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Oak Flat: Trump’s Final Middle Finger to the Environment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/01/2021 - 7:59am in

Buried deep in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2015, section 3003 calls for the expeditious facilitation of a land exchange agreement between Resolution Copper Mining, LLC and the United States government to create one of the largest and deepest copper mines in the country, spanning nearly 11,000 square miles of national forest terrain and penetrating 7,000 miles into beneath the surface of the earth.

The land swap specifically targets approximately 2,500 acres that are not already owned by the mining concern and which rest inside Apache hallowed ground known as Oak Flat in the Tonto National Forest in central Arizona. Considered sacred by the Apache and other First Nation peoples who still use the land they call Chich’il Bildagoteel for important ceremonies, food, and a vital link to their heritage, Oak Flat has been at the center of a decades-long battle between the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Resolution Copper, comprised of extraction industry behemoths Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.

 

Closed to mining activities by President Eisenhower in 1955, Oak Flat has since flourished as a significant habitat for wildlife, including several endangered species of fish, snakes, and birds, as well as a popular campground and world-renowned rock climbing destination. Reaffirmed in the early ‘70s the protective regulations have nevertheless been incessantly targeted by UK-based Rio Tinto, whose lobbying efforts to obtain burrowing rights to the land have been rebuffed 13 times since.

In 2014, John McCain – the largest recipient of Rio Tinto political contributions in Congress that year ­– inserted the aforementioned rider in the 2015 NDAA, effectively reversing 66 years of environmental protection law and betraying his own history of advocating for indigenous rights as a ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs in 1989, when he led a Republican minority in the fight for the religious freedom of First Nations and the protection of sacred lands.

More than 30 years later, as President Trump leaves office, his administration looks to finish this act of duplicity initiated by his biggest political enemy in yet another demonstration of the hypocrisy that runs through the American political system and pervasive history of broken treaties and disenfranchisement of Native peoples.

 

Rushing into destruction 

The U.S. Forest Service will release the final version of the environmental analysis for the Resolution Copper Project and Land Exchange in three days’ time and a full year ahead of schedule as a result of pressure from the Trump administration, according to local officials.

Members of the San Carlos Apache Nation have been camping out at Oak Flat since January 2020 as part of their continued effort to halt the mining project. Tribal member Wendsler Nosie Sr, interviewed by The Guardian in November described the urgency of their plight as the “fourth quarter with two minutes left in the game,” adding that Trump’s move to push the approval process forward by a year meant they now only “have one minute left.”

Oak Flat is just one of several large-scale mining and energy projects the outgoing administration is looking to approve before the proper assessments and consultations with affected populations are made. Other projects include a lithium mine in Nevada; a helium extraction project in Utah and an oil and gas drilling venture in Alaska, among others.

Oak Flat Trump

An Apache activist takes part in a rally to save Oak Flat near Superior, Ariz. Molly Riley | AP

Virtually every one of these projects is facing opposition from Native tribes, whose very survival is threatened by the relentless advance of the extraction industry. That industry not only represents a catastrophic menace to their sources of clean water and food but also poses a direct risk to their safety as the proliferation of so-called “man-camps” or the temporary labor sites, plays a central role in the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women.

In the case of Oak Flat, Native communities have found an unlikely ally in their fight against Rio Tinto and BHP. A British government pension fund group with a stake in both companies has requested more information from their subsidiary, Resolution Copper, as to the potential impacts the proposed mine would have on Native American cultural and religious sites.

 

Ally or cover? 

Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) Chairman, Doug McMurdo, has voiced his opposition to the mining method Resolution Copper is expected to use in Oak Flat, should the project move forward. The head of the £300 Billion pension investment fund echoes the concerns of the indigenous communities who oppose the “block caving” method planned, which consists of blasting beneath the surface to extract the copper ore through tunnels and inevitably cause the collapse of the rock above, taking ancient burial grounds, petroglyphs, and medicinal plants with it.

LAPFF has advocated for communities affected by Rio Tinto’s irresponsible mining practices in other parts of the world as well. Last year, Rio Tinto faced an official inquiry from the Australian government after the company blew up 46,000-year old caves in Western Australia that were part of the country’s Aboriginal heritage. McMurdo participated in the parliamentary inquiry that found Rio Tinto culpable of knowingly destroying the Aboriginal cultural heritage site. The LAPFF Chair pointed to the conclusions as the reason why the fund “has increased its call for companies to engage meaningfully with affected communities. The fact that Rio Tinto’s senior management had not reviewed a critical report about the site itself calls into question the company’s governance and oversight processes.”

But, at the end of the day, the question arises whether such remonstrations are enough to curtail the irreparable damage the extraction industries have done and continue to do to the environment and to the indigenous communities who are not only fighting for their own survival but the survival of the entire planet.

 

The legend of Oak Flat 

One of the most significant areas of Oak Flat threatened by Resolution Copper’s project is a place called Apache Leap. The 400 foot-high cliff is the site of a historic incident of Native American resistance, from which 75 Apache warriors leaped to their death rather than be captured by the U.S. troops that surrounded them after a sneak attack that took the lives of 50 Apache warriors within minutes.

 

The Legend of Apache Tears is an enduring account of defiance against an enemy that keeps coming. When the wives and children discovered the bodies of their brave men at the bottom of the precipice, the legend states that their tears turned the white earth at their feet into black stones (obsidian) and, henceforth, anyone who acquired any such stones would never have to cry again since so many tears had already been shed by the Apache women on that tragic occasion.

If we stand with our Native American brothers and sisters against the destruction of their sacred sites, we might realize that they are sacred to us as well and then we might be able to arm ourselves with obsidian to begin the hard road back to living in harmony with nature and avert the creation of the Legend of Oak Flat.

Feature photo | A protest camp belonging to protesters in the Oak Flat area of Superior, Ariz. Ross D. Franklin | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Oak Flat: Trump’s Final Middle Finger to the Environment appeared first on MintPress News.

The Trump Administration’s Parting Outrage Against Cuba

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/01/2021 - 3:18am in

On January 11, in his final days before leaving office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added one parting blow to the series of bludgeons his administration has inflicted on Cuba for four years: putting the island on the list of “state sponsors of terror” that includes only Iran, North Korea and Syria. The designation drew swift condemnation from policymakers and humanitarian groups as a decision widely characterized as “politically motivated.” It comes six years after the Obama administration had removed Cuba from the same list as part of his policy of rapprochement. 

In the six years since, Trump’s State Department could not point to a single act of terror sponsored by Cuba. Instead, Secretary Pompeo based his decision on Cuba’s alleged support for the ELN (National Liberation Army – Colombia’s second-largest guerilla group) and the harboring of a handful of U.S. fugitives wanted for crimes committed in the 1970s, including renowned Black revolutionary Assata Shakur. Lacking more specific accusations, the State Department criticized Cuba for its supposed “malign interference in Venezuela and the rest of the Western Hemisphere.”

 

These claims don’t stand up to scrutiny. Regarding the ELN, the gist of the story is that the Trump administration is punishing Cuba for its role in attempting to bring peace to the long-simmering conflict in Colombia. ELN negotiators arrived in Cuba in 2018 for peace talks with the Colombian government. As part of the protocols for these meetings, ELN negotiators were allowed entry into Cuba and promised safe passage back into Colombia after their conclusion. Guarantor countries, including Cuba and Norway, assumed responsibility for their safe return. The talks collapsed in January 2019 following an ELN car bombing in Bogotá that killed 22 people. Colombia requested the extradition of the negotiators, but Cuba refused because the Colombia government will not honor the previous government’s commitment to guaranteeing the negotiators’ freedom upon returning home.

Regarding Secretary Pompeo’s other arguments, Cuba’s main influence in the Western Hemisphere has been the opposite of “malign”: it has deployed its doctors throughout the region and the world, saving thousands of lives during the Covid-19 pandemic. And when it comes to harboring terrorists, it’s worth noting that for decades the United States harbored Luis Posada Carriles, mastermind of a 1973 bombing that killed 73 people on a Cuban commercial airliner. 

