Saturday, May 16, 2015

Reviewing: The Incubus of Intervention: Conflicting Indonesia Strategies of John F.Kennedy and Allen Dulles

The Incubus of Intervention: Conflicting Indonesia Strategies of John F.Kennedy and Allen Dulles by Greg Poulgrain, Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Selangor, Malaysia

by Jim Miles - Foreign Policy Journal

As an alternate to the history of the Cold War in relation to its developments and impact on Indonesia – and even further abroad – The Incubus of Intervention is an intriguing and complex review of the historical record. The title word ‘incubus’ indicates a nightmare, evil spirit, or a person or thing that oppresses like a nightmare.

As many other studies have shown, it is an appropriate appellation for the interventions of colonial powers and those trying to usurp the colonial powers. In this case, the colonial power is the Netherlands and the usurper, as in most cases post World War II, the U.S.

Most mainstream histories report the Indonesian story as a conflict between a central power structure becoming dominated by communists, and a rebellion attempting to overthrow the central government for more regional autonomy. The deceit and webs of intrigue in the background present a different picture.

Allen Dulles plays the dominant role. As head of the CIA from its inception, and with a history of espionage, under cover maneuverings, and many ties to legal and corporate interests, Dulles became the ‘embodiment’ of U.S. foreign policy in Indonesia.[1]

While considered a failure in standard histories, Poulgrain shows how the rebellion itself was manipulated by Dulles in order to have it fail. The ultimate prize of course was keeping Indonesia away from the clutches of the Soviet communists. The back story is much more convoluted and intriguing than that simplified scenario.

The story also involves oil and gold (naturally, as with most U.S. interventions looking for corporate control of resources), the royalty of the Netherlands and Germany, the oil companies and mineral explorers of the Netherlands and the U.S., Wilsonian ideals of self-determination, especially for the indigenous people of Papua New Guinea, regime change, and last but not least, Dag Hammarskjold and John F. Kennedy.

There are many people who would have wanted Kennedy killed – crime syndicates, political opponents, Cuban expatriates, Russians (least likely scenario), and as per Poulgrain, Allen Dulles is a strong contender for that list.[2] Kennedy’s relationship with Sukarno and his attempts to find a peaceable course of action to keep Indonesia within the U.S. sphere jeopardized the corporate background interests of Allen Dulles.

Dag Hammarskjold also became a problem as he worked with the ideals of the non-aligned movement. His efforts in Indonesia are not as well known as his efforts in the former Belgian Congo, but both conflicted with Dulles’ attempts at grabbing resource rich former colonies for U.S. corporate control. As should be generally known, Hammarskjold was killed in a plane crash in 1961 in the Congo, very likely from Dulles’ CIA and corporate connections aiming for control of the riches of the Congo, nine months after the CIA killed the4 Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, another patron of the post-colonial non-aligned movement.

Poulgrain’s analysis begins with the discovery of an enormous source of copper and gold in Western New Guinea (now West Papua and Papua provinces of Indonesia), continues through the Japanese push for resources in South Asia, and on into the establishment of an independent Indonesia and its internal and external conflicts. A general historical background will help with the understanding of all the different characters and interactions and intrigues. The Incubus of Intervention stands alone as a well written, clearly detailed and intriguing reassessment of historical events in and around Indonesia.


(1) The Brothers – John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret War. Stephen Kinzer, St Martin’s griffin, New York, 2013. (p. 323). (Click here to read Jim Miles’ review of The Brothers.)

(2) “[President] Johnson told friends in Congress that the Kennedy assassination had “some foreign complications, CIA and other things.” Placing Allen on the Warren Commission ensured that these “complications” would remain secret.” ibid. p. 305.

Unscientific, Unethical, and Unwarranted: British Columbia's Wolf Extirpation Program Pipeline Industry Scapegoating

B.C.'s Wolf Cull is Unscientific, Unethical, and Unwarranted

by Chris Genovali - Raincoast Conservation

Raincoast Conservation Foundation has launched a billboard information campaign addressing the inhumane slaughter of wolves that is occurring at the hands of the province of British Columbia. For at least the next five years, the B.C. government intends to kill hundreds of wolves by means of aerial gunning in the South Selkirk and South Peace regions of the province.

The province is marketing the slaughter as a conservation plan to "save endangered caribou." The provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations recently announced the first phase of the killing has been completed with an initial body count of 84 wolves.

This unscientific, unethical, and unwarranted wolf cull is a consequence of industrial logging and other human activity, which have transformed the caribou's habitat into a landscape that can no longer provide the food, cover, and security these animals need to survive. Rather than address the real problem, i.e., the destruction of life sustaining caribou habitat, the B.C. government has chosen to scapegoat wolves. The aim of Raincoast's billboard campaign is to bring attention to that deplorable decision.

Brad Hill, a biologist and professional photographer, provided the wolf image for the billboard campaign. Hill, who has been an outspoken critic of the B.C. wolf cull said, "Everyone wants to save endangered or threatened mountain caribou populations, but killing wolves for a few years -- or even decades -- won't save the caribou. All mountain caribou in B.C. exist in multi-predator ecosystems and the best science has told us that wolves invariably account for a minority of the total predation. Killing wolves to save caribou makes no sense in the long or short term. The wolf cull is little more than a transparent attempt by the government to appear to be doing something to save caribou, while avoiding the true heavy-lifting needed to adequately protect and restore caribou habitat."

Across the political spectrum in B.C. there is a stunning amount of ignorance regarding wolf (and ungulate) biology and ecology. Whether motivated by scientific illiteracy or partisan opportunism, or in some cases both, individual politicians from all three provincial parties represented in the B.C. legislature have expressed varying degrees of support for the cull, ranging from fervent to lukewarm.

This politicization of wolf management, and associated willful neglect of the best available science, has become ingrained and institutionalized within the provincial government bureaucracy responsible for the management of large carnivores. The result is the ongoing persecution of B.C.'s wolves by way of a seat-of-the-pants, shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach toward the species. The conservation group Wolf Awareness Inc. has just attained the B.C. government's operational plan for the South Peace wolf cull through a Freedom of Information request.

Reading through the document, "Experimental Wolf Reduction to Enhance the Recovery of Threatened Caribou Herds in the South Peace," provides insights into the truly experimental nature of the wolf cull, as the title indicates, and confirms what critics have been asserting all along; slaughtering wolves to ostensibly protect caribou has no basis in scientific fact and is a desperate, and ultimately futile, attempt to compensate for the devastating impacts of habitat destruction.

But the current wolf cull is only part of that aforementioned persecution; more than 1,000 wolves have been killed, the overwhelming majority for "recreational" purposes and by resident trophy hunters. This staggering annual mortality is being directed upon a wolf population that, according to B.C. government estimates, approximately numbers half that of the provincial grizzly bear population.

In their recently published paper in the scientific journal Biological Conservation, "Witnessing extinction -- Cumulative impacts across landscapes and the future loss of an evolutionarily significant unit of woodland caribou in Canada," wildlife biologists Chris Johnson, Libby Ehlers, and Dale Seip state that "Habitat change is a major driver of species distribution and persistence, but there have been few recorded extinction events for terrestrial mammals across Canada. Currently, we are observing the decline, extirpation, and perhaps extinction of several evolutionarily significant units of woodland caribou."

The authors conclude "The rapid decline of caribou across the South Peace region suggests that there is an immediate need for habitat protection and restoration...Legislated recovery of caribou across the South Peace region is made difficult by the occurrence of resource industries...These industries, and their footprint on the landscape, will expand in the future with impacts for caribou habitat and the persistence of those subpopulations."

As Raincoast's first wolf cull billboard in Greater Victoria states, habitat destruction endangers caribou -- not wolves.

