Saturday, March 29, 2014

Canada's Parliament Unified in Support of Right Wing Coup Aspirants in Venezuela

Canadian Parliament Passes Resolution against Bolivarian Government

by Camilo Cahis  - FightBackVenezuelAnalysis

The Canadian government has become the latest imperialist power to jump to the defence of the far-right protests in Venezuela. Parliament has just passed a unanimous motion that places the responsibility for the current violence in the country on the shoulders of the Venezuelan government rather than the opposition gangs that initiated the unrest.

We have become accustomed to both the Conservatives and Liberals attacking the Venezuelan revolution, but what is concerning this time around is the fact that the NDP has sided with the two right-wing parties in condemning the Bolivarian government. As Canada's labour party, we think that the NDP should be standing against the right-wing at home and in Venezuela, while championing the successes of the revolution as an inspiration for our own struggles against capitalist austerity.

Since 1998, when Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela, the Venezuelan revolution has become a beacon of inspiration for the poor and the working class around the world. Whereas almost every other government has cut and attacked workers' rights and standards of living, the Bolivarian government has stood up to the bosses' agenda.

Before Chávez's election, Venezuela was known as one of the poorest and most unequal societies in Latin America. This has radically changed since the beginning of the revolution. Moreover, through the social programs initiated by the revolutionary government, illiteracy has been eradicated and services such as health care, dental care, child care and post-secondary education have been made free and universal -- some of these achievements have not even been accomplished in a country like Canada.

The government has become the mortal enemy of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, which was accustomed to pillaging the wealth of the country. The government also earned the enmity of the major imperialist powers, who are no longer able to exploit Venezuela's wealth and resources without limit. Moreover, the social achievements accomplished in Venezuela serve as a valuable example to the workers and oppressed of the world who are told that, "There is no alternative," to capitalist austerity.

Since the revolution began over 15 years ago, the Venezuelan opposition has waged a relentless struggle to overthrow the gains of the revolution. Unfortunately for them, they have never been able to win over the majority of the Venezuelan masses and have repeatedly failed at the ballot box -- since 1998, the revolutionary forces have won 18 of 19 elections.

Because of this, the opposition has resorted to illegal and terrorist means to accomplish their aims. The most extreme measure they undertook was the military coup d'état in April 2002, which briefly overthrew the government, killed nearly 100 people, and captured Hugo Chávez.

However, the spontaneous uprising of millions of ordinary Venezuelans forced the safe return of President Chávez. However, this is not the only attempt the opposition has taken to destroy the revolution. Throughout the years, they have sabotaged the economy and even used links to Colombian paramilitaries to attack and intimidate workers' leaders and activists.

The recent round of protests in Venezuela is simply the latest attempt by the oligarchy in Venezuela to undermine the revolutionary government. There is nothing peaceful or democratic about the protests currently being waged by the Venezuelan opposition. Contrary to the myth that is being portrayed by the international bourgeois press, or the Venezuelan opposition on social media, the protests have nothing to do with democratic rights, the shortages in basic goods, or the conditions of students in Venezuela.

In fact, the protests were sparked by calls made by two of the ultra-right-wing politicians in Venezuela, Leopoldo López and Maria Corina Machado -- both of whom were intimately involved in the 2002 coup attempt and who are pursuing La Salida ("The Exit") of current president, Nicolás Maduro. López and Machado are hoping to use middle and upper-class students as pawns in their own game against the Bolivarian Revolution.

Although wealthier students have been involved in the protests, particularly at the demonstrations on Feb. 12 that appear to have marked the start of the violence, they are only a tiny minority and hardly represent the general student population of Venezuela. The most generous estimates of the Feb. 12 protests put the number of participating at thirty or forty-thousand; this is a fraction of the estimated 2.6-million students currently enrolled in post-secondary education in Venezuela. Moreover, the largest of the student protests pales in comparison to the majority of the counter-demonstrations organized by the revolution's supporters; a solidarity rally organized by the oil workers at PDVSA (the state oil company) drew nearly 100,000 versus the 5,000 on the side of the opposition [8].

Around the world, the media has focused on the deaths that have come as a result of the wave of protests, especially focusing on the deaths occurring on the opposition's side. As of Mar. 13, there have been 30 deaths connected to the protests. The international media has assigned blame for the majority of the deaths on the supposedly harsh measures taken by the Venezuelan government, but the vast majority have occurred at the hands of other people. According to the website [9]:

- 17 people died in barricade-related deaths, which include people shot while trying to clear a barricade, "accidents" caused by barricades and street traps, and patients dying after being prevented from reaching hospital by a barricade. This number also includes a pro-opposition student who was run over while trying to block a road.

- Five of the deaths appear to be due to the actions of state security forces. All these cases are under investigation, and arrests have already been made in several.

- The other eight cases are deaths in which either there exist contradictory accounts, it is very unclear who the perpetrator was, the killer was a third party, or where the death was an accident related to the violence.

Based on information from press reports, 12 of those who died were civilians without an open political affiliation, nine were identified as pro-opposition, five as pro-government, three were National Guard officers, and one was a government lawyer.

At least one of those five killed at the hands of the security forces was a Bolivarian militant from the 23 de Enero barrio in Caracas, assassinated by a member of the Venezuelan secret police. In all five cases the perpetrators have been charged with murder -- which contrasts sharply with the opposition's assertion that the government is cracking down with impunity.

As the opposition's protests have intensified, it increasingly appears that the right-wing students are being used as a cover for more nefarious forces who are attempting a "slow-motion" coup. In cities such as San Cristóbal and Mérida, pictures on social media appear to link some of the "student leaders" as members of Colombian neo-Nazi organizations. Many of the so-called "students" are armed with sniper rifles, automatic machine guns, grenades, and body armour -- certainly not traditional student garb! The protesters have set up burning barricades and fired incendiary bombs at government institutions recognized as symbols of the revolution, such as the Attorney-General's office and the public buses and metro in Caracas.

These fascistic elements appear to even be targeting other opposition supporters in an effort to further discredit the government. One of the most prominent opposition deaths so far was the killing of Génesis Carmona, a 22-year-old former beauty queen. However, ballistic evidence and eyewitness accounts [10] seem to suggest that she was actually shot from within the opposition's ranks during a demonstration.

This would not be the first time that the opposition killed its own supporters in order to justify the overthrow of the Bolivarian government; in 2002, opposition snipers were largely responsible for the scores of deaths that were used to justify the military coup, as vividly shown in the famous Irish documentary, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

The opposition has also stepped up its attacks on revolutionary workers and students. At a pro-revolution demonstration in the state of Bolívar, nine trade unionists were shot by a sniper [8]. Just last week, Gisella Rubilar Figueroa, a Chilean mother of four who was pursuing graduate studies in Mérida, was shot dead [11] when trying to clear up one of the opposition's barricades in the city. However, the international press was completely silent about the killing. The media has not commented, either, on the wire booby traps being set up by oppositionists that have decapitated two innocent motorcyclists, nor the deaths of three members of the National Guard and the death of a public employee. These are not "peaceful" protesters by any definition!

The international press has even used outright lies and manipulation to create a distorted account of the violence in Venezuela. In one of the most egregious examples, CBC News presented an online gallery of pictures that had been tweeted out by the Venezuelan opposition that supposedly showed the brutal "repression" being committed by the Venezuelan government. The CBC did not mention, however, that many of the pictures in their gallery were not even from Venezuela! Two of the pictures, for example, were of police crackdowns against student protesters in Chile last year. One picture, which showed a young woman who had been savagely beaten, was actually taken in Egypt at the height of the Arab Spring three years ago!

Why the distortion?

These are not simply mistakes or examples of incompetence by the international media (including journalists in Canada); the lies and manipulation of the events in Venezuela are part of a general campaign to discredit the Venezuelan government and the gains of the revolution in the eyes of people around the world. As every government on the planet continues to place the burden of the capitalist crisis on the backs of working-class people, the Venezuelan revolution stands against capitalist austerity. The fact that the Venezuelan government has placed the interests of the masses ahead of the profit margins of foreign multinationals is something that cannot be tolerated by imperialism.

Canada has taken a lead role in assisting the opposition to the revolution in Venezuela [12]. The Canadian embassy in Caracas has funnelled tens of thousands of dollars to Venezuelan opposition groups. In February 2010, the former Secretary of State for the Americas, Peter Kent,travelled to Venezuela to accuse the government of the "narrowing" of democratic space in the country [13]; Kent forgot to mention that at the same time, his Conservative government had shut down Parliament during the prorogation scandal.