Cubans MAGA

Members of the Cuban Los 3 de La Habana, sing during a MAGA event with Ivanka Trump in Miami, Oct. 27, 2020. Wilfredo Lee | AP

Cuba’s placement on the state sponsors of terror list is meant to be a thorn in any plan by the Biden administration for rapprochement. Taking Cuba off the list will require a review process that could take months, delaying any new initiatives to roll back Trump-era policies. It will also cause further pain to Cuba’s economy, already battered by tightened sanctions and the pandemic that has devastated the island’s tourism industry. The new terrorism label will likely scare off many businesses that import to Cuba, banks that finance transactions with Cuba and foreign investors. 

 
“Stunning but not surprising.” 

A week before the designation, nine U.S. Senators wrote to Secretary Pompeo and warned that such a step “will politicize our national security.” It has drawn strong condemnation from Senator Patrick Leahy, who said it made a “mockery of what had been a credible, objective measure,” and House Foreign Affairs Chairman, Representative Gregory Meeks who said the hypocrisy from President Trump less than a week after he incited a domestic terror attack was “stunning but not surprising.” 

Faith group Pastors For Peace was one of many organizations to condemn the designation: “We know that this latest act, in the waning days of the Trump administration, is not only an aggressive act against Cuba, but aggression against the incoming administration who have pledged to return to a policy leading to peace and civilized relations with our island neighbor.”

Policy group ACERE (which CODEPINK is a part of) drew a connection between the designation and recent events at home: “Perpetuating the myth that Cuba is a threat to the American people – while minimizing the threat posed by far-right extremists at home – is an embarrassment to our country on the world stage.”

The real motive behind this move is to offer a parting gift to the Cuban exile community and its allies that have been loyal supporters of the Trump administration and helped oust several Democratic members of Congress in the last election. This is par for the course for an administration that has repeatedly used sanctions for political gain with no regard for the Cuban people who, for four years, have borne the brunt of sanctions affecting everything from energy, tourism, medicines, remittances and flights. Just like millions of U.S. citizens, Cubans are counting the days until the Trump administration becomes history and hoping the next administration will offer some relief.

Feature photo | Wearing a face mask amid the new coronavirus pandemic, a woman carries egg cartons in Old Havana, Cuba, Oct. 27, 2020. Ramon Espinosa | AP

The post The Trump Administration’s Parting Outrage Against Cuba appeared first on MintPress News.

The Hour of the Barbarian

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/01/2021 - 9:18am in


What happened on January 6 was profoundly American, emerging as it did from our long and very specific history. No one did this to us. But despite the geographic confusion, George W. Bush, Jake Tapper, and Meghan McCain correctly identified that nothing like this has happened here for a long time.

As US Sanctions a Starving Yemen, Iran Asks Interpol to Arrest Trump

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/01/2021 - 5:50am in

Outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced yesterday that the United States will be designating Yemen’s Houthi rebels a terrorist organization and increasing sanctions on the already beleaguered nation. 

“The Department of State will notify Congress of my intent to designate Ansarallah – sometimes referred to as the Houthis – as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act,” read an official statement. 

Pompeo acknowledged that “these designations will have an impact on the humanitarian situation” but implied it was a price worth paying in “advancing efforts to achieve a peaceful, sovereign, and united Yemen that is both free from Iranian interference and at peace with its neighbors.” In other words, he was signaling U.S. intent to quash the Houthi rebellion and win the Yemeni Civil War on behalf of Saudi-backed president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. 

The State Department’s decision was immediately condemned by humanitarian organizations. “The Trump administration’s decision to designate the Houthi movement in Yemen as a Foreign Terrorist Organization is both reckless and destructive,” wrote Refugees International. “Coming just days before Trump leaves office, the designation will complicate diplomatic efforts to end the war in Yemen and will disrupt relief efforts for the world’s worst humanitarian crisis…it is difficult to imagine a more irresponsible decision,” they added.

 

The United States has played an oversized role in the conflict, supplying weapons to the Saudi-led coalition. In 2017, the Trump administration announced that it had signed a deal to sell $350 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia alone. In addition to the weaponry, the U.S. has trained much of the Saudi armed forces, providing essential military infrastructure and logistical support, and even refueling Saudi bombers in the air and supplying targeting guidance on the ground.

The Saudi coalition (which includes other Middle Eastern monarchies such as Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates) has targeted civilian buildings for years, with Oxfam calculating that 200 raids — equivalent to one every ten days for the duration of the war — have been carried out against medical and water infrastructure. 

Pompeo continued: “We have expressed our readiness to work with relevant officials at the United Nations, with international and non-governmental organizations, and other international donors to address these implications,” he wrote. Yet, in reality, the U.S. government spent the whole of last year pressuring international bodies like the United Nations to reduce their aid to Yemen in order to conduct a campaign to starve the Houthis into submission. As a result, international aid to the country fell to just 25 cents per person, per day, only about half of what it was in 2019. 

 

This is nowhere near enough. The country topped the list of the International Rescue Committee’s most pressing humanitarian crises of 2021. Around 80% of the population is in need of assistance, with 20.5 million people inside Yemen lacking access to clean water and sanitation. 

Among other reasons, Pompeo’s justification for the sanctions (although he had already been considering the idea for months) was the December 30 terrorist attack at Aden International Airport which left at least 27 people dead and dozens more injured. President Hadi and his new government had been returning from Saudi Arabia, where they had been sworn in, only to return to an airport resembling a war zone. Houthi spokespersons denied responsibility for the incident. They also condemned the State Department’s latest move. “The policy of the Trump administration and its behavior is terrorist,” movement leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said. “We reserve the right to respond to any designation issued by the Trump administration or any administration.”

 

While the Trump administration attempts to punish Yemen, Iran is also trying to appeal to international law to extradite American leaders. Last week, it put out a request to Interpol to arrest Trump and 47 other government officials for their role in the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani in January last year. Unlike the attack in Aden, there is no doubt about the identities of Soleimani’s killers, the Trump administration seemingly proud of its work in “taking out the world’s number one bad guy” as CNBC described him. Interpol immediately denied Iran’s request. 

Another controversial target of Washington’s ire is International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. In retaliation to the Gambian lawyer looking into U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, the Trump administration has levied sanctions against her. “The ICC is corrupt, politicized and incompetent. Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda abused her authority, engaged in corrupt acts for her personal benefit, and wasted millions with malicious prosecution of American personnel,” Pompeo tweeted on Saturday. 

While this response might seem an overreaction, the United States has an active law nicknamed “the Netherlands Invasion Act” which states that if the ICC ever tries to press charges against American officials, the U.S. will invade the Netherlands in retaliation. The legislation was passed by the Bush administration soon after the invasion of Afghanistan to protect himself and his associates from any international legal consequences. 

 

Back to the present, Pompeo concluded by stating that, “Progress in addressing Yemen’s instability can only be made when those responsible for obstructing peace are held accountable for their actions.” Presumably, he was not referring to his own efforts in prolonging and intensifying the conflict. 

Feature photo | A woman holds her malnourished boy at a feeding center at Al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. Hani Mohammed | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post As US Sanctions a Starving Yemen, Iran Asks Interpol to Arrest Trump appeared first on MintPress News.

‘A Game Changer’: Ilan Pappe and Awad Abdelfattah on the One Democratic State Campaign

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/01/2021 - 2:59am in

As the US ruling elites have fully succumbed to Israel’s political discourse on Palestine, the Israeli government of right-wing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may feel that it, alone, is capable of determining the future of the Palestinian people. 

This conclusion is, perhaps, gleaned from Israel’s behavior in recent years and months. The expansion of illegal Jewish settlements, the plan to annex large swathes of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the entrenching of the existing system of apartheid and perpetual colonialism are all evidence that demonstrates Israel’s renewed sense of empowerment. 