"Wolves are scapegoated for the decline of caribou in a morally and scientifically bankrupt attempt to protect Canada's industrial sacred cows: oil and gas, mining, and forestry. The relentless destruction of forest wilderness via industrial development has conspired to deprive caribou of their life requisites, while exposing them to levels of wolf predation they did not evolve with and are incapable of adapting to," said Raincoast senior scientist and renowned large carnivore expert Dr. Paul Paquet
 "Yet, governments habitually favour the destruction of wolves over any consequential protection, enhancement, or restoration of caribou habitat. As a result, caribou are on a long-term slide to extinction; not because of what wolves and other predators are doing but because of what humans have already done."

Industry-Driven: Raising Speed Limits Makes BC Highways Death Trap for People and Animals

New 120 k /hr highways = machine guns; wildlife bridges needed throughout B.C.: Highways Now a Death Trap for Humans and Wildlife

by David Ellis - Enderby, BC

Yesterday not far from the Coquihalla summit I saw a black bear dead on the road. If I had hit this bear at 120 km/h I very likely would have been dead too.

Wildlife Bridges Can Work, if Built

Cars and trucks going this fast are like so much machine gun fire to wildlife and unless many more capable and hard working environmental and First Nations campaigners get onto this issue we will lose many smaller populations of deer, elk, bear.

"Three sections of B.C. rural highway will be set at the maximum 120 km/h speed limit, including Highway 5 (the Coquihalla) from Hope to Kamloops, Highway 97C from Aspen Grove to Peachland, and Highway 19 from Parksville to Campbell River on Vancouver Island.Jul 2, 2014"

And snakes such as rattlers in Okanagan, and frogs etc. all need much more consideration in highway and railway conduction. Not to speak of the 1000s of people that will die too, until these local populations of precious wildlife are all gone.

The above picture is of the only wildlife bridge I know of in B.C., it is near West Kelowna. The government must be very heavily lobbied now to see that such bridges are widely deployed now and used together with exclusion fencing. This had worked in Banff where Parks Canada has seen the value of such an investment, and has just gone ahead and got the job done.

These are not at all expensive in the overall context of our massive infrastructural spending, over the long term. But the government now sees them as a huge expense. Wrong way to think!

I found this out when I wrote to the deputy minister of highways and asking that a wildlife bridge be built very near where that dead bear now lies on the Coquihalla. The statistics did not support this, it was noted to me. But the statistic of note is the local destruction of the smaller wildlife populations due to roadkill.

Conservation biologists were not a part of the government decision making.

The truckers actually opposed these speed limits as they cost them more in fuel. Who is benefiting are the commodity industries, who lobbied for these deadly new speed limits. Our wildlife heritage and truckers and guys like me are considered collateral damage.

Thus there are now signs, especially since "urban wildlife" became a "problem" in B.C (it is not, just a local controversy full of emotion that makes politicians and government officials squirm) that some in positions of power in government now feel we have "too much" wildlife.

This is a crisis of values. Having abundant wildlife is central to our Canadian way of life, not ever a "problem" to be deliberately annihilated forever to make vehicle travel safer.

David Ellis
Enderby, B.C.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

ACLU App for Uploading Police Violence in Real Time

Mobile Justice

by ACLU California

Filming police brutality? Of course there's an app for that

Filming police brutality? Of course there's an app for that

Out of the Box: America's Military Pandora

The American Military Uncontained: Chaos Spread, Casualties Inflicted, Missions Unaccomplished

by William J. Astore  - TomDispatch

It’s 1990. I’m a young captain in the U.S. Air Force. I’ve just witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, something I never thought I’d see, short of a third world war. Right now I’m witnessing the slow death of the Soviet Union, without the accompanying nuclear Armageddon so many feared. Still, I’m slightly nervous as my military gears up for an unexpected new campaign, Operation Desert Shield/Storm, to expel Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein’s military from Kuwait. 
It’s a confusing moment. After all, the Soviet Union was forever (until it wasn’t) and Saddam had been a stalwart U.S. friend, his country a bulwark against the Iran of the Ayatollahs. (For anyone who doubts that history, just check out the now-infamous 1983 photo of Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy for President Reagan, all smiles and shaking hands with Saddam in Baghdad.) 
Still, whatever my anxieties, the Soviet Union collapsed without a whimper and the campaign against Saddam’s battle-tested forces proved to be a “cakewalk,” with ground combat over in a mere 100 hours.
Tomgram: William Astore, America's Mutant Military

In September 2001, the Bush administration launched its “global war on terror,” to which its supporters later tried to attach names like “the long war” or “World War IV.” Their emphasis: that we were now engaged in nothing less than a multi-generational struggle without end. (World War III had theoretically been the Cold War.) In fact, only the “war on terror” would stick and, in 2009, even that would be tossed overboard when the Obama administration opted for a global war with no name at all. Nonetheless, the idea that we were now in an eternal “wartime” became part of the post-9/11 atmosphere. At the same time, George W. Bush famously called on Americans to act as if everything were normal -- to spend, vacation, and visit Disney World.

In other words, the “homeland,” protected in new ways, was to be locked down and at peace, while Washington was to be a war capital into the distant future. In the process, the Bush administration invoked warring powers of every sort -- from torture and offshore imprisonment to assassination and warrantless wiretaps. At the time, all of this seemed like a unique combination, but looking back, the marriage of war and Disney, of military might and consumerism, has a far longer history. Considered a certain way, Washington has been a war capital since December 7, 1941, and certainly the global capital of consumerism since at least 1945.

Unlike after World War I, post-World War II demobilization proved to be anything but complete. The various structures of the relatively new national security state and its intelligence networks, as well as the U.S. military, were left largely in place and soon expanded massively, as were the array of global bases from which the U.S. had fought its world war. From 1945 on, as the Cold War gained strength and staying power, war was distinctly on Washington’s agenda. In a big way in Korea and Vietnam, of course, but also globally in what was then called “the shadows.” And it didn’t end when the Soviet Union began to totter and finally imploded. The 1980s and 1990s saw a range of interventions, invasions, raids, air strikes, and the like in Afghanistan, Grenada, Lebanon, Libya, Panama, Serbia, Somalia, and of course Iraq (again and again). In the twenty-first century, the U.S. military was simply let loose across the Greater Middle East and North Africa and eternal war (as well as military-first policies of all sorts) became the American Way. Meanwhile, in Washington, there arose a war-hawk party in Congress and beyond who never saw a military solution that didn’t appeal to them (no matter how ineffective it had proved in its previous incarnations). All of this, in turn, took place in a country in which corporations were mobilized to go to war while the population itself was demobilized in just about every way imaginable. In other words, Americans became ever more divorced from their military and ever more fawning about it.

As retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore makes clear today, there was something increasingly unconstrained about this phenomenon (and the funding and building of the U.S. military and the national security state that went with it). In a sense, Americans have yet to come to grips with what a never-ending “wartime” has meant in and to this country. Astore offers a place to start. Tom 

The American Military Uncontained: Chaos Spread, Casualties Inflicted, Missions Unaccomplished

by William J. Astore

Think of it as the trifecta moment: Vietnam syndrome vanquished forever, Saddam’s army destroyed, and the U.S. left standing as the planet’s “sole superpower.”

Post-Desert Storm, the military of which I was a part stood triumphant on a planet that was visibly ours and ours alone. Washington had won the Cold War. It had won everything, in fact. End of story. Saddam admittedly was still in power in Baghdad, but he had been soundly spanked. Not a single peer enemy loomed on the horizon. It seemed as if, in the words of former U.N. ambassador and uber-conservative Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. could return to being a normal country in normal times.