As this article goes to print, Air Canada has decided to indefinitely suspend all flights to Venezuela [14], claiming, "Due to ongoing civil unrest in Venezuela, Air Canada can no longer ensure the safety of its operation... Air Canada will continue to monitor the situation and will evaluate the reintroduction of flights with the objective of resuming operations on the route once Air Canada is satisfied that the situation in Venezuela has stabilized." This is despite the fact that Air Canada sees no jeopardy to its operations by flying into well-known safe havens such as Iraq or Sierra Leone.

Venezuelan oppositionists living in Canada have been encouraged to mobilize and push their agenda here. In January 2013, dozens of right-wing Venezuelans across Canada met virtually with coup-apologist Maria Corina Machado. In these meetings [15], Machado exhorted the Venezuelan opposition in Canada to paint Venezuela as a "neo-dictatorship... a regime deeply totalitarian with a democratic façade." Not surprisingly, they have found an eager audience amongst the Conservative and Liberal parties. Members of the opposition met with Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis who has, on several occasions [16], attempted to pass resolutions in the House of Commons denouncing the Venezuelan government and its supposed crackdown on democratic rights. And elements of the Venezuelan opposition have even brought their terrorist tactics to Canada; as this article is being written, oppositionists are believed to be behind a series of death threats [17] aimed at a left-wing Catholic priest, Father Hernán Astudillo, and the left-wing Toronto Latino radio station his church sponsors.

The most recent motion that ended up being supported by the House of Commons was supposed to be a "softening" of Karygiannis' latest attempt to defame the Bolivarian government and place responsibility for the violence at the hands of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. After back-room dealings between the three main parties (the Conservatives, the Liberals, and the NDP), a compromise motion was put forward by the NDP's foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, which gained support from all MPs in the House:

That the House express its deep concern at the escalation of violence in Venezuela; convey its condolences to the families of those killed or injured during the ongoing public protests; ask the Government of Canada to urge Venezuelan authorities to proactively de-escalate the conflict, protect the human rights and democratic freedoms of Venezuelan citizens, release all those detained during the protests, immediately cease all government interference with peaceful protesters, and ensure that those people who perpetrated the violence be brought to justice and bear the full weight of the law; encourage the Government of Canada to play a leading role in supporting a political dialogue in Venezuela that respects legitimate grievances and differences of opinion; and call for an end to divisive rhetoric and actions that only delay and jeopardize the inclusive political solution that the Venezuelan people deserve. (My emphasis)

The NDP's parliamentary caucus may believe that in putting forward this "compromise" resolution, they are doing their best to remain "neutral" in the current provocations in Venezuela. However, the resolution appears to place the onus on the Venezuelan government to ending violence when it has been the opposition that has been waging the campaign all along! The Venezuelan government has the duty to defend and protect the majority of its citizens from lethal booby traps, blockades, and armed individuals.

The hypocrisy of the Conservatives and the Liberals is particularly galling to those who have fallen victim to the state violence and clamping down on democratic rights that is occurring in Canada today. The resolution calls for the Venezuelan government to cease all interference with "peaceful protesters," but where was the federal government's outrage at the historic mass arrests and crackdown at the G20 summit in Toronto or during the Quebec student strike in 2012? When Mi'kmaq protesters where trying to protest the danger posed to their community by fracking, the government's response was to send in RCMP snipers.

Although Parliament may call for civil dialogue in Venezuela, the Conservative government is in the process of changing Canada's election laws so that poor and working-class Canadians are denied the right to vote! Where is the Liberal and Conservative grandstanding when these government attacks occur in Canada?

For these reasons, the NDP is greatly mistaken to have supported the Conservatives and Liberals' resolution. There is no middle ground in the provocations occurring in Venezuela at the present time, and the NDP's statement on the issue is essentially supporting the line of the Venezuelan opposition -- the same opposition that is using fascist tactics in order to attack and murder honest workers and revolutionaries in Venezuela.

The NDP has a tradition of international solidarity with those fighting oppression around the world. In fact, it was only a few years ago when NDP MP Peggy Nash was the featured speaker [18] at a Toronto meeting of the Latin American Peace Initiative, a discussion organized to combat the threat of imperialist intervention in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. In 2010, NDP MP Wayne Marston commented on his concerns [19] about potential coups and foreign intervention in Venezuela at a parliamentary committee investigating human rights in Venezuela.

The motives of the NDP's parliamentary caucus are still unclear. The best-case scenario is that the NDP MPs are not aware of the genuine situation currently taking place in Venezuela and that their position in the House of Commons was based on misinformation. On the other hand, as the NDP gets closer to power, there may be a desire amongst elements of the NDP leadership to cozy up to the Canadian ruling class and demonstrate that they will be "responsible managers" of Canadian capitalism and imperialism. If this is the case, then it must fall upon the NDP rank-and-file to ensure that the party stays true to its working-class roots and stop representing the interests of the bosses both at home and abroad.

Instead of tail-ending Canadian imperialism, the NDP should be supporting the revolutionary movements of Latin America and bringing those successes home in our own struggles against capitalist austerity.

Instead of whitewashing the violence of the opposition, the NDP should instead be calling for an investigation of the role being played by the U.S., Canadian and other governments which are funding and backing this slow-motion coup.

Unlike the cuts and attacks being implemented by the Harper Conservatives, the Venezuelan government has been able to expand social programs that have radically improved the standard of living of the Venezuelan masses. In contrast to the shutting down of factories that has devastated many parts of Canada and put tens of thousands of workers out of a job, the Venezuelan government has encouraged the nationalization of shut-down factories under the democratic control of their workers.

Instead of supporting the Conservative demonization of the revolution, the NDP should be working to inform its members and the rest of the labour movement of the revolution's successes, and using it a source of inspiration for our own struggles here at home.

No support for the fascist reaction!

Support the Venezuelan Revolution!

Hands off Venezuela!

Reprinted with permission according to the Creative Commons license.

Whither Canada? Pipeline Fights in the West and a Resurgent Quebec Separatist Movement

BC Pipeline Fight and Quebec Elections - The Canada Panel


Linda Solomon Wood and Yves Engler also report on the residential schools case and the Fair Election Act.

Linda Solomon Wood is publisher and editor-in-chief of The Vancouver Observer, a national, daily, independent, award-winning news site with a readership across Canada and the United States.

Yves Engler is a Canadian commentator and author. His most recent book is The Ugly Canadian - Stephen Harper's Foreign Policy, and previously he published The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy and Canada in Haiti: Waging War on The Poor Majority

Global Culture Too Targeted in Syria

Palmyrenes: Risking their lives to preserve our Global Cultural Heritage

by Franklin Lamb

Palmyra, Homs Governorate, Syria  - This observer, seemingly ever miscalculates life’s realities. For example, he deluded himself recently into believing that Hezbollah guys were about the wildest, luckiest and fastest drivers from the archeological sites in Baalbek in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, or for a fast trip from the charming village of Britel, to Beirut’s southern suburbs.

Even if one takes a public passenger van (the fare is just $ 7.50) and the driver is pro-Resistance, which he usually is, the trip takes only a bit more than half the time than with a more “normal” Lebanese van driver. But these “H guys,” as Americans living in Dahiyeh often refer to them, remind one of some of the more snail-paced rural southern Iowan Sunday drivers compared to how some Syrian taxis drive these days; particularly at night, on the main highways of Syria, as I was just reminded during another 20-hour day (3/28/14) at certain critical moments dominated by the border-line insane, but disarmingly charming taxi driver I hired.

The day began OK as we set out from Damascus at dawn for Palmyra, designated in 1980, as one of six UNESCO World Heritage sites in Syria and located deep in the Syrian Desert. We were advised to take the M-5 Damascus to Homs highway and then head west toward Iraq even though it is more than 100 kilometers longer than the normal Damascus route to the archeological site.

For many centuries, Palmyra (oasis with Palms) was a vital caravan stop for travelers crossing the Syrian Desert and it earned the title, Bride of the Desert for its beauty. In pre-crisis days when there were actually real tourists around here, hundreds a day would visit Palmyra’s archeological sites and tour buses used to take my preferred route. But nowadays Daish and Jabhat al Nusra types have cut the road and no way would this observer’s driver (or the Syrian army) agree to this shorter more direct route so I kept quiet.

Honored to be allowed to visit Syria’s damaged archeological sites during the current crisis, as part of a fascinating research project and often accompanied by Syrian army security, spending time touring Palmyra, founded during the 2nd millennium BC, with its Bronze Age to Ottoman Period antiquities, and its Greek, Roman and Arabic cultural artifacts is deeply inspiring. But no less inspiring, on a human level, in this cradle of civilization, is the dedicated, painstaking and sometimes dangerous work of the Syrian people to preserve, protect, and reconstruct where possible, Patrimoine Syrient. The latter is also our Global Heritage of which the Syrian people are the custodians.