Israel is further emboldened by the fact that the so-called ‘international community’ has, thus far, failed to challenge American and Israeli intransigency. The European Union, which is fighting for its own identity, let alone survival, is proving to be a marginal force in Israel and Palestine. Without American guidance, the EU seems incapable of leading its own independent initiatives. 

Moreover, the lack of an alternative global power that could offset the political imbalance created by Washington’s blind and unconditional support for Tel Aviv is making it difficult, if not impossible, for the Palestinian leadership to invest in an entirely new political paradigm. 

Normalization among various Arab countries and Israel has added yet more fuel to the fire. Without official Arab solidarity, the Palestinian leadership, which has historically defended its position based on some kind of a collective Arab vision, now feels orphaned, abandoned.


 

But all is not lost. The dismantling of the US-engendered ‘peace’ paradigm should not automatically indicate that Palestinians are not capable of championing their own political vision for liberation and freedom. On the contrary, the US and its ‘moderate’ allies in the region have always represented an obstacle to Palestinian freedom. For this camp, the objective was maintaining the status quo of endless, futile talks without a timeframe, without a legal frame of reference and without any mechanism that is meant to place any kind of pressure or accountability on the Israeli occupier to bring its military occupation to an end. 

Palestinians and their allies are now engrossed in a process of introspection, revisiting old maxims, challenging tired clichés, and imagining a new future where dead ‘solutions’ are no longer an option and where justice is not tailored to fit the expectations and demands of the occupying party. 

A one democratic state, as envisaged by the Haifa-based One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC) is one of these initiatives that hopes to take the conversation on a possible shared future from being an academic subject to an active political process with actual, measurable support on the ground. This is the only way, according to the group, that the minimal requirements for justice can be achieved. These include the right of return for Palestinian refugees who are still scattered, in their millions, in many refugee camps in Palestine and throughout the ‘shataat’ (diaspora). 

On December 30, we reached out to Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, a well-known author and highly regarded academic and the respected Palestinian political analyst, Mr. Awad Abdelfattah, who is also the coordinator of the ODSC. 

We asked both intellectuals to make a case of why the two-state solution is not a viable answer to the Israeli occupation and apartheid and why a one democratic state is possible and just.

Ilan Pappe on why a two-State Solution was never viable: 

“The two-state solution was never viable. There were times when, maybe, it looked a little more viable for a few weeks after the June 1967 war, when the Jewish settlers came to the West Bank. But it was not viable even then, because it did not fit the basic policy of the Zionist movement since its inception and its arrival in Palestine in the late 19th century. Zionism is a settler-colonial movement and Israel is a settler-colonial state. 

Israel Palestinians

Orthodox Jews take part in a protest against the expansion of Jewish settlements near Salfit, Dec. 3, 2020. Majdi Mohammed | AP

 

“Its support – and this includes what is even called the ‘peace camp’ in Israel – for a two-state solution is an idea that says that you do not have to directly control every part of historical Palestine in order to establish your dominance and hegemony between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean. So, if you can squeeze the Palestinians into small Bantustans and allow them to have a flag and a semblance of a government, there are quite a few Israelis who do not mind at all, so long as this will be the last and final kind of settlement for the Palestine question. Which means no real political rights for the Palestinians, no right of return for the refugees and keeping all Palestinians in different parts of historical Palestine, at best as second-rate citizens, at worst, as subjects in an apartheid state.

“I think the two-state solution was never a viable solution because what really mattered was the Israeli interpretation of the two-state solution. This interpretation was always accepted unconditionally by the United States. Because of this, even the European countries did not dare to challenge this interpretation and, as we have unfortunately seen recently, some Arab regimes are also beginning to accept the Israeli interpretation. For a while, they tried to challenge it in the Arab League’s famous Peace Plan in 2002. This is not being tried any more.

“I think we have only had one option since the creation of the State of Israel, and this was to replace a settler-colonial state with a genuine, democratic state for all.” 

Awad Abdelfattah on why Israel is not serious about peace and why one state is a strategic Palestinian choice: 

“I am a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, one of the survivors of the Nakba, one of the descendants of the people who succeeded in remaining in their homeland. I belong to that group of the Palestinian people who have been struggling peacefully inside the State of Israel against all forms of discrimination and apartheid. Despite that, we have been under continued and systematic colonization. 

“For many years, people (even those who support the Palestinian cause) did not look at Israel as a settler-colonial state. We, Palestinians within the Green Line, have played an important role in exposing the nature of this regime and to show that the occupation in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip is not something separate from the existing Israeli regime. The opposite is true. It is an extension of this regime.

“We have to expose to the world that we, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, are not treated equally and I think we should recognize that Israel is not keen on making any peace with anybody, either Palestinians or the Arab world. If Israel was indeed serious in wanting peace, then it should have made peace with its own non-Jewish citizens (this is the term that Israel uses to describe us). So, I think we can have a strategic role in promoting the ‘One Democratic State’.

“The apartheid regime cannot be sustainable. I think Israel is behaving like the Crusaders in Palestine. It will never be sustainable. I do not say that this is going to happen soon, but I do not think that this unjust and cruel apartheid regime can be sustained, because half of the Palestinian people are still in their homeland and they are determined to resist, not to surrender, despite the grim reality that they are living.”


 

Ilan Pappe on why one state is gaining momentum among Palestinian youth: 

“There is a big difference between the opinion of the younger generations and the older generations when it comes to the one-state solution. When you ask the older generation, the despair from the two-state solution as a feasible idea is, indeed, the main motive for rejecting the two-state solution. However, if you go to the younger generation (and do remember that more than 50% of Palestinians are under 18; it is a very young population) their belief in the one-state is based on a certain moral, ideological infrastructure. It is not just about despairing over the two-state solution; it is the genuine belief that post-liberation, Palestine should be a place where they would like to live.

“It is not just a dream of having another Arab state, like Egypt. We have to remember that they are also part of the Arab Spring generation, so the aspirations here are not just about national independence. This is far more than just having a one-state because the two-state does not work. This is really a genuine idea that we need to respect human rights and civil rights and, in the case of Palestine, the rights are very clear – from the right of return for the refugees to the making sure that Palestine is part of the Arab world and the Muslim world; making sure that within that world, Palestine can be a lighthouse when it comes to human rights and civil rights.

“I think this is why the topic is never limited to Palestine, geographically or morally. We have seen this during the demonstrations in the Arab world at the time of the Arab Spring. So many demonstrators from Morocco to Bahrain were carrying the Palestinian flag because of what it symbolizes to them, even in their own country.

“I think that despair comes more from political elites. Yes, they are right in their own analysis, that their belief in the two-state solution was, in a way, betrayed by the Israelis and the international community.  There is no doubt about it, but I think that the main push for the one-state solution will come from a popular movement with a lot of young people in it, building their own future, not just the future of the present leadership who, I think, will join, whether it is because they are desperate or because they will be loyal to ideas that they themselves once believed in – and they should remember – in the 1960s and 70s.

“So I think there is good potential for support on the Palestinian side for this idea. The question is whether there will be an organization that will democratically and authentically represent the symbols. Because if this will happen, I think it is a game-changer which will force everyone in the region – and in the world – to look very differently at the Palestine Question.”

(To watch the interview in full click here)

Feature photo | The West Bank Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit rises in the background while a protestor waves a Palestinian flag in front of Israeli troops during a protest against Israel’s apartheid wall in the West Bank village of Bilin. Majdi Mohammed | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

Romana Rubeo is an Italian writer and the managing editor of The Palestine Chronicle. Her articles appeared in many online newspapers and academic journals. She holds a Master’s Degree in Foreign Languages and Literature and specializes in audio-visual and journalism translation.

The post ‘A Game Changer’: Ilan Pappe and Awad Abdelfattah on the One Democratic State Campaign appeared first on MintPress News.