What Kirkpatrick meant was that, with the triumph of freedom movements in Central and Eastern Europe and the rollback of communism, the U.S. military could return to its historical roots, demobilizing after its victory in the Cold War even as a “new world order” was emerging. But it didn’t happen. Not by a long shot. Despite all the happy talk back then about a “new world order,” the U.S. military never gave a serious thought to becoming a “normal” military for normal times. Instead, for our leaders, both military and civilian, the thought process took quite a different turn. You might sum up their thinking this way, retrospectively: Why should we demobilize or even downsize significantly or rein in our global ambitions at a moment when we can finally give them full expression? Why would we want a “peace dividend” when we could leverage our military assets and become a global power the likes of which the world has never seen, one that would put the Romans and the British in the historical shade? Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer caught the spirit of the moment in February 2001 when he wrote, "America is no mere international citizen. It is the dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome. Accordingly, America is in a position to reshape norms, alter expectations, and create new realities. How? By unapologetic and implacable demonstrations of will."

What I didn’t realize back then was: America’s famed “containment policy” vis-à-vis the Soviet Union didn’t just contain that superpower -- it contained us, too. With the Soviet Union gone, the U.S. military was freed from containment. There was nowhere it couldn’t go and nothing it couldn’t do -- or so the top officials of the Bush administration came into power thinking, even before 9/11. Consider our legacy military bases from the Cold War era that already spanned the globe in an historically unprecedented way. Built largely to contain the Soviets, they could be repurposed as launching pads for interventions of every sort. Consider all those weapon systems meant to deter Soviet aggression. They could be used to project power on a planet seemingly without rivals.

Now was the time to go for broke. Now was the time to go “all in,” to borrow the title of Paula Broadwell’s fawning biography of her mentor and lover, General David Petraeus. Under the circumstances, peace dividends were for wimps. In 1993, Madeleine Albright, secretary of state under Bill Clinton, caught the coming post-Cold War mood of twenty-first-century America perfectly when she challenged Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell angrily over what she considered a too-cautious U.S. approach to the former Yugoslavia. 
What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about,” she asked, “if we can't use it?”

Yet even as civilian leaders hankered to flex America’s military muscle in unpromising places like Bosnia and Somalia in the 1990s, and Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, and Yemen in this century, the military itself has remained remarkably mired in Cold War thinking. If I could transport the 1990 version of me to 2015, here’s one thing that would stun him a quarter-century after the collapse of the Soviet Union: the force structure of the U.S. military has changed remarkably little. Its nuclear triad of land-based ICBMs, submarine-launched SLBMs, and nuclear-capable bombers remains thoroughly intact. Indeed, it’s being updated and enhanced at mind-boggling expense (perhaps as high as a trillion dollars over the next three decades). The U.S. Navy? Still built around large, super-expensive, and vulnerable aircraft carrier task forces. The U.S. Air Force? Still pursuing new, ultra-high-tech strategic bombers and new, wildly expensive fighters and attack aircraft -- first the F-22, now the F-35, both supremely disappointing. The U.S. Army? Still configured to fight large-scale, conventional battles, a surplus of M-1 Abrams tanks sitting in mothballs just in case they’re needed to plug the Fulda Gap in Germany against a raging Red Army. Except it’s 2015, not 1990, and no mass of Soviet T-72 tanks remains poised to surge through that gap.

Much of our military today remains structured to meet and defeat a Soviet threat that long ago ceased to exist. (Occasional sparring matches with Vladimir Putin’s Russia in and around Ukraine do not add up to the heated “rumbles in the jungle” we fought with the Soviet leaders of yesteryear.) And it’s not just a matter of weaponry. Our military hierarchy remains wildly and unsustainably top-heavy, with a Cold War-style cupboard of generals and admirals, as if we were still stockpiling brass in case of another world war and a further expansion of what is already uncontestably the largest military on the planet. If you had asked me in 1990 what the U.S. military would look like in 2015, the one thing I wouldn’t have guessed was that, in its force structure, it would look basically the same.

This persistence of such Cold War structures and the thinking that goes with them is a vivid illustration of military inertia, the plodding last-war conservatism that is a common enough phenomenon in military history. It’s also a reminder that the military-industrial-congressional-complex that President Dwight Eisenhower first warned us about in 1961 remains in expansion mode more than half a century later, with its taste for business as usual (meaning, among other things, wildly expensive weapons systems). Above all, though, it’s an illustration of something far more disturbing: the failure of democratic America to seize the possibility of a less militarized world.

Today, it’s hard to recapture the heady optimism of 1990, the idea that this country, as after any war, might at least begin to take steps to demobilize, however modestly, to become a more peaceable land. That’s why 1990 should be considered the high-water mark of the U.S. military. At that moment, we were poised on the brink of a new normalcy -- and then it all began to go wrong. To understand how, it’s important to see not just what remained the same, but also what began to change and just how we ended up with today’s mutant military.

Paramilitaries Without, Militaries Within, Civilian Torturers, and Assassins Withal

Put me back again in my slimmer, uniformed 1990 body and catapult me for a second time to 2015. What do I see in this military moment that surprises me? Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, for sure. Networked computers everywhere and the reality of a military preparing for “cyberwar.” Incessant talk of terrorism as America’s chief threat. A revival, however haltingly, of counterinsurgency operations, or COIN, a phenomenon abandoned in Vietnam with a stake through its heart (or so I thought then). Uncontrolled and largely unaccountable mass surveillance of civilian society that in the Cold War era would have been a hallmark of the “Evil Empire.”

More than anything, however, what would truly have shocked the 1990 version of me is the almost unimaginable way the military has “privatized” in the twenty-first century. The presence of paramilitary forces (mercenary companies like DynCorp, the former Blackwater, and Triple Canopy) and private corporations like KBR doing typical military tasks like cooking and cleaning (what happened to privates doing KP?), delivering the mail, and mounting guard duty on military bases abroad; an American intelligence system that’s filled to the brim with tens of thousands of private contractors; a new Department of Defense called the Department of Homeland Security (“homeland” being a word I would once have associated, to be blunt, with Nazi Germany) that has also embraced paramilitaries and privatizers of every sort; the rapid rise of a special operations community, by the tens of thousands, that has come to constitute a vast, privileged, highly secretive military caste within the larger armed forces; and, most shocking of all, the public embrace of torture and assassination by America’s civilian leaders -- the very kinds of tactics and techniques I associated in 1990 with the evils of communism.

Walking about in such a world in 2015, the 1990-me would truly find himself a stranger in a strange land. This time-traveling Bill Astore’s befuddlement could, I suspect, be summed up in an impolite sentiment expressed in three letters: WTF?

Think about it. In 2015, so many of America's "trigger-pullers" overseas are no longer, strictly speaking, professional military. They’re mercenaries, guns for hire, or CIA drone pilots (some on loan from the Air Force), or warrior corporations and intelligence contractors looking to get in on a piece of the action in a war on terror where progress is defined -- official denials to the contrary -- by body count, by the number of "enemy combatants" killed in drone or other strikes.

Indeed, the very persistence of traditional Cold War structures and postures within the “big” military has helped hide the full-scale emergence of a new and dangerous mutant version of our armed forces. A bewildering mish-mash of special ops, civilian contractors (both armed and unarmed), and CIA and other intelligence operatives, all plunged into a penumbra of secrecy, all largely hidden from view (even as they’re openly celebrated in various Hollywood action movies), this mutant military is forever clamoring for a greater piece of the action.

While the old-fashioned, uniformed military guards its Cold War turf, preserved like some set of monstrous museum exhibits, the mutant military strives with great success to expand its power across the globe. Since 9/11, it's the mutant military that has gotten the lion’s share of the action and much of the adulation -- here’s looking at you, SEAL Team 6 -- along with its ultimate enabler, the civilian commander-in-chief, now acting in essence as America’s assassin-in-chief.