As is being increasingly well documented to the great credit of Syria’s Directorate General of Antiquities & Museums (DGAM) of the Ministry of Culture, hundreds of Syrian World Heritage sites, including those listed by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as warranting international protections, are being threatened, damaged and in some cases substantially destroyed.

In Homs Governorate, one of 14 Administrative Districts in Syria, there is extensive damage ranging from the Old City of Homs to the recently liberated Roman fortress, Crac des Chevaliers, 100 km west to Homs, and on to Palmyra, 200 km to east of Homs toward the Iraqi border. For ten months occupied by Islamist rebels but now it’s pretty much under Syrian army control. Even further east is Raqaa in the eastern Syria, near Iraq and reported to be under harsh, often drug fueled, Daish rule. Many other damaged antiquity sites still cannot be visited by representatives of the Ministry of Cultures Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) due to rebel control.

A main reason for this catastrophe is the short-term (and sometimes longer) loss of Government control over key areas, a predicament that leaves heritage sites vulnerable to vandals, thieves, and heavy equipment excavators, while also opening them up for militias to use as camps or firing ranges. Complicating preservation efforts further is despoilment by forgers and looters, smugglers of antiquities and black market operators, as well as extremist ideologues bent on the extirpation of priceless monuments. Such assaults have, in the main, been done with impunity, and the looting is continuing today.

Without more awareness, without an effort at galvanizing the international public and their governments to act, these assaults on Syria’s cultural heritage will continue until little is left to be learned from the de-contextualized and ravaged artifacts.

Some of the most destructive and anguishing damages this observer was briefed on at Palmyra are to the Temple consecrated in CE 32 to the Semetic god, Bel. He was worshiped at Palmyra with the lunar god Agilibol and the sun god Yarhibol and this triad formed the center of religious life in Palmyra and the widespread Palmyrene culture.

This observer took notes as he was shown the hole in the southern wall of the Temple (1x2m approx.) as well as another in the eastern wall of the wood warehouse adjacent to the guesthouse, to its southern side (1.5×1.5m approx.). In addition, several columns of the southern portico of the Temple were hit, and two of them collapsed. The southern wall of the Temple was hit by hundreds of bullets and many shells in several places; the western wall was hit on the inside and outside; the northern wall was struck by two limited hits and the eastern wall of the Temple endured two large holes.

The column in the northeastern corner of the portico of the fence of the Temple was hit and one can see traces of burning the lintel of the eastern portico of the Temple. More burning was done to the northern wall and eastern wall as well as to the southern window of the Temple. Also shown by a guide from the Palmyra Museum and allowed to photograph, were the damaged and illegal excavations in the SE and SW tombs area, damage and illegal excavations of the Camp of Diocletian, damage to the walls of the Palmyra Museum, and antiquities thefts in the Oasis, Theater and Guest house.

The latter was occupied by Daish and/or Jablat al Nusra for ten months and they stole and stripped basically everything including the electrical wiring. Several forty foot high columns adjacent the Guest House were also targeted in the summer of 2013 and parts of them were knocked off their foundations. Many shell cuts and bullet scares cover large areas of the ancient ruins.

The Director of Palmyra’s very impressive Museum, Dr. Khalil al Hariri, showed this observer more than one hundred priceless artifacts that had been stolen by rebels and recovered over the past two years from hiding places. This was mainly accomplished with the help of the local Syrian Nationalist population who refer to themselves as Palmyrenes.

Sometimes risking sniper fire or revenge attacks, local citizens continue to collect and report to authorities the stolen treasures. These and many other antiquities are now secured due to their efforts. 

As a result partly of citizens vigilance and the far-sightedness of the Syrian government, and the lessons learned from Iraq and the Baghdad Museum, all of Syria’s 32 Museums, as well as 80% of all antiquities housed inside the local Palmyra Museum were buried secretly early in the conflict and as of today, none of the storage vaults have been discovered or damaged, with locals keeping secret what they know. Heavy metal doors have also been installed at the entrances of Syria’s Museums with security augmented by government forces and volunteer local ‘neighborhood watch’ committees comprised of ordinary citizens.

This observer left Palmyra at dusk. En route back to Damascus, the more than two-dozen army checkpoints we were stopped at, as my driver raced like a bat out of hell the more than 200 miles, were remarkably understanding given that it was pitch black in the desert and they had earlier warned us more than once not to stay on the road after dark due to ‘terrorists’ sometimes appearing along the desert highway. When I would suggest to my driver that maybe he should lower his speed a bit, at least down to a leisurely 75 mph or so since, we could not see much ahead of us partly due to his beat up car and pretty dim single-working headlight, he just smiled and said what so many around here seem to say to put one at ease when there is an eminent, high probability of catastrophe about to erupt:

“No problem. Good road. Just like America no? Obama Qwess (good)?

Then the guy floorboards and off we fly.

Rather than preparing for a crash, I was actually wistful during our dark return trip to Damascus and was thinking about all what I experienced at Palmyra and the sadness that came across the face of Palmyrene, Dr. Kahlil Hariri, and Director of the Palmyra Museum during parts of our time together.

I will never forget the look on the gentleman’s face as he discussed how archeologists painstakingly shift the soil of archaeological sites teaspoon by teaspoon wearing nylon gloves to protect their finds, maybe a team working weeks or more on one square meter of earth. And as he explained how today, international mafia operations backed by investors in Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and even by certain Western Museums and famous antiquity auction houses, are using massive heavy equipment to scoop thousands of square meters from deep into our past in just minutes, as they violently and brutally gouge out our culture heritage to cash in by selling our treasures. And all the while these and many of governments are turning a blind eye or fail to enforce current municipal and international laws.

Syria’s Cultural Heritage, the cultural heritage of every one of us is also protected by a legal penumbra that emanates from and extends the 1949 Geneva Convention (IV) on the Protection of Civilians. Attacks on cultural heritage are also outlawed by post WW II bilateral and multilateral international treaties as well as international customary law.

The international community is obligated to act without further delay on its moral and legal responsibility to preserve and protect, and also, where necessary and where possible to reconstruct the damaged archeological sites, sites that for millennia have been in the custody of the Syrian people.

It is to them who today all people of good will honor for their sacrifices and humanity.

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program ( He is reachable c/o


Beirut and Washington, DC

"Legislate in 2014! Demand that Lebanon's Confessions grant Palestinian Refugees internationally mandated civil rights: the right to work, to own a home, and to repair camp shelters!

Beirut and International

“Education: Is the essential pillar of Palestinian Resistance"

Nelson Mandala 7/2011

Franklin P. Lamb, JD, LLM,PhD
Legal Adviser, The Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program, Shatila Camp (
Board Member, The Palestine Civil Rights Campaign, Beirut-Washington DC
Office: +961-01-551-798

Friday, March 28, 2014

Activist Spying Cases Filed Against Canadian Law Enforcement/Intelligence Agency Move Forward

Spying on activists: BCCLA complaints move to next level


RCMP complaints commission initiates public interest investigation; complaint against CSIS referred to watchdog
VANCOUVERTwo complaints filed by the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) are moving to the next level of investigation. The complaints, filed in February, allege that the RCMP and CSIS acted unconstitutionally in spying on and monitoring the peaceful and democratic activities of community groups and First Nations opposed to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project.

This month the RCMP Commission for Public Complaints has launched its own public interest investigation of the complaint against the police force, bypassing its usual practice of asking the RCMP itself to conduct an initial investigation of the complaint. The Commissioner has the power to skip the RCMP investigation and conduct its own investigation when he thinks it is “advisable in the public interest”.

“It’s clear that the RCMP complaints commission is taking this spying complaint very seriously, by investigating the complaint itself rather than leaving the job to the RCMP,” said Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BCCLA.
“Police spying on peaceful activists should not be tolerated in a democratic society. We hope that the commission will get to the bottom of this. Canadians must be free to express themselves without having to wonder if the person holding a protest sign next to them is a police informant.”

Last week, meanwhile, the BCCLA received CSIS’s response to its complaint against the spy agency. CSIS’s response did not address the specifics of the complaint, and stated that the agency conducts itself according to law. The BCCLA has responded by requesting that the Security Intelligence Review Committee, CSIS’s oversight body, investigate the complaint.

Paterson commented on CSIS’s response:

“It’s not clear whether CSIS conducted any internal investigation at all into our allegations. They just dismiss our allegations and use the typical line that we are used to hearing from spy agencies that they always obey the law. We’ve learned to be skeptical about these blanket denials of unlawful conduct from spy agencies, and that’s why we have asked for a further investigation of our complaint by CSIS’s oversight agency. Our allegations didn’t come out of thin air – they were based on the federal government’s own documents, and we expect a full investigation and response.”