A Manufactured Crisis: How Saudi Arabia Uses Oil to Bring Yemen to its Knees

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 09/01/2021 - 7:03am in

HODEIDA, YEMEN — Yemen’s oil is in thrall to a complex, intertwined network of elites that control the smuggling of fuel imports and new, thriving black markets. Starving Yemen of petroleum products has always been a conspicuous feature of Saudi Arabia’s nearly six-year-long war on the country, however, the most recent blockade is significantly more extensive than previous ones and comes at a time when a pandemic, diseases, and hunger are spreading rapidly across the country. The most recent byproducts of that blockade: the spread of schistosomiasis, a faltering economy in areas outside of Saudi control, and a dangerous new black market.

Known colloquially as snail fever, schistosomiasis is a rare disease caused by flatworms that thrive in untreated water, something now abundant in Yemen as the diesel fuel needed to power many of the country’s water treatment facilities, especially those in rural areas far removed from any electric grid, has dried up amid the blockade.

In a remote village in the Al-Marawa’ah district, Khalid Abdu looks at his thin daughter, 12-year-old Jamilah, with heartbreak as she lies still in the family’s hut. Jamilah is suffering from abdominal pain, diarrhea, and blood in her stool. Khalid said she has worms in her stomach, now distended and bloated in stark contrast to her otherwise meager frame. Jamilah was later diagnosed with schistosomiasis according to her family, leaving her with just three to ten more years of life if she doesn’t receive proper medical care, a luxury in her war-torn country.

Yemen Famine

Hammadi Issa | AP

Near the family’s hut, hobbled together from a hodgepodge of mud, bamboo sticks, thatch, and reed, sits an old Toyota Hilux, its low tires and thin coating of dust a testament to the fact that it hasn’t moved for weeks. Khalid blames the lack of fuel for the family’s endless problems. “I can’t drive my daughter to the hospital in Aden or bring water to my family, even the treatment plant that I used to go to is closed because there is no diesel,” he said. “Now, we drink, wash our clothes and cooking utensils, and do everything using that old well.” You see the result,” he said, pointing to Jamilah.

 

Another grim milestone

As the war in Yemen closes in on yet another grim milestone, the end of its sixth year in March, oil-rich U.S. ally Saudi Arabia continues to prevent oil tankers from delivering much-needed fuel to hospitals, water pumping stations, bakeries, cleaning trucks, and gas stations, plunging the entire nation into an unending fuel crisis.

The CEO of Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC), Ammar Al-Adrai, told MintPress that at least nine tankers have been trapped in Saudi Arabia’s Jizan Port, which sits on the Kingdom’s western seaboard painfully close to the Yemeni border. The tankers, Al-Adrai says, have been held despite being checked and issued permits by both the Saudi-led Coalition and the United Nations. He confirmed that the vessels are loaded with oil derivatives and that some of them have been detained for over nine months, leading to the suspension of more than 50% of the operational capabilities in the service, health, industrial and commercial sectors. 

That lack of fuel has caused an acute shortage of even the most basic goods. Khalid told MintPress that “the price of fruits, vegetables, and medicine is skyrocketing and my farm is defenseless against desertification.” Like many farmers, Khalid, who like his daughter Jamilah shows symptoms of malnutrition, is unable to power the pumps needed to irrigate his fields, leaving him unable to grow his own food with which to feed his family and the desert sands encroaching on his now derelict fields. At least 80% of Yemen’s 28 million-strong population is reliant on food aid to survive in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and the decimation of the remaining agricultural sector is likely to increase that figure.

“The [Yemeni] government is indifferent and apathetic to the suffering of citizens, even in areas under their control,” Khalid said, accusing the Saudi-backed government of Aden of deliberately compounding the suffering through the proliferation of the black market. “Fuel shortages in the northern provinces are caused by the blockade, but in Aden, we don’t understand what’s going on.”

 

A manufactured oil crisis

By manufacturing an oil crisis in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is able to foment political chaos in the country and stir up popular discontent against domestic oil companies, many of which are run by the Houthi-led resistance. As a sort of grim bonus, the manufactured oil shortages also to incapacitate the Houthi-run port of Hodeida, increasing poverty and unemployment rates and siphoning cash out of the market, according to the Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC). 

YPC released a statement placing the estimated economic damage caused by Saudi Arabia’s refusal to allow tankers to unload their cargo at billions of U.S. dollars. The company also said that demurrage fees are now at an unprecedented level of nearly $107 million and that Saudi forces have illegally impounded 72 Yemen-bound oil tankers last year, resulting in an approximately 45% drop in the amount of desperately-needed fuel shipments arriving at Yemeni ports. 

The fuel blockade has not only forced thousands of Yemenis to wait for days in lines as far as the eye can see, but it has also left water pumps and treatment plants, and hospital generators without fuel. Most drinking water, particularly in rural areas, is extracted using diesel-powered pumps, while the country’s sizable refugee population survives on water brought in by diesel-powered trucks.

Yemen Fuel Feature photo

Hani Mohammed | AP

Food imports which generally arrive via one of the country’s ports are processed and packaged at diesel-fuel-powered facilities, factories in Hodeida or Aden before being transported across the country or sold locally.

Outside of the country’s coastal cities where more than 60% of the population resides, freight is transported by road leaving remote communities at the mercy of trucks that must traverse roads pockmarked and damaged by airstrikes. The few who are willing to undertake the dangerous journey must contend with the high price and scant availability of fuel, pushing the price and availability of even the most basic commodities – food, water, and medicines – through the roof.

 

A thriving black market is born

The oil crisis in Yemen certainly isn’t new, but it has been growing worse recently amid a black market boom which is adding to the already miserable quality of life for Yemenis. The Saudi government is flooding southern areas of Yemen under its control with cheap fuel, exacerbating regional tensions and creating an ideal environment for black market petroleum products to boom. The stark disparity between the availability of fuel in Saudi-controlled areas versus areas under Houthi control is also causing predictable economic damage to the ladder, which is unable to compete amid the Saudi-imposed blockade. 

Despite the suffocating siege on the country, petrol products are sold illegally on roadsides, streets, and isolated areas in the south and north of the country alike, often at double the official price with prices in some areas reach 11,000 riyals for 20 liters. These black market petrol products are mixed with water and other materials and enter from Saudi-controlled ports in Aden port and border crossings such as Al-Wadiah outlet, Al-Shahr, and the rich-oil Marib province.

Yemen’s oil is now in large part controlled by a complex network of corrupt officials that control smuggling routes, imports, and black market sales. Many members of these elite groups are also key allies of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. They not only plunder wealth and destroy the economy, but they put people’s lives and property in danger. People are now forced to seek their fuel from shady black market dealers and store fuel in their homes to get them through tough times. Smuggled petroleum products are sold in residential areas and unlicensed storefronts that do not meet security and safety standards and exacerbate the human cost of the crisis.

The crisis is set amid a backdrop of theft of Yemen’s own of crude oil by the Coalition and Saudi-backed militants, a daily occurrence in the Mari and Shabwa Blocks. Recently, Saudi Arabia brought in heavy drilling equipment made to deepen existing oil wells in Hadramout aimed at increasing the rate of oil extraction there.

The effect of the blockade on Yemen is acute, even when compared to countries that are reeling from U.S. sanctions such as Iran, Syria, and Venezuela, where fuel somehow manages to find its way to citizens. Yemen, though, is completely at the mercy of Saudi Arabia, forcing the  Houthi-backed Yemeni Army to step up their oil war against the Kingdom in the Red Sea and putting sensitive oil facilities deep inside Saudi territory at risk of being targeted as they have been in recent years according to the prominent field commander, Major General Yusef al-Madani, the Commander of the Fifth Military Region, the region responsible for Yemeni coasts and territorial waters.

Feature photo | Workers use a water hose to put down a fire at a vehicle oil store hit by Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, July 2, 2020. Hani Mohammed | AP

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post A Manufactured Crisis: How Saudi Arabia Uses Oil to Bring Yemen to its Knees appeared first on MintPress News.