Think of it this way: a quarter-century after the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military is completely uncontained. Washington’s foreign policies are strikingly military-first ones, and nothing seems to be out of bounds. Its two major parts, the Cold War-era “big” military, still very much alive and kicking, and the new-era military of special ops, contractors, and paramilitaries seek to dominate everything. Nuclear, conventional, unconventional, land, sea, air, space, cyber, you name it: all realms must be mastered.

Except it can’t master the one realm that matters most: itself. And it can’t find the one thing that such an uncontained military was supposed to guarantee: victory (not in a single place anywhere on Earth).

Loaded with loot and praised to the rafters, America’s uncontained military has no discipline and no direction. It never has to make truly tough choices, like getting rid of ICBMs or shedding its obscenely bloated top ranks of officers or cancelling redundant weapon systems like the F-35. It just aims to do it all, just about everywhere. As Nick Turse reported recently, U.S. special ops touched down in 150 countries between 2011 and 2014. And the results of all this activity have been remarkably repetitive and should by now be tragically predictable: lots of chaos spread, lots of casualties inflicted, and in every case, mission unaccomplished.

The Future Isn't What It Used to Be

Say what you will of the Cold War, at least it had an end. The overriding danger of the current American military moment is that it may lack one.

Once upon a time, the U.S. military was more or less tied to continental defense and limited by strong rivals in its hegemonic designs. No longer. Today, it has uncontained ambitions across the globe and even as it continually stumbles in achieving them, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, or elsewhere, its growth is assured, as our leaders trip over one another in continuing to shower it with staggering sums of money and unconditional love.

No military should ever be trusted and no military should ever be left uncontained. Our nation’s founders knew this lesson. Five-star general Dwight D. Eisenhower took pains in his farewell address in 1961 to remind us of it again. How did we as a people come to forget it? WTF, America?

What I do know is this: Take an uncontained, mutating military, sprinkle it with unconditional love and plenty of dough, and you have a recipe for disaster. So excuse me for being more than a little nervous about what we’ll all find when America flips the calendar by another quarter-century to the year 2040.

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is a TomDispatch regular. He edits the blog The Contrary Perspective.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 William J. Astore

Cameron Majority Wastes No Time Stripping Britons' Rights

What Does It Say About the Tories That They Want to Scrap Human Rights Legislation?

by Andy Worthington

May 14, 2015

The Human Rights Act, passed in 1998, which the Tories, idiotically, want to repeal. After last Thursday’s General Election, as the Tories entrench themselves in power, without even the need of Lib Dem stooges to prop them up, we hear that the Cabinet spent a whole minute thumping the table at their first meeting, demonstrating a gracelessness and arrogance that is typical of the bullies, sociopaths and misfits who make up the upper echelons of the party.

Through our broken electoral system, the Tories have convinced themselves they have a mandate for even more of the destruction to the British state than they undertook over the last five years, propped up by the Lib Dems, even though the 50.9% of the seats that they took came with the support of just 24.4% of those eligible to vote.

The Tories’ relentless war on the British state and the British people

Since 2010, the Tories have been waging a relentless war on the British state, and on anyone who is not wealthy, privatising anything that was not already privatised, and using taxpayers’ money to make publicly owned enterprises more attractive to private buyers (as with the sell-off of the Royal Mail, for example), and also using taxpayers to fund huge vanity projects like the Olympics.

The Tories have also embarked on a disgusting assault on disabled people, via a callous review process designed to find them fit for work, which has resulted in numerous suicides, and they have also waged war on the unemployed, portraying them as feckless scroungers, even though there is only one job for every five people without jobs, and the only way out of this would be to set up a job creation scheme guaranteeing full employment (something that you will not find mentioned anywhere in current British discourse).

The assaults on the unemployed have come via the disgusting bedroom tax, removing what mansion-dwelling millionaires of the Tory cabinet regard as “spare” rooms in social housing, the benefit cap that has led to 50,000 families leaving London (to other places that could obviously do without the extra strain on their own resources) and various slave labour workfare schemes.

The Tories also passed legislation to privatise the NHS, tripled university tuition fees and persistently undermined state schools (despite almost all of them having been to private schools, and sending their own children there). They also presided over a horrendous housing bubble in London and the south east, and failed to do anything to rein in private landlords, who can charge what they can get away with without any restraints whatsoever on their behaviour.

The Tories also set their sights on the law, subjecting the legal system to cuts, and, in particular, slashing the legal aid budget, a move that not only empowers the rich to abuse the poor without fear of being challenged, but is also eating away at the very foundations of the British legal system, with trials already collapsing — allowing alleged criminals to walk free — because the barristers who are supposed to be involved can no longer afford to stay in business. In my work on behalf of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, I became involved with the lawyers’ campaign to save legal aid in February, a campaign that will, of course, be continuing as Michael Gove, the newly-appointed justice secretary, replaces Chris Grayling as the focus of well-deserved contempt.

The Tories’ assault on human rights

Allied to this, in many ways, is the Tories’ assault on on human rights. Last year, they sought to strip the citizenship of anyone of dual nationality that they regard as a threat (without any judicial process being involved), a chilling development that I wrote about here, here and here, and just before the election the Muslim community was alarmed by the passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, rushed through amidst hysteria about ISIS, which, as Frances Webber of the Institute of Race Relations explained, applies “immigration policing measures — including border controls, carrier sanctions, refusal of entry, conditions of residence, the outsourcing of controls to local authorities, colleges and universities and other public bodies — to the national security policing of both British and foreign citizens, while at the same time doing away with or diluting judicial safeguards.”

Webber added, “[T]his national security policing is policing of thoughts, intentions, opinions and attitudes, in a climate in which the Muslim community is by definition suspect. Inevitably, the brunt of this policing will be borne by the Muslim community. Because immigration controls are the vehicle, more British Muslims will find the rights of citizenship increasingly precarious and contingent.”

Since their electoral victory last Thursday, the Tories have already launched new attacks on important safeguards that protect us from executive overreach, immediately launching yet another counter-terrorism bill containing proposals for “extremism disruption orders,” which were formulated by an extremism task force that was set up by David Cameron. First proposed by Theresa May at last year’s Conservative Party Conference, the plans were greeted with dismay by the Liberal Democrats, who vetoed them in March, but they were also opposed by senior Tories, as the Guardian reported yesterday:

When the home secretary showcased [the proposals] in her party conference speech in October Dominic Raab, then a backbench MP and now a justice minister, described them as “eroding basic principles of freedom that won’t make us safer”. He even suggested that her extremism disruption orders could be abused to slap down “monarchists, communists and even Christians objecting to gay marriage”’.

He was not alone. Senior Tories such as Lord Lamont and John Selwyn Gummer, or Lord Deben as he is now known, voiced serious free speech concerns over her plans for ministers to order universities to ban extremist speakers from campuses.

But opposition to her plans also ran right across government. The Financial Times reported that no fewer than seven Conservative cabinet ministers had by March raised objections to some of the proposals which are now to be fast-tracked in the Queen’s speech. Some of those ministers, such as Greg Clark, Nicky Morgan, Theresa Villiers and Sajid Javid are still in the cabinet.

After Theresa May first proposed the plans, the Guardian noted in an editorial:

The insuperable problem with these plans, as written, is that their net could potentially catch many more political activists than those about whom Mrs May complains. A formulation to prevent “harmful activities” is one such example. A draft which penalises “threats to the functioning of democracy” is another. The creation of “alarm” or “distress” is another. All are very low thresholds. Much too low. They might help stir the very radicalism they are designed to prevent. They are not just illiberal but counterproductive. They need to be rethought.

Shelved for now are other outrageous plans — a proposed “communications data bill,” more commonly known as the snoopers’ charter, which deals with the broad retention of records of phone calls, emails and other data, and which, of course, is alarming to many people after Edward Snowden’s revelations about government spying in the US and the UK (via the NSA and GCHQ).