The BCCLA’s complaints allege that the CSIS and the RCMP illegally monitored and spied on the peaceful activities of individuals and groups including ForestEthics Advocacy, Dogwood Initiative,, and the Idle No More movement.

Specifically, the complaints alleged that the agencies interfered with the freedoms of expression, assembly and association protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by gathering intelligence about citizens opposed to the Enbridge project through a range of sources.

The complaints also claim that the spying activities potentially included illegal searches of private information. The complaint against CSIS further alleges that the spy agency broke the law by gathering information on the peaceful and democratic activities of Canadians, which it is banned by law from doing.

BCCLA's original complaint against RCMP and CSIS

RCMP Commission for Public Complaints letter responding to BCCLA complaints against the RCMP >>

CSIS response to BCCLA complaint >>

BCCLA letter to Security Intelligence Review Committee Review Committee asking for investigation of CSIS complaint >>

Josh Paterson, BCCLA Executive Director

Pity the Corporate Prostitute

Capitalism’s Intellectual Prostitutes: Call Them What They Are

by  Gary Engler  - Dissident Voice

There’s nothing worse than ignorant and opinionated.

You know the type: Most mainstream newspapers have at least one; they dominate radio talk shows and certain TV “news” networks.

Loud supporters of the existing economic system who deny inequality is a problem or even claim it doesn’t exist.

Business leaders/columnists/celebrities/media hacks and the “think tanks” they come from who also deny climate change is a problem or even claim it doesn’t exist.

Apostles of greed who claim to be “conservative”, defend chemical-laden, genetics-manipulating industrial food production, ignore all the ways corporations poison our environment, ridicule anyone who points out there must be some limit to the exploitation of the earth’s resources, promote the use of private automobiles, hobble public transportation (and every other public good) by promoting tax cuts, love pipelines and usually claim to speak on behalf of the “middle class” or even the “little guy.”

How should we respond to these defenders of the status quo who frequently pretend to rail against a mythical left-wing media agenda?

Argue with them? Quietly loathe them? Ridicule them? Ignore them?

I’d like to make the case for understanding and pity as the most appropriate reactions.

First, to understand them we must examine the role they play, the first step of which is to recognize whose interests they represent, which is another way of asking: Who would pay them to say/write the things they do?

The answer is, of course, the people who profit most from pipelines, tax cuts, unlimited growth, a private automobile dominated landscape, industrial food production, chemicals poisoning the environment, pipelines, global warming and an acceptance of income inequality.

But why would the billionaires and mere multi-millionaires whose fortunes depend on the continued flow of profits from oil, agribusiness, automobiles, chemical, real estate, media and capitalism in general think it worth their while to handsomely reward thousands of cheerleaders who endlessly repeat a few shallow ideas on the sidelines of capitalism?

Because it is necessary. The wealthy 0.01% minority who rule over the 90% majority understands that the future of their system depends on convincing or paying off 9.99% of the population who become the opinion leaders, the managers, the foremen, the supervisors, the small businessmen and the other shock troops of the system. The rich are like the pathetic men who frequent red-light districts — they must pay for it — and the right wing columnists/celebrities/media hacks/researchers do it for money, often working in the political equivalent of brothels, called think tanks.

The choices offered young writers, journalists and academics who aspire to earn a decent living at their craft are not great today. There are many more opportunities to voice opinions supporting the system than to criticize it. If you do get a job in a shrinking newsroom or social science department the best way to get ahead is always to support the existing power structure, not oppose it. Arguing in favour of the rich and powerful certainly pays better.

And in a time when the Left seldom confronts capitalism, confining its criticisms to tinkering around the edges, rather than offering a vision of an alternative system, should it be a surprise that the easiest route to intellectual success is selling out to the highest bidder?

Media whores are not that much different than the women and a few men who earn a living from selling their bodies. (And I do apologize to every sex-trade worker who is offended by the comparison to Rush Limbaugh.) They too are just trying to survive; they are typically people who don’t have many alternatives; they are often victims of abuse by a system that penalizes intellectual non-conformity (amazing the number of conservative pundits who claim a left-wing background); the ones who do really well at it typically claim they actually enjoy it.

Given the similarities between these two forms prostitution doesn’t it make sense that we respond to both the same way?

We don’t hate streetwalkers or harangue them; we mostly pity them because of our understanding that they are products of sexism and other forms of oppression.

So too should we pity the sycophants of the rich and powerful because we understand they are nothing more than the intellectual prostitutes of an economic system that attempts to buy, sell and profit from everything we do.

Gary Engler is an elected union officer and co-author of the just released New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite, an updating of the original designed to provoke discussion about the future of unions and the Left. Read other articles by Gary.

Remembering the Last Pacific Big One: 50 Years Since the Great Alaska Earthquake

Death Came by Water, Then by Oil

by Greg Palast - Truthdig

It was Good Friday, 50 years ago on March 27, 1964, that according to seismologists, the snow peaks of Prince William Sound jumped 33 feet into the air and fell back down. Emergency warnings about an earthquake-spurred tsunami went out to towns from Valdez, Alaska, to Malibu, Calif., but no one thought to send a message to the Chugach Natives in Chenega, Alaska.

Chenega chief Nikolas Kompkoff watched the mountains leap and the waters around his island disappear over the horizon.

Knowing the water would return with a vengeance, he ran his four daughters up a hill toward high ground. But the nine-story-tall tsunami was moving too fast for their little legs. Kompkoff made a decision: He grabbed the two girls closest to him, tucked them under his arms and ran up the slope, leaving the other two to be seized by the wave.

Days later, a postal pilot on his weekly mail drop could not find Chenega because every single house—and a third of the residents—had been washed out to sea.

When he circled back to the site he saw the village’s church on the hill with survivors waving.

Kompkoff found the body of his youngest daughter stuck in the high branches of a pine tree. He buried her, then left to join the survivors, all refugees scattered throughout Alaska. The government told the village of seal hunters they could never return. No longer able to hunt, Kompkoff became an Orthodox priest—and a notorious drunk.

On Good Friday each year, Father Nikolas would return to his island with the remainder of his flock to place a cross among the broken sticks of the old village. Each year he swore they would rebuild.

The years passed, and the oath to rebuild seemed increasingly ludicrous. After a decade of helplessness, Father Nikolas put a gun under his chin and pulled the trigger. The bullet passed through his jaw. Embarrassed church bishops defrocked him in response. ***

On Good Friday, 1989, the 25th anniversary of the earthquake, Kompkoff led his congregation (they still considered him “Father” Nick) in a commemoration of the tsunami’s dead at the church they built at New Chenega. The village had been resurrected stick by stick by Kompkoff’s nephew Larry Evanoff after Evanoff returned wounded from Vietnam.

What the celebrants did not know was that that very night another tsunami would head toward them, a wave of oil from the Exxon Valdez.

As the oil slick spread from the grounded tanker through Chugach waters, Exxon made the Old Chenega area what the industry calls a “sacrifice zone.” The company’s executives allowed it to be slathered by tons of crude.


Weeks after the spill, the president of Exxon stopped by New Chenega for a “we care” television photo-op. Village patriarch Paul Kompkoff, Nikolas’ brother, asked him, “Are my parents’ bones covered with oil?”

The official answer was that the bones were undisturbed. In fact, as I reported in my book “Vultures’ Picnic,” both the oil and bones were being scooped up by Exxon bulldozers at that very moment.

The Chugach hired me to investigate the spill’s true cause and true culprits. Paul Kompkoff asked me to arrange a secret meeting with Exxon in hopes of getting a few dollars so the new village could survive. In particular, the Chenegans wanted Exxon to hire them to clean up the beaches and fishing grounds still contaminated with Exxon’s gunk.

With Chenega leader Gail Evanoff, Kompkoff and I flew from Alaska to San Diego to corner Exxon USA General Manager Otto Harrison. It was now three years after the spill and still no money had been forthcoming. The Exxon honcho, an enormous Texan, took us to a corporate meeting room, and from across the giant conference table looked down at the diminutive Evanoff and said, “Now, Gail, ah cayn’t be payin’ a bunch o’ Natives to go ’round picking up oil that ain’t there, can I?”


In 2010, I returned to Prince William Sound for British television. On the Chugach’s islands, I picked up gobs of the “oil that ain’t there” in my (carefully gloved) hand. It was more than two decades after the Exxon Valdez spill.

Then I flew down to the Gulf of Mexico where I collected giant hunks of Deepwater Horizon oil nearly a year after the spill—more “oil that ain’t there,” at least according to our government and BP television ads.