While Railing Against Trump Coup, Biden Appoints Chief Ukraine Coup-Plotter Victoria Nuland

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 09/01/2021 - 5:15am in

Describing it as “one of the darkest days in American history,” President-elect Joe Biden denounced Wednesday’s spectacular assault on the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. as a coup attempt fomented by Donald Trump. 

“I wish we could say we couldn’t see it coming, but that isn’t true. We could see it coming,” the 78-year-old Delawarean said. 

The last four years we’ve had a president who’s made his contempt for our democracy, our Constitution, the rule of law, clear in everything he has done. He unleashed an all-out assault on the institutions of our democracy from the outset, and yesterday was but a culmination … of that attack.”

“This is not dissent, it’s disorder. It’s chaos,” he added, calling the events an “unprecedented assault” on the very fabric of U.S. democracy.

Yet, almost at the same time as the future president was denouncing Trump’s coup attempt, he was appointing Victoria Nuland — the driving force behind the 2014 insurrection that overthrew the Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych — as his new Under Secretary for Political Affairs. 

The United States and NATO had been making overtures to Ukraine for some time before the coup, hoping that the country would become the latest post-Soviet state to fall into their fold as they continued to expand eastwards. Yanukovych, however, was in favor of steering Ukraine in a more Russia-friendly direction. The decision spurred demonstrations across the country from pro-E.U. forces. The Obama administration immediately sensed an opportunity, sending Nuland across the world to lead and support the movement, the senior diplomat rallying protestors, and was even photographed handing out cookies in the streets. 

Victoria Nuland Ukraine

Victoria Nuland, right, offers cookies to pro-EU protesters in Independence Square in Kiev, Dec. 11, 2013. Andrew Kravchenko | AP

While in the West, the revolt was presented as being led by tech-savvy, forward-thinking students. In reality, most of the muscle was supplied by neo-Nazi militias who helped force through Yanukovych’s downfall and continue to hold an oversized role in Ukrainian politics and society. In December, the United States and Ukraine were the only two nations to vote against a United Nations measure (passed 130-2), “combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance.” This was done as they felt the resolution could be used to target the Ukrainian government and the U.S.’ continued funding of it. Leaked phone calls show that Nuland and American Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt had long conversations about who should make up the post-coup government. 

The events of early 2014 spooked Russia so badly that it flew troops into Crimea to annex the territory. The affair led to increasing tensions between the U.S., Ukraine, and Russia, and almost led to a hot war between the two nuclear-armed countries. In the end, President Obama refused to escalate tensions to that point, angering many in Washington. 

Among them, seemingly, was Nuland, who promises to again be a Russia Hawk. As Politico wrote this week, she has been an “outspoken critic of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy — particularly his appeasement of Russian President Vladimir Putin.” In reality, however, Trump was extremely bellicose with Moscow, sanctioning the country, bombing a Russian base in Syria, and letting a number of anti-nuclear treaties expire, much to the Kremlin’s consternation. 

 

Biden’s regime change agenda

While vice-president, Biden’s administration also oversaw the 2009 overthrow of the democratically-elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, aiding in his ouster and replacement with a brutal military dictatorship that continues to rule the country to this day. In her memoir, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boasted that she helped “render the question of Zelaya moot.” She did so by blocking action from regional bodies like the Organization of American States.

Wednesday’s events also resemble a number of other U.S.-planned coup d’etats, including that of Venezuela in 2002. With help from the American embassy in Caracas, right-wing and far-right forces marched on the Miraflores presidential palace, joining up with sympathetic military units to storm the building and capture President Hugo Chavez. In the melee, dozens of people were killed and Chavez was overthrown, replaced by a well-known businessman with no political experience. The White House immediately welcomed what it euphemistically called a “change in the government.” (Two days later, the coup was reversed by a huge popular uprising). 

In 2018 MintPress reported that many American far-right and white nationalist groups were receiving training from precisely the same Ukrainian neo-Nazis that the U.S. government had tutored. Those far-right groups were out in force at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA in 2017, where they killed a counter-protester. Thus, it is eminently possible that many of those storming the Capitol Building on Wednesday were taught insurrectionary tactics from individuals trained to do so on behalf of the U.S. empire abroad, a classic case of blowback, and an event that allows Americans to experience a tiny taste of what it has wrought on the world for several decades. 

Feature photo | Victoria Nuland, center, watches cadets of the Ukrainian police academy receiving training from American policemen in Kiev, Ukraine, May 16, 2015. Sergei Chuzavkov | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post While Railing Against Trump Coup, Biden Appoints Chief Ukraine Coup-Plotter Victoria Nuland appeared first on MintPress News.

Journalists, Activists Condemn UK Decision to Keep Assange Locked Up without Charge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/01/2021 - 3:41am in

A United Kingdom court has ruled that Wikileaks cofounder Julian Assange must remain in prison, despite an earlier ruling that he could not be extradited to the United States.

Explaining her decision, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said that, “As far as Mr. Assange is concerned, this case has not been won,” adding that the United States must be allowed to appeal her earlier decision. Part of the ruling was based upon her assessment of the Australian publisher being a serious flight risk if released, noting he had “huge support networks” that could help him “should he again choose to go to ground.”

The court’s decision was immediately panned by journalists and press freedom organizations who had hoped to see Assange released today, after seven years in prison and hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. “To us, that is nothing more than a pretext to keep him detained. This seems unnecessarily punitive and adding insult to injury after the 10 years of hell that he has endured…We are deeply disappointed with today’s decision,” said Rebecca Vincent, Reporters Without Borders’ Director of International Campaigns, outside the courtroom.

Vincent had been denied entry to the courtroom today, as had some of Assange’s relatives. She had also faced questioning and harassment from police, who used their new powers under the U.K.’s lockdown law to break up pro-Assange demonstrations, even arresting a 92-year-old man.

Julian Assange

Police arrest an Assange supporter outside the Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Jan. 6, 2021. Matt Dunham | AP

Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald QC, expressed his disappointment at the news that his client would be heading back to Belmarsh prison in south London. “The logical outcome of the ruling would be he regains liberty at least conditionally,” he stated.

Assange’s colleagues in [alternative] media were also quick to condemn Baraitser’s ruling. “The judge’s decision against bailing Assange only fuels the theory that this prosecution is about keeping a publisher who the U.S. government despises tied up and in limbo so he cannot effectively challenge them ever again,” said Kevin Gosztola, “This is absolutely outrageous for the judge to deny Assange bail and to claim that Belmarsh is doing a fine job of handling COVID, even while London is on lockdown.”

“There are no charges pending against Julian Assange in the U.K. A U.K. judge denied the U.S.’s request to extradite him, the only place where charges are pending. Despite this, the judge just ruled he must remain imprisoned — in a COVID-ridden high-security prison — while the U.S. appeals,” added Glenn Greenwald. “This shows how authoritarian the British judiciary is. The only thing the U.S. cares about is keeping Assange in a cage, silenced and disappeared. This gives them the best of all worlds: he stays in prison, with no need to prove he’s guilty of anything. That’s despotic.”

A particularly high-security prison, H.M.P. Belmarsh is generally considered the U.K.’s most notorious jail, taking in prisoners from around the country that other prisons cannot handle. The government’s 2019 report on conditions inside the facility noted it was overrun with 120 violent gangs and that there were 161 recorded inmate assaults on staff. After a COVID-19 outbreak this year, inmates have been largely locked down in their cells, typically for 23 hours a day.

On Monday, Baraitser ruled that Assange would not be sent to the United States as she was not convinced that the U.S. prison system could guarantee he would not commit suicide while incarcerated. The publisher faced up to 175 years in prison for his alleged breach of the Espionage Act of 1917 while receiving classified information from U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning. However, she sided with the United States on both their assertions and the legality of their claims, setting a precedent that some called a “chilling” ruling for investigative journalism.

Wikileaks disseminated Manning’s information, which came to be known as the Iraq War Logs. Perhaps the most explosive revelation was a recording of a U.S. helicopter attack on central Baghdad in July 2007. The video shows American personnel massacring at least a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in cold blood. The images went viral on social media and showed a completely different side to the occupation than the carefully sanitized one the U.S. military had been fastidiously curating.