The proposal to scrap the Human Rights Act

However, what is being pushed forward without hesitation is the proposal to scrap the Human Right Act and replace it with a so-called British Bill of Rights, an idiotic bit of knee-jerk populism that doesn’t even make sense, and will, hopefully, be unworkable.

The proposals are portrayed by the Tories as necessary to stop the UK from having its hands tied in dealing with foreign terror suspects, but this is a misunderstanding of what the Human Rights Act is, and, more fundamentally, its relation to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The European Convention on Human Rights, written in 1949-50, and with a prominent role in its drafting taken by the British Conservative MP and lawyer Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, who had been a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, drew on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by the United Nations in 1948, and was designed to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe.

The Convention was a key founding document of the Council of Europe, and led to the establishment of the European Court of Human Rights. Established in 1949, the Council of Europe promotes co-operation between European countries in the areas of legal standards, human rights, democratic development, the rule of law and cultural co-operation. Initially formed of ten countries, including the UK, it now has 47 member states, representing 820 million people in total.

The Convention came into force in 1953, and its ratification was — and still is — required for all members of the Council of Europe.

In addition, the Council of Europe is, it should be noted, an independent body, and is not to be confused with the European Union, although membership of the Council of Europe is a requirement for EU member states.

The Human Rights Act came many years after the creation of the Convention, although its origins were not contentious. As Bella Sankey, Liberty’s director of policy, explained in an article for the Huffington Post, “it was passed in 1998 with overwhelming cross-party support and Tory leadership endorsement,” and “was a long-held ambition of the Society of Conservative Lawyers.”

Moreover, as Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, and the newly-elected Labour MP for Camden, explained in an article for the Guardian:

In the aftermath of the second world war, [when] nations came together to say “never again”, [t]hey established the United Nations and agreed a simple set of universal standards of decency for mankind to cling to: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These standards were intended to protect the individual from the state, to uphold the rights of minorities and to provide support for the vulnerable.

The idea was simple; these standards would first be enshrined in regional treaties such as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and then be given legal effect in every country. In the UK this was achieved when Labour enacted the Human Rights Act (HRA) in 1998.

As Starmer also noted:

[T]he HRA has heralded a new approach to the protection of the most vulnerable in our society, including child victims of trafficking, women subject to domestic and sexual violence, those with disabilities and victims of crime. After many years of struggling to be heard, these individuals now have not only a voice, but a right to be protected. The Tory plans to repeal the HRA, together with the restricted access to our courts already brought about by the restriction on judicial review introduced by Gove’s predecessor, Chris Grayling, will silence the vulnerable and leave great swaths of executive action unchecked and unaccountable.

The idiocy of the Tories’ plans was well-explained in an article for the Daily Telegraph by the barrister Matthew Scott, who stated that, in his new job, Gove “faces formidable problems: prisons groaning at the seams with frequently suicidal inmates, civil and criminal legal aid in a state of near collapse, criminal barristers threatening to strike, and many demoralised police officers wishing that they were allowed to do so.” He added, “Intractable though these problems may be, they are insignificant compared to those that face Mr. Gove should he try to implement one of the few concrete promises included within the Conservative Manifesto: repealing the Human Rights Act.”

Scott noted that the manifesto promise to scrap the HRA and replace it with a British Bill of Rights is frustratingly vague. It promises to “remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights,” and singles out the right to a fair trial as a “basic right” along with “the right to life.”

As he also noted, however:

There are other rights which any Bill faithful to the “basic principles of human rights” would surely have to contain: freedom from torture, freedom of religion, freedom of expression and, one would have thought, a right to a private and family life. Indeed, it is difficult to think of any of the rights in the original European Convention that could be excluded.

At this point, it becomes apparent that all this is about the perceived “rights” of foreign terror suspects. As the manifesto explains, a British Bill of Rights will “stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation.”

Scott responded to this by stating:

But what is a “spurious human rights argument?” Abu Qatada – the particular bête noire of the last two Governments — was able to argue that he should not be deported to face a trial which would be unfair because he would face evidence obtained under torture. It was hardly a “spurious” argument, and presumably he would still have been able to make it, and quite possibly succeed under a British Bill of Rights.

Even if Mr Gove succeeds in passing a British Bill of Rights, it won’t necessarily help in a similar case, should it arise in the future. One of the reasons Abu Qatada was able to avoid deportation as long as he did was that after losing in the British courts he took his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which held that to deport him at that point would breach his right to a fair trial.

His appeal to Strasbourg had nothing to do with the Human Rights Act; his right to appeal derived from Britain’s adherence to the European Convention. Once the European Court had ruled in his favour the British Government could not deport him without being in breach of its Convention obligations. The same problem would arise again and again if the Human Rights Act were repealed. Unless the Council of Europe agreed to amend the Convention, the only way out of that would be for Britain to withdraw from it altogether.

That is possible, as Scott explained, because withdrawal, or “denunciation” in the Convention’s words, “is legally possible on giving six months notice” (although Scott notes that “a significant number of Conservative MPs led by the former Attorney General Dominic Grieve would oppose it”). However, as he also notes, “it would not be an easy option.” Because it was not mentioned in the manifesto, the House of Lords “would be perfectly within its constitutional rights to obstruct and delay.”

In any case, withdrawal from the Convention would mean withdrawing from the Council of Europe, and, as noted above, EU membership requires CoE membership. Are we to see a ridiculous situation whereby a referendum on leaving Europe, which David Cameron doesn’t even want, goes ahead and is promoted by the Tories, with ruinous effects on British business, simply because the Tories don’t like some of the minor constraints on their actions that are enshrined in human rights legislation?

To understand quite how ridiculous this is, it’s worth pointing out how the current situation actually gives the UK more, not less influence over the European Curt of Human Rights — providing yet more confirmation that the Tories’ plans are idiotic, designed to appeal to legally illiterate right-wingers, and demonstrating how much this particular batch of Tories hates being told what it cannot do.

As Bella Sankey put it:

The case for repeal appears to hinge on the popular deceit that the HRA gives Strasbourg judges the power to order British ones around. “We cannot go on with a situation where crucial decisions about how this country is run and how we protect our citizens are taken by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR),” implored then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling in October.

A slight issue with this: it’s rubbish. Under the HRA, Britain’s courts are only required to “take account” of ECtHR judgments, not follow them. British courts regularly depart from Strasbourg jurisprudence to take account of UK laws, traditions and customs, and the Supreme Court is already the ultimate arbiter of human rights cases here. In fact, when the Human Rights Bill was passing through Parliament, the Conservatives tried to amend it to say British Courts should be bound by Strasbourg — a proposal rejected by Parliament.

The Tories say the Bill will restore “parliamentary sovereignty” — but the HRA has increased British sovereignty. Pre-HRA, UK cases were argued directly in Strasbourg without any judgment from a UK court. Post-HRA, British judges rule on all human rights claims arising in the UK and influence Strasbourg jurisprudence in cases that proceed there. Introducing the Bill will increase Strasbourg’s supervision of the UK, making it more like a Court of first instance once again.

Under the Bill, people will still be able to take claims to Strasbourg once domestic litigation is exhausted. Axing our HRA will lead to an increase in cases going there, resulting in more negative rulings against the UK — and decade-long waits for those seeking justice.

Unless, of course, we withdraw from the Convention, and from the EU — standing alone in Europe with Belarus, a dictatorship that is the only other country that has not signed up to the Convention.

In addition, as Matthew Scott also explained, “withdrawal would have potential consequences on the devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Acts of Parliament giving power to the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh Assembly presuppose Britain’s membership of the Convention, as does the 1998 Belfast Good Friday Agreement. If Britain left the Convention, these would have to be amended.”

Withdrawing Britain from the Convention, therefore, “would for all practical purposes require the consent of each of the separate nations of the UK,” and it is already clear that Scotland will resist the Tories’ plans, and that Wales and Northern Ireland will too.