In 2011, 22 years after the Alaska spill, Exxon paid for the damage—but only after the Supreme Court cut the payout by 90 percent. Part of Chenega’s money was meant for a new fishing boat for Paul Kompkoff. But he was long dead by then, as were a third of my Native clients.


I was in Chenega on the second anniversary of the Exxon spill. Paul Kompkoff and I snacked on dried salmon while we watched the first Gulf War on CNN. The U.S. Air Force was bombing the bejesus out of Baghdad.

The old man watched a long while in silence, then said, in his slow, quiet voice, “I guess we’re all some kind of Native now.”

Greg Palast’s investigations, from Alaska to the Amazon, are contained in his new film, “Vultures and Vote Rustlers,” available in a special pre-release edition only from his not-for-profit foundation.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Masterpiece of Illusion: Media/State Collusion on Russia Faerie Tale

Western Unity Against Russia a Masterpiece of Illusion

by Finian Cunningham - Strategic Culture Foundation

When US President Barack Obama opened his tour of Europe this week it had the unmistakable choreography of a scripted set piece: lights, camera, action etc. The storyline is a familiar trope. America, the shining beacon of democracy and human rights, comes to the rescue of European damsels in distress just before they are ravaged by bestial European recidivism for war.

European political figures of increasingly low caliber are indulging this American parody of reality by appearing to unite around Obama’s call for tougher sanctions against Russia. Britain’s David Cameron and his German and French counterparts, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, issued warnings of imposing economic penalties on Russian businesses and industries. Lots of bombast and melodrama were on cue, but there was a distinct lack of guts to follow.

For Obama’s European visit this week it seemed more than a coincidence that the president made his first public statement from an Amsterdam museum. The choice of such a rarefied venue to launch Obama’s shuttle diplomacy may at first seem odd.

As the Washington Post reported: «President Obama delved into a day of diplomacy Monday as he sought to rally the international community around efforts to isolate Russia following its incursion into Ukraine».

And yet the US president chooses a museum to begin this seemingly important diplomatic week? It was Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum where he pronounced on international law and the need for a unified response to sanction Russian «violation of sovereignty and territorial integrity of other nations».

The American leader’s utterances were made while standing in front of Rembrandt’s masterpiece, The Night Watch. Completed in 1642, the life-size portrait of Dutch soldiers is considered to be among the world’s finest art collection. The painting, by the way, had to be put into secret storage between 1939-45 to save it from damage during World War II.

Obama declared: «Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people; we're united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far».

The subliminal message here is: Washington is coming to Europe as a rallying force for good, to defend democratic principles, civilized values and to defeat barbarity. Obama’s presumption has a deep resonance with American mythology of «exceptionalism» and benign power.

American actor-director George Clooney’s new World War Two film, Monuments Men, is an example of this syrupy American vanity and travesty of history. Clooney’s latest film –– about how a specially assigned American team led a mission to save European art collections from Nazi looting – tends to reinforce the American myth that it was they who rescued Europe from savage war and destruction during the 20th century. American intervention in the First and Second World Wars is, in the «exceptional» American national mythology, portrayed as a noble sacrifice that pulled Europe back from the brink of nihilism to the light of liberal democracy.

Echoing this contrived chorus line, the Western media are casting Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, as the biggest threat to European peace since the end of the Cold War more than 20 years ago. Never mind the inescapable fact that it was Soviet Russia that largely defeated German fascism in 1945.

But between the simplistic lines, there is plenty of evidence that the Washington-led allies are far from united or confident about their handling of Russia and the recent upheaval over Ukraine.

Firstly, there is a crisis of legitimacy for the so-called Western leaders. When the members of the Group of Seven were later photographed in The Hague huddled around a table with little flags indicating their nationalities, the gathering had all the gravitas of a school canteen. The G7 statement on the cancellation of the planned Group of Eight summit in Russia’s Sochi said: «We will suspend our participation in the G8 until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G8 is able to have a meaningful discussion».

That doesn’t sound like a statement with conviction. «We will suspend our participation…», not «we ban Russia», betrays a lot of anxious horse-trading among the elitist club to come up with a «unified» statement.

The crisis in legitimacy for Washington and its coterie of allies stems from the fact that these countries are no longer the economic powers that they once were. The centre of global economic gravity is shifting to the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, among other emerging economies. Asia, Africa and Latin America are the future; North America and Europe are the past.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was not engaging in churlish politics of envy when he shrugged off the G8 forum as a redundant entity anyway. It is fact.

Thus, from this Western club, the threat of economic sanctions against Russia for alleged violations over Ukraine sounds decidedly hollow and impotent.

The Western crisis of political legitimacy is also manifest among its own public. This week saw a hammering for France’s ruling Socialist Party in local elections and the rise of the anti-establishment and deeply Euro-skeptic National Front. French President Francois Hollande’s personal poll rating has hit an all-time low, and this same chronic disaffection with the political class can be seen in other Western states too. Stagnant economies and record levels of poverty and unemployment are undermining the authority of incumbent Western leaders and governments.

So, despite attempts to muster gravitas and purpose over events in Ukraine and alleged wrongdoing by Russia, the Western public has no appetite to listen to sanctimonious political sermons. How can these politicians find the urgency and financial wherewithal to suddenly throw billions of dollars at Ukraine, when there is so much social need neglected closer to home?

Public disaffection with national governments is extended to the supranational European Union. This also explains the dramatic rise in the National Front in France and the growing popularity of similar anti-EU nationalistic parties elsewhere across Europe. A common theme is contempt for aloof European bureaucrats, who seem more interested in EU enlargement in tandem with ever-more economic austerity for citizens.

The notion that reviled European figures, such as Cameron and Hollande, are photographed with equally despised European bureaucrats Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso – and that this image is supposed to somehow represent a strong, united popular front for American-led sanctions against Russia is laughable and illusory.

This cabal of politicians may have the appearance of unity, but what does such elite «unity» mean when they are increasingly diminished in the eyes of their own populations and the rest of the world?

Even within this cabal, the apparent unity is unconvincing. The tougher sanctions that Washington has been pushing for have so far not been adopted by the European Union – despite the rhetoric.

Notably, German chancellor Angela Merkel pointedly refused to take the provocative line of «banning» Russia from the G8, which Washington, London and Paris would have preferred. Merkel contradicted the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was earlier insisting that Russia had been suspended from the forum.

Merkel’s less confrontational attitude was also reiterated by Italian Foreign Minister, Frederica Mogherini, who reminded everyone that Russia is «an important [trading] partner» and that a forum of dialogue should not be closed.

Away from the G7 clique, both the Finnish and Belgian governments also cautioned against diplomatic confrontation with Moscow. EU and NATO member Norway said that it was canceling bilateral military arrangements with Russia, but it reportedly added that other areas of relations with Russia were to remain normal. Swiss President Didier Burkhalter said that his country would not be implementing US or EU sanctions against Russian financiers.

Many of the 300 million or so European citizens – in spite of the official attitude of some leaders – are well aware of the importance of bilateral trade with Russia. EU trade with Russia is tenfold the volume that exists between the US and Russia.

Top of the EU-Russian trade is oil and gas, which accounts for some one-third of average EU supply. In the eastern part of the bloc, the Russian supply of gas constitutes 80-100 per cent of total consumption.

Germany’s commercial bond with Russia is of strategic importance, not just for Germany but for the rest of Europe too. German businesses sold $60 billion-worth of goods to Russia last year. Not surprisingly, the German business class is vociferously opposed to any further ratcheting up of sanctions against Russia. Germany’s export group, BGA, says any such move would be «catastrophic» for the more than 6,000 German companies that do business there.

Another German business figure, Eckhard Cordes, the head of the Eastern Committee, a powerful Russia-oriented business lobby, also expressed apprehension at the impact of sanctions. He told German media: «We have a strategic partnership . . . to bring our peoples together. And now we want to cover ourselves with sanctions? I find that difficult to imagine».

That liability for Europe’s largest economy is an onerous constraint on Merkel. Der Spiegel commented on Merkel’s dilemma: «Her election victory last autumn was partly the result of her promise to protect Germany from unpleasantness related to the euro [currency] crisis. That is what they are now expecting from Berlin's course on the Ukraine crisis: security and stability».

Across Europe, businessmen, industrialists, workers and general public understand that the bravado of economic sanctions against Russia – articulated by an increasingly unrepresentative and illegitimate political class – will hurt them the most – in their daily lives. The wider public knows that belligerent elites in Washington, London, Paris and Brussels have much less to lose from pursuing a confrontation with Russia.

