have neither a Bomb nor a domestic lobby that the entire American political class fears.

All they have is a massive public relations operation. Evidently, the flacks they hire know their trade. No matter how much money they are paid, they earn every cent.

* * *

Ironically, the Saudis’ hold over America’s political and economic elites is an unintended consequence of American diplomacy in the days when the United States was, or seemed to be, on the side of the angels.

When Britain or France wanted Middle Eastern oil – in Iraq or Iran, for example, — they took it. They were colonial powers; this is what colonial powers do.

Before World War II, American diplomats cultivated a different image. Washington’s cupidity may have been no less than London’s or Paris’; but, in the White House and at Foggy Bottom, the idea was to present the United States as, of all things, an anti-colonial power.

Never mind Puerto Rico or the Philippines or, for that matter, Hawaii and the several other Pacific islands that the U.S. Navy coveted; and never mind America’s obvious collusion – before, during, and after World War II — with the British and French empires.

It is true, though, that in the Middle East, American domination took a different form. When American oil companies wanted Middle Eastern oil, they didn’t seize it; they bought it from the rulers of the peoples who live on top of it.

And, if there weren’t rulers willing or able to sell, the Americans created them.

The House of Saud made out like bandits. For the oil companies, it was a small price to pay.

The U.S. got control of the oil without having to administer rebellious colonies. Meanwhile, local elites got rich.   All they had to do for the money was give the Americans free rein and enforce the order that made American domination possible – with American help, of course, and with arms purchased from American corporations.

And so, until reality made the pretense unsustainable, the U.S. could present itself, throughout the Middle East, as a defender of anti-colonial, independence movements.

As other Gulf states broke free from British rule, the U.S. took over, applying the same model. This worked well — for a while.

Before long, though, the Saudi regime, and he others, became too big to fail.

This is why, even as the Clinton State Department floundered about cluelessly when the Arab Spring erupted, the prospect of allowing those regimes to fall was never seriously considered.   For official Washington, this was as unthinkable as allowing nuclear Pakistan to “go rogue,” or not kowtowing to the Israel lobby.

When there is a disconnect between public and elite opinion, elites generally win, but not always: not when too many people care too much. American elites, eager to maintain the status quo, like the PR people the Saudis hire to keep public opinion from getting out of control, therefore have their work cut out for them.

Some of the reasons for this reflect poorly on the moral probity of public opinion in the West.

In their appearance, manner and demeanor, the Saudi ruling class epitomizes the Western idea of the Arab.

Even before Europeans inserted themselves into the Arab world, Arabs have occupied a special place in the imaginations of Western peoples.

Like many of the other peoples of the East, they were deemed mysterious and exotic, highly sexualized, and vaguely dangerous.

But, unlike Turks and Persians or the peoples of South Asia and the Far East, and like Africans and the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australasia, Arabs were never quite regarded as fully human.

The Saudi PR machine therefore has deeply racialized attitudes to counter. The Saudis epitomize “the other”; this makes them a hard sell.

They also epitomize the retrograde, which makes them a hard sell for reasons that have nothing to do with racial or cultural stereotypes — and everything to do with modern political morality.

There is hardly a reactionary trend in the Muslim world that the Saudis haven’t supported financially; and there are few that they did not actually instigate or help shape.

Also, there are few places on earth where human rights and gender equality are less respected, or where liberal and democratic norms hold less sway, than in Saudi Arabia.

Elites in that country and in the other Gulf monarchies are rich and idle because they are sitting on top of vast oil reserves, and because they have accumulated so much wealth that they can exploit “guest workers” in the ways that masters exploit slaves. No one holds them to account for this or anything else untoward that they do.

In a world that permits, indeed encourages, private ownership of natural resources and the limitless accumulation of wealth — and that is largely indifferent to the harm petroleum extraction does — they won the lottery.

This could make them objects of envy, of course; and envy tinged with racial animosity is a lethal brew. Yet, for all practical purposes, the Saudis get a pass – not just in Western elite circles and within the political class of Western countries, but in Western public opinion too.

It has been this way ever since the phasing out of the short-lived Arab oil embargo brought on by American support for Israel in its 1973 war against Egypt.

The Saudis’ immunity from public rancor is all the more amazing because it would be easy to rationalize – indeed, to justify – turning them into objects of scorn.

Inasmuch as our moral intuitions took shape over many centuries, under conditions in which nearly everything everyone wanted was in short supply, we are inclined to think that, where the distribution of income and wealth are concerned, principles of fair play apply; and therefore that “free riding” on the contributions of others is morally reprehensible.

In existing capitalism – and, indeed, in all class divided societies – plenty of free riding nevertheless occurs. It is so commonplace that people often don’t notice it or don’t care. Sometimes, though, when people get something for nothing, it can be enough over the top to cause consternation. When the free riders stand out conspicuously, the level of consternation is typically enhanced.

Saudi Arabia’s feudal rulers, and their counterparts in other Gulf states, are about as over the top as it gets.

Other than maintaining the profoundly oppressive order that makes the status quo possible in the territories they control, it is hard to think of any contributions, productive or otherwise, that they make to justify the riches they receive.

But, as finance has superseded industry as the driving force behind the world’s overripe capitalist system, Western publics have become more accustomed than they used to be to rewarding unproductive people.

The robber barons of old, and the “industrialists” who succeeded them, at least played a role in increasing society’s wealth. The enterprises from which their riches derived made things. The money people at the cutting edge of capitalism today make money out of money, an activity even more useless than collecting rents for drilling rights.

Yet, hostility is seldom directed towards them. Quite the contrary: the richer they are, the more they are esteemed.

Could the sort of confused and obsequious thinking that has made hedge fund managers the heroes of our age account, in part, for how Saudi elites escape vilification? Is this yet another situation where, if you are rich enough, everything is forgiven?

No doubt, this is part of the explanation. But a government intent on keeping public and elite opinion on the same page is a more important factor.   Add on a lavishly funded PR campaign and an entire category of miscreants gets off scot-free.

That there is no group of people on earth today to whom the epithet “malefactors of great wealth” more justly applies hardly matters. The Western public may not like them much or respect them; but, so long as they don’t flaunt their wealth too blatantly, hardly anyone complains when Western politicians let them call the shots.

Meanwhile, Islamophobia rages and a gullible public lives in mortal fear of terrorist bogeymen.   And yet the Saudi elite gets a pass, notwithstanding the fact that nearly all the perpetrators of 9/11 — of the event that, more than any other, boosted Islamophobia and got the so-called war on terror going — were Saudi nationals. It is an amazing phenomenon.

* * *

In real democracies, governments would do what the citizens who put them in office want them to do. The United States and other Western democracies make a mockery of that ideal. But, even so, there are limits; governments cannot defy public opinion on matters of great moment indefinitely.

It is also the case, at least in the United States, that public opinion is affected significantly by the very government that is supposed to do what the people want – and therefore, ultimately, by the demands of the corporate and financial forces that corrupt democracy.

This is why propaganda matters. Keeping public opinion in line is a function, perhaps the main one, of propaganda systems. In America in the Age of Obama, that is one of the few things that works well.

We underestimate its effectiveness at our peril.

Enabling the Saudi ruling class, and the rulers of the other Gulf states, to direct American foreign policy to the extent that they do, and to get away with whatever they please, is hardly the least of it; but neither is it the only cause for concern.

ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

 

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