Everything about the new Tory government suggests that they will resist the truth about their plans — that they are unworkable and must be dropped — until they are forced to do so. I hope they end up belittled and humiliated, as they continue to try to belittle the institutions and laws that protect us, and to humiliate all but their own narrow band of supporters.

Defeating the Tories on this is hugely important, as the heading of my article is meant to explain. Just stand back and imagine what message it sends to the world when the UK, which created habeas corpus 800 years ago, says that it wants to get rid of human rights legislation. Is that the point of view of a responsible nation that believes that adhering to the rule of law empowers all of us, or is it the point of view of a would-be dictatorship?

In conclusion, please sign the 38 Degrees petition to save the Human Rights Act, which currently has over 150,000 signatures. You can, if you want, also sign the petition calling for “a national referendum on the planned abolition of the Human Rights Act,” which currently has over 200,000 signatures, although asking for a referendum is not my first option. Instead, I’d like the Tories to scrap their plans as unworkable — and fundamentally wrong.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers). He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the co-director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Petronas Buy-a-Band Strategy Hit and Miss

Lax Kw’alaams rejects Billion-dollar LNG deal; Lake Babine signs paltry one

by Damien Gillis - Common Sense Canadian

The BC Liberal government and LNG industry suffered a blow this week with a final losing vote amongst Lax Kw’alaams Band members over a billion-dollar package offered to support Petronas’ Pacific NorthWest LNG plant near Prince Rupert.

At the same time, a much smaller, quieter deal was being signed by the elected leadership of the Lake Babine Nation, pertaining to the pipeline that would feed the coastal plant – the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission line. On the table in this “Project Agreement” between the 2,440-member band and pipeline contractor TransCanada was a comparatively paltry $3.56 million, plus a piece of a $10 million a year revenue sharing deal to be split amongst a number of First Nations along the pipeline route if it becomes operational.

According to the Prince George Citizen, the upfront sum of $3.56 million will be issued in the following phases:

When the agreement takes effect Lake Babine Nation will get $324,000, when construction begins they get $1.62 million, and then the same amount when the pipeline is in operation.


A pretty big deal

Lake Babine members must be scratching their heads wondering how their leaders settled for so little, while the Lax Kw’alaams Band at the end of the pipeline turned down what has been touted as $1.15 Billion in benefits over 40 years, following a series of votes amongst its members over the past week. All three votes, including one held for off-reserve members in Vancouver last night, went down to defeat. Even the BC government, desperate to see at least one of its many embattled LNG projects go forth, threw in 2,200 hectares of Crown land in the region, pegged at a value of $108-million.

Yet all the money and land couldn’t outweigh members’ concerns over the impacts of the massive plant proposed for Lelu Island on Skeena River salmon. A causeway for ships to dock at the plant would disturb vital eelgrass habitat in the estuary at Flora Bank (pictured above), warn scientists and conservation groups. For this very reason, a smaller coal plant operation was rejected by the federal government decades ago, when stocks were admittedly far healthier than today.

Band won’t bight on salmon assurances

The proponent has agreed to make some modifications to its design and a conveniently-timed report which it paid for argues the impacts will be negligible. But independent scientists disagree, suggesting the project could collapse already troubled Skeena stocks. And let’s not forget – this is the same proponent that literally erased the entire Skeena River and estuary from its initial project maps! So it’s easy to see how a few project tweaks and a company report would do little to sway Lax Kw’alaams members.

The band’s high-profile rejection of the project is no doubt rippling through the Liberal Cabinet room today – yet another blow to the government’s one and only economic development policy. Yet many were quick to point out that the door is still open to PacificNorthwest LNG, despite this week’s setback.

Keeping the dream alive

There was lawyer David Austin – a longtime promoter of controversial energy projects in BC, including the government’s once-vaunted private river power scheme – ready to toss aside First Nations’ rights before the final votes had even been cast. The Canadian Press paraphrased his comments as follows:

Lelu Island is Crown land managed by the Prince Rupert Port Authority, which means the province technically has the authority to push ahead without support from the Lax Kw’alaams.

Even if the band proves it has aboriginal title — which would require proving it has had exclusive occupancy of the territory — Supreme Court precedent gives the province the right to override that claim.

Premier Clark also vowed that an agreement would yet be reached with the band and even Lax Kw’alaams’ councillors suggested they were still open to a deal on the project, so long as it avoided the contentious salmon habitat in Flora Bank. “Lax Kw’alaams is open to business, to development and to LNG,” including this particular project, a statement noted.

Meanwhile, agreements like the one signed by Lake Babine show that there are many more moves to be played out in this chess game. TransCanada boasts similarly vague agreements over the pipeline with the Nisga’a Lisims Government, Gitanyow First Nation and Kitselas First Nation.

And according to CP:

The B.C. government said it has reached 54 pipeline-benefits agreements with 28 First Nations across the province. Of the 59 First Nations along the natural-gas pipeline ending at Lelu Island only five have publicly announced signing agreements with the government.

So the battle over Petronas’ LNG plant is far from over, yet with all the rhetoric and lack of real progress on the project, it’s starting to seem like it’s less about natural gas than hot air.

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.
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Failing to Find Shore: The Arab Boat People

The Arab Boat

by Ramzy Baroud - CounterPunch

In a western capital far away from Gaza and Cairo, I recently shared a pot of tea with an “Egyptian refugee”.

The term is familiar to me, but never have I encountered an Egyptian who refers to himself as such. He stated it as a matter of fact by saying: “As an Egyptian refugee ..” and carried on to talk about the political turmoil in his country.

It made me shudder as I tried to conjure up a possible estimation of Arabs who have been made refugees in recent years. But where does one start the estimation if we are to set aside the Palestinian Nakba in 1948? Or forget the successive waves of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians that followed, and disregard the various exoduses of Lebanese civilians as a result of Israeli invasions and civil war?

Iraq can be the start – the country that served as a foundation of everything Arab. Their culture, history and civilization, which extends to the very beginning of human civilization, ushered in the new Arab exodus.

The American promise to bomb it “back to the stone age” was worse than expected. Millions of Iraqis became refugees after the US-led war, a situation that was exasperated in the mid-2000s with the invasion-provoked civil war.

Last year alone over two million Iraqis were displaced, most of them internally as a result of the so-called Islamic State’s violent takeover of numerous territories in northern and western Iraq.

A recent report by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) finally placed the crises in Syria, Iraq, Libya, etc, in a larger context, accentuating the collective Arab tragedy. “These are the worst figures for forced displacement in a generation, signaling our complete failure to protect innocent civilians,” according to Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, the organization behind IDMC.

War and conflicts have resulted in the displacement of 38 million people, of whom 11 million were displaced last year alone. This number is constantly fortified by new refugees, while the total number of people who flee their homes every single day averages 30,000, a third of those are Arabs who flee their own countries.

Yes, 10,000 Arabs are made refugees every day, according to IDMC. Many of them are internally displaced people (IDPs), others are refugees in other countries, and thousands take their chances by sailing in small boats across the Mediterranean. Thousands die trying.

“I am a Syrian refugee from the Palestinian al-Yarmouk camp in Damascus,” wrote Ali Sandeed in the British Guardian newspaper.

“When I was small, my grandmother used to tell us how she felt when she was forced to flee to Syria from her home in Palestine in 1948, and how she hoped that her children and grandchildren would never have to experience what it feels like to be a refugee. But we did. I was born a Palestinian refugee, and almost three years ago I became a refugee once more, when my family and I had to flee the Syrian war to Lebanon.”

“’I thought the boat was my only chance,” was the title of the article where Sandeed described his journey to Europe via boat.

Many of Yarmouk’s refugees are refugees or descendants of Palestinian refugees who once lived in northern Palestine – in Haifa, Akka and Saffad. Reading his testimony immediately summoned the chaotic scenes as the refugees fled the Zionist invasion of Haifa in 1948.