Perhaps in decades past, nations could be rallied around a flag with jingoistic political speeches. In today’s globalized economy, that kind of patronizing influence has expired, and any attempt to revive it is viewed with even more contempt.

Paolo Scaroni, the head of Italian energy giant ENI, told the Financial Times in blunt terms: «We need Russian gas every day. They need our money every year or two years. If, in the middle of a tough winter, we don’t have Russian gas, we are in trouble. But Russia is not in trouble if they get our money the day after».

Scaroni also confirmed what other energy analysts have said recently, namely, that the South Stream natural gas project from Russia to Europe has been thrown into uncertainty over the Ukraine tensions between Moscow and Brussels.

That project promised to boost gas supplies to the EU, which would probably have lowered costs to consumers. Now, thanks to the saber rattling of Washington and its tiny club of EU «leaders», that project is in jeopardy.

What this points to is a huge disconnect between politicians in Washington and Europe and the wider population. That disconnect stems from deep economic and social issues related to the demise of capitalist society, but the latest debacle with Russia over Ukraine is bringing the public disaffection to the fore.

The Western public also knows that the Western news media are not telling the full story. The latter seem to be more committed to purveying a self-serving narrative for an elitist political agenda rather than revealing what is really at stake with regard to Ukraine.

Russian security measures on its border with Western-destabilized Ukraine and in the constitutionally reunited southern province of Crimea are distorted as monstrous acts of aggression. Russia’s legitimate cautionary national security measures are presented as an evil specter threatening to «splinter Europe» – in the words of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

This cartoon-like portrayal is bereft of salient facts, facts that are known to the public from its access to alternative news media. Such as the fact that Washington and its European allies are the ones who initiated the unrest over Ukraine by overseeing a coup d’état in Kiev on February 23 – after three months of orchestrated street violence. It is Western governments that have violated international law and sovereignty – and not for the first time. The new unelected Western-backed regime in Kiev is composed of neo-Nazis and other fascists who have unleashed chaos and violence across Ukraine – the latest examples being attacks on pro-Russian officials and property, armed robberies of Russia-bound trains and the harassment of neutral media services.

There have been calls for mass murder and terrorism against Russian people by the coup plotters, including the Western elites’ darling pro-democracy princess, Yulia Timoshenko, who was recently caught relishing the idea of «whacking» Russians and turning Russian territory into ash from a nuclear strike.

But don’t let facts get in the way of a good story, as the Western elites might say. And that story is that Europe is nearly at war again because of «old barbaric habits». What’s more, it is America – «the brave, democratic America» – that is once again bringing Europe back to civilized peace and harmony, this time from Russian despotism, as opposed to Nazi fascism of before.

The trouble for Washington and its elite European allies is that the wider public is not buying this hackneyed narrative. The wider public rightly see US-led NATO aggression and lebensraum in Europe as the problem, not alleged Russian expansionism…

On the same day that Obama was lecturing Europeans about international law and civilized norms, his National Security Advisor on Russia, Michael McFaul was writing in the New York Times opinion pages. McFaul, who was recently the ambassador to Russia, wrote an astounding falsification of history in which he declared that Vladimir Putin was «a revisionist autocratic leader [who] instigated this new confrontation… similar to the last century, the ideological struggle between autocracy and democracy has returned to Europe,» wrote McFaul. «We [the US] are ready to lead the free world in this new struggle».

This elite Western narrative espoused by Obama and his club of bankrupt European non-entity politicians has by now alienated a global audience at home and around the world. Certainly not in the Rembrandt class, but most people can now see elite Western posturing as a masterpiece of illusion.

American Military's Busy Africa Schedule: More Than a Mission a Day

U.S. Military Averaging More Than a Mission a Day in Africa: Documents Reveal Blinding Pace of Ops in 2013, More of the Same for 2014

by Nick Turse - TomDispatch

The numbers tell the story: 10 exercises, 55 operations, 481 security cooperation activities.

For years, the U.S. military has publicly insisted that its efforts in Africa are small scale. Its public affairs personnel and commanders have repeatedly claimed no more than a “light footprint” on that continent, including a remarkably modest presence when it comes to military personnel.

They have, however, balked at specifying just what that light footprint actually consists of. During an interview, for instance, a U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) spokesman once expressed worry that tabulating the command’s deployments would offer a “skewed image” of U.S. efforts there.

It turns out that the numbers do just the opposite.

Tomgram: Nick Turse, America's Non-Stop Ops in Africa

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: It seems that even the Pentagon reads TD. In February, TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse wrote an article taking the Department of Defense to task for whitewashing the history of the Vietnam War at a website it set up to memorialize the 50th anniversary of that catastrophe. Among other offenses, the piece documented an attempt to rebrand the infamous My Lai massacre as an “incident” and downgrade the civilian death toll by hundreds. Look at the Pentagon’s Vietnam timeline today and you’ll find that My Lai is, indeed, referred to as a massacre and with a more realistic body count. In fact, all the timeline entries taken to task by Turse have been changed (as have others), even if they still leave much to be desired. Call it a modest victory for TomDispatch and Turse, author of a paradigm-shifting history of that conflict, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. Tom]

After years in the shadows, U.S. Navy SEALs emerged in a big way with the 2011 night raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Afterward, they were lauded in print as supermen, feted by the president, and praised by the first lady. Soon, some of the country’s most secretive and elite special operators were taking the big screen by storm with 2012’s blockbuster Zero Dark Thirty and a film starring actual Navy Seals, Act of Valor.

Last year, yet another Hollywood smash, Captain Phillips, featured heroic SEALs. This time, the elite mariners weren’t slipping into a compound in Pakistan or on some crazy global quest, but killing pirates off the coast of Africa. The location was telling.

In recent years, as stories of SEAL exploits have bubbled up into the news, the operations of America’s secret military have been on an exponential growth spurt (with yet more funding promised in future Pentagon budgets) -- and a major focus of their activities has been Africa. In 2012, for example, SEALs carried out a hostage rescue mission in Somalia. Last fall, word of a SEAL mission in that country hit the news after a bid to kidnap a terror suspect went south, and the Americans were driven off under heavy fire. (That same night, Army Delta Force commandos successfully captured a Libyan militant in a night raid.) A few months later, three of four SEALs conducting an evacuation mission in South Sudan were wounded when the aircraft they were flying in was hit by small arms fire. And just recently, SEALs were again in the news, this time for capturing an oil tanker with cargo from Libya that the weak U.S.-backed government there considered stolen.

By all accounts, SEAL missions in Africa are on the rise, and the Navy’s special operators are far from alone. For the last several years, Nick Turse, author of the bestseller Kill Anything That Moves, has been covering the expansion of U.S. Africa Command and the quiet, under-the-radar growth of U.S. operations on that continent at TomDispatch. He has repeatedly broken news about the military’s long African reach, its new bases (even if never referred to by that name), and its creation of a logistics network that now stretches across significant parts of the continent. Today, Turse offers a revealing look at the quickening pace of U.S. military operations in Africa as the Pentagon prepares for future wars, and the destabilization and blowback it is already helping to sow on that continent. Tom

U.S. Military Averaging More Than a Mission a Day in Africa: Documents Reveal Blinding Pace of Ops in 2013, More of the Same for 2014

by Nick Turse

Last year, according AFRICOM commander General David Rodriguez, the U.S. military carried out a total of 546 “activities” on the continent -- a catch-all term for everything the military does in Africa. In other words, it averages about one and a half missions a day. This represents a 217% increase in operations, programs, and exercises since the command was established in 2008.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, Rodriguez noted that the 10 exercises, 55 operations, and 481 security cooperation activities made AFRICOM “an extremely active geographic command.” But exactly what the command is “active” in doing is often far from clear.

AFRICOM releases information about only a fraction of its activities. It offers no breakdown on the nature of its operations. And it allows only a handful of cherry-picked reporters the chance to observe a few select missions. The command refuses even to offer a count of the countries in which it is “active,” preferring to keep most information about what it’s doing -- and when and where -- secret.

While Rodriguez’s testimony offers but a glimpse of the scale of AFRICOM’s activities, a cache of previously undisclosed military briefing documents obtained by TomDispatch sheds additional light on the types of missions being carried out and their locations all across the continent. These briefings prepared for top commanders and civilian officials in 2013 demonstrate a substantial increase in deployments in recent years and reveal U.S. military operations to be more extensive than previously reported. They also indicate that the pace of operations in Africa will remain robust in 2014, with U.S. forces expected again to average far more than a mission each day on the continent.

The Constant Gardener

U.S. troops carry out a wide range of operations in Africa, including airstrikes targeting suspected militants, night raids aimed at kidnapping terror suspects, airlifts of French and African troops onto the battlefields of proxy wars, and evacuation operations in destabilized countries. Above all, however, the U.S. military conducts training missions, mentors allies, and funds, equips, and advises its local surrogates.