From 2013 to 2019, Assange was confined to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, unable to travel to the country that had offered him political asylum. However, keen to curry favor with Washington, new president Lenin Moreno allowed British authorities to enter the building and arrest him. Since then, he has been housed in Belmarsh. This new ruling prolongs his stay. But if the appeal is unsuccessful, the U.K. will no longer have any legal argument to keep him interned. Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Australian.

Feature photo | Wikileaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson, at center, speaks to the media outside the Westminster Magistrates Court after Julian Assange was denied bail at a hearing in the court, in London, Jan. 6, 2021. Matt Dunham | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Journalists, Activists Condemn UK Decision to Keep Assange Locked Up without Charge appeared first on MintPress News.

The Legacy of General Qassem Soleimani: A Woman’s Perspective

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/01/2021 - 4:57am in

In a recent interview with RT, Zeinab Soleimani, the daughter of late Iranian General, Qasem Soleiman said that “After killing my father, America thought that everything would be stopped because they killed General Soleimani, the power of the Middle East. But they are so wrong… They are so wrong in thinking this will be the end of General Soleimani, this is the beginning.”

After General Soleimani’s assassination, it was exceptional that a foreign media outlet would take into consideration the perspective of Soleimani’s female family members and supporters. Women are generally underrepresented in peace and conflict literature worldwide. However, the intentional ignorance of women’s voices in West Asia, both by Western observers and their male counterparts within the region, is even worse.

The arduous task of defining Soleimani’s character, mission, and strategies has taken up the interest of his foes and supporters alike. Americans call him “an agent of chaos,” or a man of the “shadows.” However, it was inevitable that they’d appreciate him as a “unique” figure, one who has no counterpart abroad in terms of his experience, capability, and absolute trust in his leader. As Michael Knights from The Washington Institute denotes, they don’t “have anyone like him in the U.S.”

Simultaneously, his vast stretch of influence and “unparalleled” military and intelligence power in the region was not an easy pill to swallow by those in the same anti-American camp. The Russians’ concern regarding the consequences of U.S. actions which “aggravate the situation in the region” or his “killing” to be “completely devoid of any legal basis” were instances of a maximum negative reaction by an ally who still refuses to call Iran a strategic partner, despite their rewarding collaboration.

The exceptional position of General Soleimani for Iranians, though, resides in a distinct realm of thought, contesting the normal military essentials or power constructs. This implies a “strong objectivity” that is taken here from the unheard voice of women whose husbands were serving in the Quds Force or were “martyred” as volunteers in the transnational battles of Syria and Iraq.

 

The “dividing line between vice and virtue”

The wives of Múdafeīn Haram, known colloquially as the Holy Shrine Defenders, a term recently coined to recognize the resistance fronts fighting in Syria and Iraq, identify Qasem Soleimani as the “definite dividing line between vice and virtue,” says Zahra, whose husband was serving with the Quds Force and was martyred in Syria in 2014.

“General Soleimani was a real strategist. Nevertheless, what makes us honored to serve him was not his indisputable military capability alone.” Having lost her spouse in 2015 in Iraq, Mina puts it thusly: “I sincerely aspire to sacrifice myself and my children, like their father, on Soleimani’s path of defending human dignity. He could not tolerate American-backed terrorists butchering innocent women and children in deadly conditions, forcing indignity upon them.”

Qassem Soleimani poster

A woman holds a poster of Soleimani, right, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, during a commemoration of their murder in Najaf, Jan. 2021. Anmar Khalil | AP

They’re recalling of the sweet memories of their relationships encouraged me to ask them about the legitimacy and necessity of their husbands to leave for combat on the frontlines of distant battlefields. One widower named Maryam swiftly replied that her husband was a volunteer when he fought in Syria, driven by his personal vision, and frequently confirming that by not deterring the terrorists abroad, it wouldn’t be long before Iran would have to fight them within its own borders. She argued that her husband, who lost his life in Syria as an experienced veteran and expert of geopolitics just one day before his birthday, was “determined to sacrifice for the elimination of ISIS, which was created by Americans, according to their own confessions, and backed by Israel in order to globalize Islamophobia, intimidation, and terror.”

“A big shock,” “an overwhelming sense of being crushed,” “startled, my back broken”: these are some of the interviewees’ remarks on getting the news of Soleimani’s assassination. Soon, though, they changed their tone, restoring their strength and confidence, referring to the “severe revenge” that Ayatollah Khamenei promised, which “awaits the criminals who have stained their hands with [General Soleimani’s] and the other martyrs’ blood.”

 

A legacy set in stone

The legacy of Soleimani within Iran is set in stone, and the Quds Force has prevailed in the region with an array of allies and volunteers from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria. However, as Zahra suggests, Trump’s rash policies order and the Americans’ reckless act of war and terror will not remain unanswered. She recalls the American press assessing Soleimani’s assassination to be similar to a Class A crime, such as the killing of the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the Director of the CIA. In her eyes, though, “even its assumption is rejected since for all people of rationality and freedom (or Ahrar, meaning those free from the constraints of wealth and power), be they Muslim or non-Muslim, ‘Qasem Soleimani’s shoe is worth more than Trump’s head,” she said, quoting the Secretary-General of Hezbollah.

Christian Hezbollah supporter

A Christian Hezbollah supporter holds a photo of Soleimani and others during a ceremony to mark his assassination in Beirut, Feb. 2020. Hassan Ammar | AP

“A new consciousness,” “a new discourse” has been created among our youth, Maryam To concluded, a suggestion which received the consensus of her other colleagues, “that no American soldier or facility in the region would be left safe and secure.” To “end U.S. presence in the region,” as Ayatollah Khamenei said, has become the subject of our children’s theses at universities, the subject of their art, and the objective of their activism. “This is not the end. This is the beginning” the interviewees stress.

Feature photo | A person hold a photo of slain Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani during a ceremony marking the anniversary of his assassination in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Feb. 16, 2020. Hassan Ammar | AP

Zohreh Kharazmi is an assistant professor in the American Studies Department at the University of Tehran.

The post The Legacy of General Qassem Soleimani: A Woman’s Perspective appeared first on MintPress News.

Chris Hedges: The Empire is Not Done with Julian Assange

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 8:16am in

Princeton, New Jersey (Scheerpost) — As is clear from the memoir of one of his attorneys, Michael Ratner, the ends have always justified the means for those demanding his global persecution.

Shortly after WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs in October 2010, which documented numerous US war crimes — including video images of the gunning down of two Reuters journalists and 10 other unarmed civilians in the Collateral Murder video, the routine torture of Iraqi prisoners, the covering up of thousands of civilian deaths and the killing of nearly 700 civilians that had approached too closely to US checkpoints — the towering civil rights attorneys Michael Ratner and Len Weinglass, who had defended Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers case, met Julian Assange in a studio apartment in Central London, according to Ratner’s newly released memoir “Moving the Bar”.

Assange had just returned to London from Sweden where he had attempted to create the legal framework to protect WikiLeaks’ servers in Sweden.  Shortly after his arrival in Stockholm, his personal bank cards were blocked.  He had no access to funds and was dependent on supporters.  Two of these supporters were women with whom he had consensual sex.  As he was preparing to leave, the Swedish media announced that he was wanted for questioning about allegations of rape. The women, who never accused Assange of rape, wanted him to take an STD test.  They had approached the police about compelling him to comply. “I did not want to put any charges on Julian Assange,” texted one of them on August 20 while she was still at the police station, but “the police were keen on getting their hands on him.” She said she felt “railroaded by the police.” Within 24 hours the chief prosecutor of Stockholm took over the preliminary investigation.  He dropped the rape accusation, stating “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” Assange, although not charged with a crime, cancelled his departure and remained in Sweden for another five weeks to cooperate with the investigation.  A special prosecutor, Marianne Ny, was appointed to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct.  Assange was granted permission to leave the country.  He flew to Berlin.  When Assange arrived in Berlin three encrypted laptops with documents detailing US war crimes had disappeared from his luggage.