Thanks to Palestinian and Israel’s new historians like Ilan Pappe, we know so much about what has taken place when the tens of thousands of people attempted to escape for their lives using small fishing boats:

“Men stepped on their friends and women on their own children. The boats in the port were soon filled with living cargo. The overcrowding in them was horrible. Many turned over and sank with all their passengers.” (Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, p. 96)

The brutality and sense of despair embodied in that scene is repeated every single day in various manifestations throughout Arab countries: Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and so on. If the destination of these refugees were illustrations via small arrows, the arrows would be pointing in many different directions. They would overlap and they would, at times, oppose one another: innocent people from all walks of life, sects, and religions dashing around in complete panic along with their children and carrying whatever they could salvage.

The Palestinian Nakba (the catastrophe of war, displacement and dispossession of 1948) has now become the Arab Nakba. Palestinian refugees know too well what their Arab brethren are going through: the massacres, the unredeemable loss, the despair, and the sinking boats.

One recalls a question that persisted in the minds of many when the so-called Arab Spring first began in early 2011: “Are Arab revolutions good for Palestine?”

It was impossible to answer. Not enough variables were in place for any intelligent assessment, or an educated guess even. The assumption was: if Arab revolutions culminate into truly democratic outcomes, then, naturally, it would be good for the Palestinians. This assumption followed the simple logic that historically Arab masses – particularly in poorer Arab countries – perceived Palestine as the central and most common struggle that unified Arab identity and nationalism for generations.

But not only democracy never prevailed (with the Tunisian exception) but many millions of Arabs joined millions of Palestinians in their perpetual exile.

What does that mean?

My Egyptian friend, who declared himself a “refugee,” told me: “I am optimistic.”

“I am too,” I replied, with neither one of us feeling a bit surprised by the seemingly curious statements.

The source of optimism is twofold: Firstly, Arabs have finally broken the fear barrier, a prerequisite essential for any popular movement that opts for fundamental change. Secondly, now most Arabs are equally sharing the burden of war, revolution, destitution and exile.

That is far from being a “good thing,” but it certainly accentuates the element of urgency in the collective Arab fate.

“We are in this together,” I told my Egyptian friend. Indeed, it is as if all Arabs are riding on a single, overcrowded dinghy and we must all make it to the other side safely. Sinking in not an option.

Ramzy – is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of He is currently completing his PhD studies at the University of Exeter. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Feeding the Yemen Flame

The Yemen War

by Conn Hallinan - CounterPunch

Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world, bereft of resources, fractured by tribal divisions and religious sectarianism, and plagued by civil war. And yet this small country tucked into the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula is shattering old alliances and spurring new and surprising ones. As Saudi Arabia continues its air assault on Houthis insurgents, supporters and opponents of the Riyadh monarchy are reconfiguring the political landscape in a way that is unlikely to vanish once the fighting is over.

The Saudi version of the war is that Shiite Iran is trying to take over Sunni Yemen using proxies—the Houthis—to threaten the Kingdom’s southern border and assert control over the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait into the Red Sea. The Iranians claim they have no control over the Houthis, no designs on the Straits, and that the war is an internal matter for the Yeminis to resolve.

The Saudis have constructed what at first glance seems a formidable coalition consisting of the Arab League, the monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Turkey and the U.S. Except that the “coalition” is not as solid as it looks and is more interesting in whom it doesn’t include than whom it does.

Egypt and Turkey are the powerhouses in the alliance, but there is more sound and fury than substance in their support.

Initially, Egypt made noises about sending ground troops—the Saudi army can’t handle the Houthis and their allies—but pressed by Al-Monitor, Cairo’s ambassador to Yemen, Youssef al-Sharqawy, turned opaque: “I am not the one who will decide about a ground intervention in Yemen. This goes back to the estimate of the supreme authority in the country and Egyptian national security.”

Since Saudi Arabia supported the Egyptian military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood government and is propping up the regime with torrents of cash, Riyadh may eventually squeeze Cairo to put troops into the Yemen war. But the last time Egypt fought the Houthis it suffered thousands of casualties, and Egypt has its hands full with an Islamic insurrection in Sinai.

While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also pledged Ankara’s support for “Saudi Arabia’s intervention,” and demanded that “Iran and the terrorist groups” withdraw, Erdogan was careful to say that it “may consider” offering “logistical support based on the evolution of the situation.”

Erdogan wants to punish Iran for its support of the Assad regime in Syria and its military presence in Iraq, where Teheran is aiding the Baghdad government against the Islamic Front. He is also looking to tap into Saudi money. The Turkish economy is in trouble, its public debt is the highest it has been in a decade and borrowing costs are rising worldwide. With an important election coming in June, Erdogan is hoping the Saudis will step in to help out.

But actually getting involved is another matter. The Turks think the Saudis are in a pickle—Yemen is a dreadfully difficult place to win a war and an air assault without ground troops has zero chance of success.

When the Iranians reacted sharply to Erdogan’s comments, the President backpeddled. Iran is a major trading partner for the Turks, and, with the possibility that international sanctions against Teheran will soon end, Turkey wants in on the gold rush that is certain to follow. During Erdogan’s recent trip to Teheran, the Turkish President and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif issued a joint statement calling for an end to the war in Yemen, and a “political solution.” It was a far cry from Erdogan’s initial belligerence.

The Arab League supports the war, but only to varying degrees. Iraq opposes the Saudi attacks, and Algeria is keeping its distance by calling for an end to “all foreign intervention.” Even the normally compliant GCC, representing the oil monarchs of the Gulf, has a defector. Oman abuts Yemen, and its ruler, Sultan Qaboos, is worried the chaos will spread across its border. And while the United Arab Emirates have flown missions over Yemen, the UAE is also preparing to cash in if sanctions are removed from Teheran. “Iran is on our doorstep, we have to be there,” Marwan Shehadeh, a developer in Dubai told the Financial Times. “It could be a great game changer.”

The most conspicuous absence in the Saudi coalition, however, is Pakistan, a country that has received billions in aid from Saudi Arabia and whose current Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was sheltered by Riyadh from the wrath of Pakistan’s military in 1999.

When the Saudi’s initially announced their intention to attack Yemen, they included Pakistan in the reported coalition, an act of hubris that backfired badly. Pakistan’s Parliament demanded a debate on the issue and then voted unanimously to remain neutral. While Islamabad declared its intention to “defend Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty,” no one thinks the Houthis are about to march on Jiddah.

The Yemen war is deeply unpopular in Pakistan, and the Parliament’s actions were widely supported, one editorial writer calling for rejecting “GCC diktat.” Only the extremist Lashkar-e-Taiba organization, which planned the 2008 Mumbai massacre in India, supported the Saudis.

Pakistan has indeed relied on Saudi largesse and, in turn, provided security for Riyadh, but the relationship is wearing thin.

First, there is widespread outrage for the Saudi support of extremist Islamic groups, some of which are at war with Pakistan’s government. Last year one such organization, the Tehrik-i-Taliban, massacred 145 people, including 132 students, in Peshawar. Fighting these groups in North Waziristan has taxed the Pakistani Army, which must also pay attention to its southern neighbor, India.

The Saudis, with their support for the rigid Wahabi interpretation of Islam, are also blamed for growing Sunni-Shiite tensions in Pakistan.

, Islamabad is deepening its relationship with China. In mid-April, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to invest $46 billion to finance Beijing’s new “Silk Road” from Western China to the Persian Gulf. Part of this will include a huge expansion of the port at Gwadar in Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province, a port that Bruce Riedel says will “rival Dubai or Doha as a regional economic hub,”

Riedel is a South Asia security expert, a senior fellow at the conservative Brookings Institute, and a professor at Johns Hopkins. Dubai is in the United Arab Emirates and Doha in Qatar. Both are members of the GCC.