U.S. Africa Command describes its activities as advancing “U.S. national security interests through focused, sustained engagement with partners” and insists that its “operations, exercises, and security cooperation assistance programs support U.S. Government foreign policy and do so primarily through military-to-military activities and assistance programs.”

Saharan Express is a typical exercise that biennially pairs U.S. forces with members of the navies and coast guards of around a dozen mostly African countries. Operations include Juniper Micron and Echo Casemate, missions focused on aiding French and African interventions in Mali and the Central African Republic. Other “security cooperation” activities include the State Partnership Program, which teams African military forces with U.S. National Guard units and the State Department-funded Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program through which U.S. military mentors and advisors provide equipment and instruction to African units.

Many military-to-military activities and advisory missions are carried out by soldiers from the Army’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, as part of a “regionally aligned forces” effort that farms out specially trained U.S. troops to geographic combatant commands, like AFRICOM. Other training engagements are carried out by units from across the service branches, including Africa Partnership Station 13 whose U.S. naval personnel and Marines teach skills such as patrolling procedures and hand-to-hand combat techniques. Meanwhile, members of the Air Force recently provided assistance to Nigerian troops in areas ranging from logistics to airlift support to public affairs.

Click here to see a larger version

Previously undisclosed U.S. Army Africa records reveal a 94% increase in all activities by Army personnel from 2011 to 2013, including a 174% surge in State Partnership missions (from 34 to 93) and a 436% jump in Advise-and-Assist activities including ACOTA missions (from 11 to 59). Last year, according to a December 2013 document, these efforts involved everything from teaching Kenyan troops how to use Raven surveillance drones and helping Algerian forces field new mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, or MRAPS, to training Chadian and Guinean infantrymen and aiding France’s ongoing interventions in West and Central Africa.

AFRICOM spokesman Benjamin Benson refused to offer further details about these activities. “We do training with a lot of different countries in Africa,” he told me. When I asked if he had a number on those “different countries,” he replied, “No, I don’t.” He ignored repeated written requests for further information. But a cache of records detailing deployments by members of just the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, from June through December 2013, highlights the sheer size, scope, and sweep of U.S. training missions.

June saw members of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team deployed to Niger, Uganda, Ghana, and on two separate missions to Malawi; in July, troops from the team traveled to Burundi, Mauritania, Niger, Uganda, and South Africa; August deployments included the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Niger, two missions in Malawi, and three to Uganda; September saw activities in Chad, Togo, Cameroon, Ghana, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Uganda, and Malawi; in October, members of the unit headed for Guinea and South Africa; November’s deployments consisted of Lesotho, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Guinea; while December’s schedule consisted of activities in South Sudan, Cameroon, and Uganda, according to the documents. All told, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division carried out 128 separate “activities” in 28 African countries during all of 2013.

The records obtained by TomDispatch also indicate that U.S. Army Africa took part in almost 80% of all AFRICOM activities on the continent in 2013, averaging more than one mission per day. Preliminary projections for 2014 suggest a similar pace this year -- 418 activities were already planned out by mid-December 2013 -- including anticipated increases in the number of operations and train-and-equip missions.

Full-scale exercises, each involving U.S. Army troops and members of the militaries of multiple African countries, are also slated to rise from 14 to 20 in 2014, according to the documents. So far, AFRICOM has released information on 11 named exercises scheduled for this year. These include African Lion in Morocco, Eastern Accord in Uganda, Western Accord in Senegal, Central Accord in Cameroon, and Southern Accord in Malawi, all of which include a field training component and serve as a capstone event for the prior year’s military-to-military programs. AFRICOM will also conduct at least three maritime security exercises, including Cutlass Express off the coast of East Africa, Obangame Express in the Gulf of Guinea, and Saharan Express in the waters off Senegal and the Cape Verde islands, as well as its annual Africa Endeavor exercise, which is designed to promote “information sharing” and facilitate standardized communications procedures within African militaries.

Additionally, U.S. and African Special Operations forces will carry out an exercise codenamed Silent Warrior 2014 in Germany and have already completed Flintlock 2014 (since 2005, an annual event). As part of Flintlock 2014, more than 1,000 troops from 18 nations, including Burkina Faso, Canada, Chad, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Senegal, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and the host nation of Niger, carried out counterterror training on the outskirts of Niamey, the capital, as well as at small bases in Tahoua, Agadez, and Diffa. “Although Flintlock is considered an exercise, it is really an extension of ongoing training, engagement, and operations that help prepare our close Africa partners in the fight against extremism and the enemies that threaten peace, stability, and regional security,” said Colonel Kenneth Sipperly, the commander of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahel, during the Flintlock opening ceremony.

Locations, Locations, Locations

A 2013 investigation by TomDispatch analyzing official documents and open source information revealed that the U.S. military was involved with at least 49 of the 54 nations on the African continent during 2012 and 2013 in activities that ranged from special ops raids to the training of proxy forces. A map produced late last year by U.S. Army Africa bolsters the findings, indicating its troops had conducted or planned to conduct “activities” in all African “countries” during the 2013 fiscal year except for Western Sahara (a disputed territory in the Maghreb region of North Africa), Guinea Bissau, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe. Egypt is considered outside of AFRICOM’s area of operations, but did see U.S. military activity in 2013, as did Somalia, which now also hosts a small team of U.S. advisors. Other documents indicate Army troops actually deployed to São Tomé and Príncipe, a country that regularly conducts activities with the U.S. Navy.

AFRICOM is adamant that the U.S. military has only one base on the continent: Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Official documents examined by TomDispatch, however, make reference to bases by other names: forward operating sites, or FOSes (long-term locations); cooperative security locations, or CSLs (through which small numbers of U.S. troops periodically rotate); and contingency locations, or CLs (which are used only during ongoing missions).

AFRICOM has repeatedly denied requests by TomDispatch for further information on the numbers or locations of FOSes, CSLs, and CLs, but official documents produced in 2012 make reference to seven cooperative security locations, including one in Entebbe, Uganda, a location from which U.S. contractors have flown secret surveillance missions, according to an investigation by the Washington Post. Information released earlier this year by the military also makes references to at least nine “forward operating locations,” or FOLs in Africa.

We Know Not What They Do

“What We Are Doing,” the title of a December 2013 military document obtained by TomDispatch, offers answers to questions that AFRICOM has long sought to avoid and provides information the command has worked to keep under wraps. So much else, however, remains in the shadows.

From 2008 to 2013, the number of missions, exercises, operations, and other activities under AFRICOM’s purview has skyrocketed from 172 to 546, but little substantive information has been made public about what exactly most of these missions involved and just who U.S. forces have trained. Since 2011, U.S. Army Africa alone has taken part in close to 1,000 “activities” across the continent, but independent reporters have only been on hand for a tiny fraction of them, so there are limits to what we can know about them beyond military talking points and official news releases for a relative few of these missions. Only later did it become clear that the United States extensively mentored the military officer who overthrew Mali’s elected government in 2012, and that the U.S. trained a Congolese commando battalion implicated by the United Nations in mass rapes and other atrocities during that same year, to cite two examples.

Since its inception, U.S. Africa Command has consistently downplayed its role on the continent. Meanwhile, far from the press or the public, the officers running its secret operations have privately been calling Africa “the battlefield of tomorrow, today.”

After years in the dark, we now know just how “extremely active” -- to use General David Rodriguez’s phrase -- AFRICOM has been and how rapidly the tempo of its missions has increased. It remains to be seen just what else we don't know about U.S. Africa Command’s exponentially expanding operations.

Nick Turse is the managing editor of and a fellow at the Nation Institute. A 2014 Izzy Award winner, his pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, at the BBC and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author most recently of the New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (just out in paperback).

Copyright 2014 Nick Turse

Media's "Jaw-Dropping" Hatchet Job on Crimea Referendum

Voting at Gunpoint - The Jaw-Dropping Media bias on Crimea

by David Edwards  - Media Lens

Prior to the March 16 referendum, the BBC website reported:

'Crimeans will vote on whether they want their autonomous republic to break away from Ukraine and join Russia.'

The title of the news report indicated the focus:

'Is Crimea's referendum legal?'

The answer:

'Ukraine and the West have dismissed the referendum as illegal and one that will be held at gunpoint, but Russia supports it.'