“We consider the Swedish allegations a distraction,” Ratner told Assange, according to his memoir. “We’ve read the police reports, and we believe the authorities don’t have a case. We’re here because in our view you are in much more jeopardy in the US Len [Weinglass] can explain why.”

Assange, Ratner recalled, remained silent.

“WikiLeaks and you personally are facing a battle that is both legal and political,” Weinglass told Assange. “As we learned in the Pentagon Papers case, the US government doesn’t like the truth coming out. And it doesn’t like to be humiliated. No matter if it’s Nixon or Bush or Obama, Republican or Democrat in the White House. The US government will try to stop you from publishing its ugly secrets. And if they have to destroy you and the First Amendment and the rights of publishers with you, they are willing to do it. We believe they are going to come after WikiLeaks and you, Julian, as the publisher.”

“Come after me for what?” asked Julian.

“Espionage,” Weinglass continued, according to the memoir. “They’re going to charge Bradley Manning with treason under the Espionage Act of 1917. We don’t think it applies to him because he’s a whistleblower, not a spy. And we don’t think it applies to you either because you are a publisher. But they are going to try to force Manning into implicating you as his collaborator. That’s why it’s crucial that WikiLeaks and you personally have an American criminal lawyer to represent you.”

Ratner and Weinglass laid out potential scenarios.

“The way it could happen,” Ratner said, “is that the Justice Department could convene a secret grand jury to investigate possible charges against you. It would probably be in northern Virginia, where everyone on the jury would be a current or retired CIA employee or have worked for some other part of the military-industrial complex. They would be hostile to anyone like you who’d published US government secrets. The grand jury could come up with a sealed indictment, issue a warrant for your arrest, and request extradition.”

“What happens if they extradite me?” asked Julian.

“They fly you to where the indictment is issued,” Weinglass told Assange. “Then they put you into some hellhole in solitary, and you get treated like Bradley Manning. They put you under what they call special administrative measures, which means you probably would not be allowed communication with anyone. Maybe your lawyer could go in and talk to you, but the lawyer couldn’t say anything to the press.”

“And it’s very, very unlikely that they would give you bail,” Ratner added.

“Is it easier to extradite from the UK or from Sweden?” asked Sarah Harrison, who was at the meeting.

“We don’t know the answer to that,” Ratner replied. “My guess is that you would probably have the most support and the best legal team in a bigger country like the UK In a smaller country like Sweden, the US can use its power to pressure the government, so it would be easier to extradite you from there. But we need to consult with a lawyer who specializes in extradition.”

Assange’s British lawyer, also at the meeting, proposed that Assange return to Sweden for further questioning.

“I don’t think that’s wise,” Weinglass said, “unless the Swedish government guarantees that Julian will not be extradited to another country because of his publishing work.”

“The problem is that Sweden doesn’t have bail,” Ratner explained. “If they put you in jail in Stockholm and the US pressures the government to extradite you, Sweden might send you immediately to the US and you’d never see the light of day again. It’s far less risky to ask the Swedish prosecutor to question you in London.”

Moving the Bar Social cards2

Book cover illustration for Ratner’s memoir. To order, click here

The US government’s determination to extradite Assange and imprison him for life, despite the fact that Assange is not a US citizen and WikiLeaks is not a US based publication, Ratner understood from the start, will be unwavering and relentless.

In the 132-page ruling (pdf) issued today in London by Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court the court refused to grant an extradition request only because of the barbarity of the conditions under which Assange would be held while imprisoned in the US.

“Faced with the conditions of near total isolation without the protective factors which limited his risk at [Her Majesty’s Prison] Belmarsh, I am satisfied the procedures described by the US will not prevent Mr. Assange from finding a way to commit suicide,” said Baraitser, “and for this reason I have decided extradition would be oppressive by reason of mental harm and I order his discharge.”

Assange is charged with violating 17 counts of the Espionage Act, along with an attempt to hack into a government computer.  Each of the 17 counts carries a potential sentence of 10 years. The additional charge that Assange conspired to hack into a government computer has a maximum sentence of five years. The judge ominously accepted all of the charges leveled by US prosecutors against Assange — that he violated the Espionage Act by releasing classified information and was complicit in assisting his source, Chelsea Manning, in the hacking of a government computer. It is a very, very dangerous ruling for the media. And if, on appeal, and the US has already said it would appeal, the higher court is assured that Assange will be held in humane conditions, it paves the way for his extradition.

The publication of classified documents is not yet a crime in the United States. If Assange is extradited and convicted, it will become one. The extradition of Assange would mean the end of journalistic investigations into the inner workings of power. It would cement into place a terrifying global, corporate tyranny under which borders, nationality and law mean nothing. Once such a legal precedent is set, any publication that publishes classified material, from The New York Times to an alternative website, will be prosecuted and silenced.

Assange has done more than any contemporary journalist or publisher to expose the inner workings of empire and the lies and crimes of the US ruling elite.  The deep animus towards Assange, as fierce within the Democratic Party as the Republican Party, and the cowardice of the media and watchdog groups such as PEN to defend him, mean that all he has left are courageous attorneys, such as Ratner, activists, who protested outside the court, and those few voices of conscience willing to become pariahs in his defense.

(Ratner’s memoir, which is a profile in courage of the many dissidents, including Assange, he valiantly defended, is also a profile of courage of one of the greatest civil rights attorneys of our era. There are few people I respect more than Michael Ratner, who I accompanied to visit Assange when he was trapped in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. His memoir is not only about his lifelong fight against racial injustice, a rising corporate totalitarianism, and the crimes of empire, but is a sterling example of what it means to live the moral life.)

Assange earned the eternal enmity of the Democratic Party establishment by publishing 70,000 hacked emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and senior Democratic officials. The emails were copied from the accounts of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. The Podesta emails exposed the donation of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and identified both nations as major funders of Islamic State [ISIL/ISIS]. It exposed the $657,000 that Goldman Sachs paid to Hillary Clinton to give talks, a sum so large it can only be considered a bribe. They exposed Clinton’s repeated mendacity. She was caught in the emails, for example, telling the financial elites that she wanted “open trade and open borders” and believed Wall Street executives were best positioned to manage the economy, a statement that contradicted her campaign statements. It exposed the Clinton campaign’s efforts to influence the Republican primaries to ensure that Donald Trump was the Republican nominee. They exposed Clinton’s advance knowledge of questions in a primary debate. They exposed Clinton as the principal architect of the war in Libya, a war she believed would burnish her credentials as a presidential candidate.

The Democratic Party, which routinely blames Russia for its election loss to Trump, charges that the Podesta emails were obtained by Russian government hackers. Hillary Clinton has called WikiLeaks a Russian front. James Comey, the former FBI director, however, conceded that the emails were probably delivered to WikiLeaks by an intermediary, and Assange has said the emails were not provided by “state actors.”

Journalists can argue that this information, like the war logs, should have remained hidden, but they can’t then call themselves journalists.

A few weeks after Ratner’s first meeting with Assange, WikiLeaks published 220 documents from Cablegate, the US State Department classified cables that Chelsea Manning had provided to WikiLeaks. The cables had been sent to the State Department from US diplomatic missions, consulates, and embassies around the globe. The 251,287 cables dated from December 1966 to February 2010. The release dominated the news and filled the pages of The New York Times, the Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El País.

“The extent and importance of the Cablegate revelations took my breath away,” Ratner, who died in 2016, wrote in his memoir. “They pulled back the curtain and revealed how American foreign policy functions behind-the-scenes, manipulating events all over the globe. They also provided access to US diplomats’ raw, frank, and often embarrassing assessments of foreign leaders. Some of the most stunning revelations:

  • In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered US diplomats to spy on UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other UN representatives from China, France, Russia, and the UK. The information she asked for included DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, and personal passwords. US and British diplomats also eavesdropped on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the weeks before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
  • The US has been secretly launching missile, bomb, and drone attacks on terrorist targets in Yemen, killing civilians. But to protect the US, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told Gen. David Petraeus, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.”
  • Saudi King Abdullah repeatedly urged the US to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities to “cut off the head of the snake.” Other leaders from Israel, Jordan, and Bahrain also urged the US to attack Iran.
  • The White House and Secretary of State Clinton refused to condemn the June 2009 military coup in Honduras that overthrew elected President Manuel Zelaya, ignoring a cable from the US embassy there that described the coup as “illegal and unconstitutional.” Instead of calling for the restoration of Zelaya, the US supported elections orchestrated by the coup’s leader, Roberto Micheletti. Opposition leaders and international observers boycotted those elections.
  • Employees of a US government contractor in Afghanistan, DynCorp, hired “dancing boys” — a euphemism for child prostitutes — to be used as sex slaves.
  • In various cables, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is called “an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to report even the most bizarre stories or plots against him.” Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and her husband Néstor Kirchner, the former president, are described as “paranoid.” President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is described as “thin-skinned” and “authoritarian.” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is called “feckless, vain, and ineffective.”
  • Perhaps most important, the cables said that Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had “lost touch with the Tunisian people” and described “high-level corruption, a sclerotic regime, and deep hatred of . . . Ben Ali’s wife and her family.” These revelations led to the eventual overthrow of the regime in Tunisia. The Tunisian protests spread like wildfire to other countries of the Middle East, resulting in the widespread revolts of the Arab Spring of 2011.

Secretary of State Clinton said after the release of the cables, “Disclosures like these tear at the fabric of the proper functioning of responsible government.” Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department was conducting “an active, ongoing criminal investigation into WikiLeaks.” Then US Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) called WikiLeaks “a terrorist organization.” Former GOP Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called for WikiLeaks to be shut down and Assange treated as “an enemy combatant who’s engaged in information warfare against the United States.”

“For those who ran the American empire, the truth hurt,” Ratner writes. “For the rest of us, it was liberating. With the 2010 release of the Collateral Murder video, the Afghan War Logs, the Iraq War Logs, and Cablegate, WikiLeaks went far beyond traditional investigative reporting. It proved that in the new digital world, full transparency was not only possible, but necessary in order to hold governments accountable for their actions.”

“On November 30, 2010, two days after the initial release of Cablegate, Sweden issued an Interpol ‘Red Alert Notice’ normally used to warn about terrorists,” Ratner goes on. “It also issued a European Arrest Warrant seeking Assange’s extradition to Sweden. Since he was wanted only for questioning about the sexual misconduct allegations, it seemed clear from the timing and severity of the warrant that the US had successfully pressured the Swedes.”

The efforts to extradite Assange intensified.  He was held for ten days in solitary confinement at Wandsworth Prison before being released on bail of 340,000 pounds.  He spent 551 days under house arrest, forced to wear an electronic anklet and check in with police twice a day. Visa, Mastercard, Bank of America, and Western Union refused to process donations to WikiLeaks.

“It became virtually impossible for anyone to donate to WikiLeaks, and its income immediately plummeted by 95 percent,” Ratner writes. “But none of the financial institutions could point to any illegal activity by WikiLeaks, and none had imposed any restrictions on WikiLeaks’ mainstream co-publishers. The financial blockade applied only to WikiLeaks.”

Ratner was soon spending several days a month in England conferring with Assange and his legal team.  Ratner also attended the trial at Fort Meade in Maryland for Chelsea Manning (then Bradley Manning), certain that it would illuminate how the US government intended to go after Assange.

“Prosecutors in the Bradley Manning case revealed internet chat logs between Manning and an unnamed person at WikiLeaks who they said colluded with Manning by helping the accused traitor engineer a reverse password,” he writes. “Without supporting evidence, prosecutors claimed the unnamed person was Assange. Both Manning and Assange denied it. Nonetheless, it was clear that what Len [Weinglass] and I had predicted was happening. The case against Bradley Manning was also a case against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. The two were inextricably linked.”

Manning was charged with 22 violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Espionage Act, including aiding the enemy — which carries a possible death sentence — wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet, and theft of public property.

“I couldn’t get over the irony of it all,” Ratner writes. “On trial was the whistle-blower who leaked documents showing the number of civilians killed in Iraq, the Collateral Murder video, Reuters journalists being killed, children being shot. To me, the people who should be the defendants were the ones who started the Afghan and Iraq wars, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the officials who carried out torture, the people who committed the very crimes that Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks exposed. And those who should be observing were the ghosts of the dead Reuters journalists and the ghosts of the children and others killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“A week after Manning’s arraignment, WikiLeaks published an internal e-mail dated January 26, 2011 from the private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor),” Ratner goes on. “Part of a trove of five million e-mails that the hacker group Anonymous obtained from Stratfor’s servers, it was written by Stratfor Vice President Fred Burton, a former State Department counter-terrorism expert. It stated clearly: ‘We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.’ Another of Burton’s e-mails was more vivid: ‘Assange is going to make a nice bride in prison. Screw the terrorist. He’ll be eating cat food forever.’”

“The e-mails revealed how far the US government would go to protect its dirty secrets, and how it would use its own secrecy as a weapon,” Ratner writes. “Somehow Stratfor, which has been called a shadow CIA, had information about this sealed indictment that neither WikiLeaks, Assange, nor his lawyers had.”

Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to the maximum ten years in federal prison for the Stratfor hack and leak. He remains imprisoned.

On June 14, 2012, the UK Supreme Court issued its verdict affirming the extradition order to Sweden. Assange, cornered, was granted political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he would remain for seven years until British police in April 2019 raided the embassy, sovereign territory of Ecuador, and placed him in solitary confinement in the notorious high-security HM Prison Belmarsh.

The arrest eviscerates all pretense of the rule of law and the rights of a free press. The illegalities, embraced by the Ecuadorian, British and US governments, in the seizure of Assange were ominous. They presaged a world where the internal workings, abuses, corruption, lies and crimes — especially war crimes — carried out by corporate states and the global ruling elite will be masked from the public. They presaged a world where those with the courage and integrity to expose the misuse of power will be hunted down, tortured, subjected to sham trials and given lifetime prison terms in solitary confinement. They presaged an Orwellian dystopia where news is replaced with propaganda, trivia and entertainment.

Under what law did Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno capriciously terminate Julian Assange’s rights of asylum as a political refugee? Under what law did Moreno authorize British police to enter the Ecuadorian Embassy — diplomatically sanctioned sovereign territory — to arrest a naturalized citizen of Ecuador? Under what law did Prime Minister Theresa May order the British police to grab Assange, who has never committed a crime? Under what law did President Donald Trump demand the extradition of Assange, who is not a US citizen and whose news organization is not based in the United States?

“As a journalist and publisher of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange had every right to asylum,” Ratner writes. “The law is clear. The exercise of political free speech — including revealing government crimes, misconduct, or corruption — is internationally protected and is grounds for asylum. The US government has recognized this right, having granted asylum to several journalists and whistleblowers, most notably from China.”

“My view is that mass surveillance is not really about preventing terrorism, but is much more about social control,” Ratner writes. “It’s about stopping an uprising like the ones we had here in the US in the ’60s and ’70s. It shocks me that Americans are passively allowing this and that all three branches of government have done nothing about it. Despite mass surveillance, my message for people is the same one that Mother Jones delivered a century ago: organize, organize, organize. Yes, the surveillance state will try to scare you. They will be watching and listening. You won’t even know whether your best friend is an informant. Take whatever security precautions you can. But do not be intimidated. Whether you call it the sweep of history or the sweep of revolution, in the end, the surveillance state cannot stop people from moving toward the kind of change that will make their lives better.”

Feature photo | Art by Mr. Fish | Original to Scheerpost

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact. 

The post Chris Hedges: The Empire is Not Done with Julian Assange appeared first on MintPress News.

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