China is concerned about security in Baluchistan, with its long-running insurgency against the central government, as well as the ongoing resistance by the Turkic-speaking, largely Muslim, Uyghur people in western China’s Xinjiang Province. Uyghurs, who number a little over 10 million, are being marginalized by an influx of Han Chinese, China’s dominant ethnic group.

Wealthy Saudis have helped finance some of these groups and neither Beijing or Islamabad is happy about it. Pakistan has pledged to create a 10,000-man “Special Security Division” to protect China’s investments. According to Riedel, the Chinese told the Pakistanis that Beijing would “stand by Pakistan if its ties with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates unravel.”

The U.S. has played an important, if somewhat uncomfortable, role in the Yemen War. It is feeding Saudi Arabia intelligence and targeting information and re-fueling Saudi warplanes in mid-air. It also intercepted an Iranian flotilla headed for Yemen that Washington claimed was carrying arms for the Houthis. Iran denies it and there is little hard evidence that Teheran is providing arms to the insurgents.

But while Washington supports the Saudis, it has also urged Riyadh to dial back the air attacks and look for a political solution. The U.S. is worried that the war-induced anarchy is allowing Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to florish. The embattled Houthis were the terrorist group’s principal opponents.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is growing critical. More than a 1,000 people, many of them civilians, have been killed, and the bombing and fighting has generated 300,000 refugees. The Saudi-U.S. naval blockade and the recent destruction of Yemen’s international airport has shut down the delivery of food, water and medical supplies in a country that is largely dependent on imported food.

However, the Obama administration is unlikely to alienate the Saudis, who are already angry with Washington for negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran. Besides aiding the Saudi attacks, the U.S. has opened the arms spigot to Riyadh.

The Iran nuclear agreement has led to what has to be one of the oddest alliances in the region: Israel and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh is on the same wavelength as the Netanyahu government when it comes to Iran, and the two are cooperating in trying to torpedo the agreement. According to investigative journalist Robert Perry, the alliance between Tel Aviv and Riyadh was sealed by a secret $16 billion gift from Riyadh to an Israeli “development” account in Europe, some of which has been used to build illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories.

The Saudis and the Israelis are on the same side in the Syrian civil war as well, and, for all Riyadh’s talk about supporting the Palestinians, the only members of the GCC that have given money to help rebuild Gaza after last summer’s Israeli attack on Gaza are Qatar and Kuwait.

How this all falls out in the end is hard to predict, except that it is clear that, for all their financial firepower, the Saudis can’t get the major regional players—Israel excepted—on board. And an alliance with Israel—a country that is more isolated today because of its occupation policies than it has been in its history—is not likely to be very stable.

Long-time Middle East correspondent for the Independent Robert Fisk says the Saudis live in “fear” of the Iranians, the Shiia, the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, U.S. betrayal, Israeli plots, even “themselves, for where else will the revolution start in Sunni Muslim Saudi but among its own royal family?”

That “fear” is driving the war in Yemen. It argues for why the U.S. should stop feeding the flames and instead join with the European Union and demand an immediate cease-fire, humanitarian aid, and a political solution among the Yemenis themselves.

Conn Hallinan can be read at

Making Disasters and Responding to Them: Israel, Gaza, and Nepal

Israel seeks in Nepal to whitewash its crimes in Gaza

by Jonathan Cook in Nazareth

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was quick to congratulate Israeli soldiers on their relief efforts in Nepal, where an earthquake late last month claimed many thousands of lives.

“These are the true faces of Israel,” he said of a 260-strong team that arrived to pull survivors from the rubble, treat the injured, help deliver babies, and entertain traumatised children. Israel’s field hospital in Kathmandu was the biggest and best-equipped after India’s, Nepal’s large neighbour.

Similar relief operations by Israel were prominent in Haiti after its 2010 earthquake, in Japan a year later after a quake there, and in 2013 when a typhoon wrecked the Philippines.

Israel’s humanitarian concern for the victims of disasters, however, looks more cynical when set alongside its record once the TV cameras depart. Israel’s international aid budget is paltry compared to that of other developed nations.

There has to be at least a suspicion that Israel is exploiting natural catastrophes to win itself new international friends and try to refute global opinion surveys that regularly identify Israel as a major threat to world peace.

The message is aimed at a domestic audience too. As commentator Gideon Levy observed, Israelis are being reassured that, despite the evidence, they really do have the “most moral army in the world”.

The criticism that Israel is demonstrating selective compassion –bringing salvation to far-off Nepal while smashing homes and cutting down lives close by in Gaza – is blithely dismissed by most Israelis. “Nepal is not firing rockets on our cities; it has not elected terrorists to run its government,” so the narrative goes. But the hollowness of these self-serving arguments has been illustrated by events of the past few days.

Netanyahu’s new rightwing government – characterised by the Haaretz daily as Israel’s most “dangerous” yet – is the first since the Oslo accords were signed more than 20 years ago that has dropped the pretence of wanting to resolve Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. During the election campaign, Netanyahu vowed there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.

That is the main context for assessing the entirely manmade disaster Israel created in Gaza last summer, when it killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, including some 500 children, and wrecked vast swaths of the built-up landscape.

If Israel claims it is distinguishing between the suffering of innocent Nepalese and armed Palestinians, it has to explain the testimonies of serving soldiers published last week. They say their orders in Gaza were to shoot indiscriminately on any Palestinian they met, whether armed or not.

A recent report by the Association of International Development Agencies found eight months after the Gaza operation that 12,000 homes still had to be rebuilt and 100,000 Palestinians – one in 18 – were homeless.

The chief reason ordinary Palestinians, unlike the Nepalese, cannot begin to rebuild their lives after their own catastrophe is because Israel maintains a savage siege – a form of collective punishment – on the coastal enclave.

While Nepal embraces anyone offering help, for nearly a decade Israel has threatened and attacked any humanitarian group trying to reach Gaza. In 2010 Israel killed nine activists on the high seas as they tried to bring medicine and food to the sick and destitute there.

The UN, meanwhile, is considering listing the Israeli army alongside Islamic State (ISIL) and Boko Haram as a serious violator of children’s rights for the attack on Gaza.

But Israel’s humanitarian double standards do not apply only to the tiny enclave.

In recent days, Israeli courts have approved the uprooting of whole Palestinian communities – from Sussiya in the West Bank to Umm al-Hiran in Israel – so that Jews can live in their place. It has also backed government plans to confiscate arbitrarily Palestinian properties in East Jerusalem.

Where is the humanitarian concern for these Palestinians, including those who have Israeli citizenship, as they are left displaced and homeless? They have never fired a rocket and most have never voted for Hamas.

The answer is provided by members of the new government. Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, the minister overseeing the occupation bureaucracy, has called Palestinians “beasts, they are not human”. The new justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, urged a genocide last year, demanding the slaughter of Palestinian “snakes”.

Another large group of non-Jews in Israel is faring barely better. In violation of international law, Israel is jailing and deporting African asylum seekers, often returning them to regions they fled in fear of their lives – over the protestations of UN officials.

Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, described the soldiers in Nepal as “ministering angels” representing “the universal values of our people and our country”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Israel’s government and its army represent not universal values but a tribal allegiance to a state that always asks first: “What is good for a Jewish Israel?”

When most Israelis sanctify a Jewish fortress-state, the decision to send soldiers half way around the world to offer help in front of the TV cameras is an easy generosity. It is far harder to recognise the humanity of fellow human beings who share the same small patch of land Israel claims as its exclusive home.

The efforts of Israeli soldiers to save children in Nepal should be commended – but not if it gives them and their compatriots an excuse to turn a blind eye to Palestinian children suffering amid the rubble of Gaza.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.