Legality was not an issue in BBC coverage of the January 2005 election held in Iraq under US-UK occupation. This was accepted on the main BBC evening news as 'the first democratic election in fifty years'. (David Willis, BBC1, News at Ten, January 10, 2005)

And the Iraq election was not merely 'held at gunpoint'; it was held in the middle of a ferocious war to crush resistance to occupation. Just weeks before the vote, American and British forces had subjected Iraq's third city, Fallujah, to all-out assault leaving 70 per cent of houses and shops destroyed, and at least 800 civilians dead. ('Fallujah still needs more supplies despite aid arrival,', November 30, 2004)

The US 1st Marine Division alone fired 5,685 high-explosive 155mm shells during the battle. The US 3rd Marine Air Wing contributed 709 bombs, rockets and missiles, and 93,000 machine gun and cannon rounds. There was much else besides, of course, and not just in Fallujah.

In the same month as the election, an Iraqi doctor, Ali Fadhil, reported of the city:

'It was completely devastated, destruction everywhere. It looked like a city of ghosts. Falluja used to be a modern city; now there was nothing. We spent the day going through the rubble that had been the centre of the city; I didn't see a single building that was functioning.' (Fadhil, 'City of ghosts,' The Guardian, January 11, 2005)

The BBC made no mention of the argument that the deaths of 100,000 Iraqis as a result of the invasion over the previous two years made a nonsense of the claim that the election was free and fair.

The US had in fact rigged the rules to ensure US-friendly Kurds had 27% of the seats in the national assembly, although they made up just 15% of the population. In a rare departure from mainstream propaganda, Naomi Klein commented in the Guardian:

'Skewing matters further, the US-authored interim constitution requires that all major decisions have the support of two-thirds or, in some cases, three-quarters of the assembly - an absurdly high figure that gives the Kurds the power to block any call for foreign troop withdrawal, any attempt to roll back Bremer's economic orders, and any part of a new constitution.' (Klein, 'Brand USA is in trouble, so take a lesson from Big Mac,' The Guardian, March 14, 2005)

Washington-funded organisations with long records of machinating for US interests abroad were deeply involved in the election. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) were part of a consortium to which the US government had provided over $80 million for political and electoral activities in Iraq. NDI was headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine 'We think the price is worth it' Albright, while IRI was chaired by Republican Senator John McCain. (Lisa Ashkenaz Croke and Brian Dominick, 'Controversial U.S. Groups Operate Behind Scenes on Iraq Vote,', December 13, 2004)

In January 2005, our search of the Lexis media database found that there had not been a single substantive analysis of press freedom in occupied Iraq - obviously a key requirement for a free election - in any UK national newspaper in the previous six months. The issue had simply been ignored.

And yet a Guardian editorial lauded the vote as 'the country's first free election in decades', a 'landmark election' that would be 'in a way, a grand moment'. (Leader, 'Vote against violence,' The Guardian, January 7, 2005; Leader, 'On the threshold,' The Guardian, January 29, 2005)

The editors added:

'It is in the interests of all - Iraqis, the Arabs, the US and Britain - that something workable be salvaged from the wreckage as Iraq stands poised between imperfect democracy and worsening strife.' (Ibid, Leader, January 29, 2005)

By contrast, a Guardian leader commented on the referendum in Crimea:

'The legality of this vote is at best highly questionable: the region is under armed occupation, the Crimean prime minister was deposed when gunmen took over regional government buildings last week and, according to Chancellor Angela Merkel, the referendum is incompatible with Ukraine's constitution.'

A second leader was more direct:

'The referendum that took place in Crimea yesterday is both irrelevant and deeply significant. Irrelevant because it has no standing in the law of the country to which it applies, and because it took place while the autonomous region was under military occupation.'

Making Bush And Blair Pay?

In 2004, the Daily Telegraph looked forward to 'the first democratic elections' in Iraq. (Leader, 'Mission accomplished,' Daily Telegraph, December 6, 2004) The Sunday Telegraph wrote of 'the first democratic elections there for more than 50 years'. (Sean Rayment,' Britain poised to send 1,000 more soldiers to Iraq,' Sunday Telegraph, November 28, 2004)

Of Crimea, the Telegraph commented earlier this month:

'Russia's campaign to gain control of Crimea will culminate on Sunday with an illegal referendum conducted at gunpoint.'

The editors added:

'The aim of sanctions, in other words, would not be to save Crimea, but to deter Mr Putin from going further... Hence the overriding importance of making Mr Putin pay for Crimea.'
What kind of nutbar working within the UK press establishment would conceive of proposing sanctions against Britain and America, or discuss 'the overriding importance of making Mr Bush and Mr Blair pay for Iraq'?

The Independent quoted David Cameron:

'It is completely unacceptable for Russia to use force to change borders based on a sham referendum held at the barrel of a Russian gun.'

In 2004, the Independent's reporters told readers that 'democratic and free elections can bring a hope of peace' in Iraq. (Borzou Daragahi, 'Bin Laden backs deputy Zarqawi and urges boycott of elections,' The Independent, December 28, 2004)

A Times leader commented:

'The referendum was absurdly hasty. It was conducted with Russian special forces barricading Ukrainian soldiers into their bases and regular Russian troops massing on their western border.' (Leading article, 'Russian Pariah,' The Times, March 17, 2014)

In 2004, the same newspaper commented of Iraq:

'The terrorists will do all they can to destroy democratic elections.' (Leader, 'Send more troops,' Sunday Times, October 10, 2004)

The Financial Times observed:

'Iraq's first democratic election is unfolding under the shadow of a deadly insurgency.' (Steve Negus and John Reed, 'Allawi runs on claim of "strong leadership",' Financial Times, December 16, 2004)

A recent FT editorial was titled: 'Crimea poll will be divorce at gunpoint.'

The editors of the Express observed:

'So Vladimir Putin has won his so-called referendum in the Crimea. It was totally predictable because it was comprehensively rigged. Those who did not wish to vote for separation from Ukraine and annexation by Russia were threatened by the columns of imported Russian thugs.'

In the same month (October 2004) that the Lancet reported 100,000 deaths as a result of the US-UK invasion, the Express commented:

'It is Britain and America that want to give the besieged people of Iraq their true freedom, to hold free elections and elect a democratic government.' (Leader, 'Nothing short of insulting,' The Express, October 6, 2004)

The Sunday Express wrote of 'Iraq's first free election in decades.' (Simon Belgard, 'Marine rescuer pays the price of courage,' Sunday Express, December 19, 2004)

The Mirror wrote:

'The people of Crimea have a right to self-determination. But there was nothing normal about the referendum when you consider Russia had sent armed troops into the region, which remains, for now, part of Ukraine.' (Leading article, 'A cold sweat,' The Mirror, March 18, 2014)
In 2005, the Mirror reported that Iraq was approaching 'its first democratic elections on January 30'. ('Police chief and son assassinated,' The Mirror, January 11, 2005)

Michael White, an associate editor at the Guardian, wrote:

'Vladimir Putin is a KGB professional who shows every sign of being a bad man, quite possibly a prodigious thief as well.'

We note, first, that there has probably never been an example of a senior reporter describing a serving US or UK leader in comparable terms. White continued:

'Offensive though it is to the memory of millions of Russians murdered by Hitler (far more even than his hero Stalin killed), Putin's orchestration of Crimea's defection from Ukraine offers a disturbing comparison with the German annexation of the Czech Sudetenland with Neville Chamberlain's connivance in 1938.'

Again, an unthinkable comparison for 'our' actions.

White added:

'A Crimean referendum staged under what amounts to Russian military occupation – navy and soldiers – and boycotted by the minority Ukrainians and (12%) Tatars (expelled and butchered by Stalin) is pretty bogus.'

In November 2004, as Iraq's bloodbath overflowed, as Fallujah burned, White painted a happier picture:

'The elections are one issue which unites most MPs, and the anti-war Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell, also stressed how "essential" it was that they are held.'

White noted:

'Successful elections would quieten some of the international criticism of US involvement in Iraq.'

There was 'US involvement in Iraq', much as there was German 'involvement' in France in 1940 and Iraqi 'involvement' in Kuwait in 1990.

We wrote to White and confessed our discombobulation. Given the illegal US-UK invasion, the subsequent mass death, the demolition of Fallujah, how did he account for his contradictory analyses? Why had he written in terms of potentially 'successful elections' in Iraq but of a 'pretty bogus' referendum in Crimea? White replied on March 20:

'thanks for the note and points which I will ponder.

'I try to be aware of the double standards issue and think I acknowledged as much in the piece in question.'

This was a surprisingly forthright and friendly reply from White who, for reasons best known to him, refers to us as 'the two Lens'. He of course completely failed to answer the question. But then, the propaganda system runs on unexplained silences the way an engine runs on oil.

Suggested Action

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive, non-abusive tone.

Write to Guardian associate editor, Michael White: