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The HLF Five: How US-Israeli Geopolitics Cruelly Warped the US Judicial Process

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/10/2021 - 4:58am in

There seem to be few limits to bias and cruelty when it comes to the United States judicial system in the service of political and geopolitical agendas. Communities of color in the U.S. have experienced this cruelty for centuries but for those of us who live outside of that realm, who live in the sphere of the privileged, meeting this cruelty face to face is shocking.

In my book “Injustice, The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five,” which was published in 2018, I tell the story of five innocent men who were wrongfully accused, tried and convicted for providing material support to a terrorist organization. If they were guilty of anything at all, it was caring more for their fellow humans than they did for themselves. The five men went through two trials and in the end were convicted and sentenced to sentences of 15 to 65 years in federal prison. The men are Shukri Abu Baker, sentenced to 65 years; Ghassan Elashi, sentenced to 65 years; Mufid Abdulqader, sentenced to 20 years; Abdulrahman Odeh, sentenced to 15 years; and Mohammad Elmezain, sentenced to 15 years.

Fifteen years are almost up and two of the five men are up for release. Abdulrahman Odeh is finally at home in Dallas, albeit living with the restriction of a released felon. Mohammad Elmezain was supposed to be released but, because he is not a naturalized citizen of the United States, rather than let him go to his family the authorities “released” him to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE.

 

The Holy Land Foundation

Once the largest Muslim relief organization in the United States, The Holy Land Foundation (HLF) was shut down after the 9/11 attacks by President George W. Bush via an executive order. After the attacks of 9/11, the U.S. government wanted to show that it was acting swiftly and effectively against terrorism, so the Treasury Department was instructed to find and close down operations that were funding terrorism in the U.S.

In his book “The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill,” published in 2004, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind describes the post 9/11 atmosphere in Washington as one of “round up the usual suspects.” The Holy Land Foundation, being a Muslim charity with a focus on Palestine, was a prime target.

In addition, since the early 1990’s the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) — which is an anti-Palestinian, Zionist organization — had engaged in a  smear campaign against The Holy Land Foundation. Along with American Zionist politicians like Chuck Schumer, Anthony Wiener and others, the ADL was claiming that HLF was funding terrorism.

The smear campaign against HLF was working even before the attacks of September 11, 2001. As the defendants learned during the trial, the FBI had been tapping some of their phones since the 1990’s. Furthermore, the campaign was hurting the relations HLF had with other organizations; and in some cases important alliances had been brought to an end as a result of the false accusations.

On December 4, 2001 the President of the United States declared that he had closed down “a major terrorist funding network,” and the Holy Land Foundation was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of Treasury. The process of so designating an organization or an individual requires little due process, far less than what is required in a court of law.

 

A weak case

In accusing the Holy Land Foundation of funding terrorism, the government has a serious problem. While President Bush rushed to designate them a terrorist organization and declare that closing them down was somehow a great achievement in the fight against terrorism, the fact of the matter was that he had no proof. The officers of the Holy Land Foundation kept impeccable accounts and every penny that went through the organization was accounted for. No money had gone to any terrorist organization, not one penny. Most of what the HLF was giving away was in-kind: they were providing school supplies, food, medicine, along with a relatively small number of school scholarships that were paid directly to educational institutions.

No money or goods ever went from the Holy Land Foundation to any organization that was not recognized and approved by the U.S. government. The groups and organizations with which HLF worked on the ground in Palestine were not only vetted by the CIA, they were also receiving funds and goods from other U.S. and international relief organizations.

In order to make a case that would convince a jury that the HLF was actually supporting terrorism, the U.S. government falsified evidence, presented documents that were wrongly translated, and even allowed two Israeli nationals to testify as expert witnesses anonymously. No one knew who these witnesses really were and whether or not what they were claiming was true. What was obvious through reading the trial transcripts is that the lawyers for the HLF made it clear that these witnesses knew very little and that their claims were untrue.

 

First generation refugee

Mohammad Elmezain, or Abu Ibrahim, was born in a refugee camp near the city of Khan Yunis, which is enclosed within the prison called The Gaza Strip. Born in 1953, he was part of the first generation of Palestinians born as refugees. His family comes from the village of Bashshit, which was destroyed in 1948 by the Israeli army’s Giv’aty Brigade. As did countless Palestinian refugees, he went to a school run by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine. He then studied at the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo.

Like many Palestinians, he ended up working in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states before coming to America in 1983. He immediately went to school and got a masters degree. He lived in New Jersey for a few years, where he served as an Imam, and eventually moved to San Diego where he settled and raised his family. Everywhere he went he was loved and respected by the community. When the indictments came down for the Holy Land Foundation Five, he found himself in the midst of a terrorism case and during the trial he discovered that his phone had been subjected to a wiretap from 1994 until 2003. The FBI agent who testified against him told the court that there were seven thousand pages of summaries made of these phone conversations.

 

Khaki uniform

I met Abu Ibrahim in prison twice while he was held at the federal facility in Long Beach, California. I knew he was the elder of the Five, and that he was not in the best of health. However, the man I met was not weak and frail as I had expected, but strong, full of life and determined. I saw a proud man with a strong handshake, who was proud of who he was and proud of the important work that he had done with the Holy Land Foundation.

What the future holds for him is uncertain. It is unclear when or whether the U.S. government will allow him to be united with his family again. What is clear is that the imperatives of U.S.-Israel relations had corrupted not only the political system in the United States but also the judicial system.

Feature photo | This courtroom illustration depicts the Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial at the federal courthouse in Dallas, Oct. 22, 2007. Pat Lopez | AP

Miko Peled is MintPress News contributing writer, published author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. His latest books are “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

The post The HLF Five: How US-Israeli Geopolitics Cruelly Warped the US Judicial Process appeared first on MintPress News.

US Writes Belarus into Its Familiar Regime-Change Script

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/10/2021 - 8:45am in

MINSK, BELARUS — Quietly, the U.S. national security state is turning up the heat on Belarus, hoping that the ex-Soviet country of 9 million will be the next casualty of its regime-change agenda. This sentiment was made clear in President Joe Biden’s recent speech at the United Nations General Assembly. Biden announced that the U.S. would pursue “relentless diplomacy” finding “new ways of lifting people up around the world, of renewing and defending democracy.” The 46th president was explicit in whom he meant by this: “The democratic world is everywhere. It lives in the anti-corruption activists, the human rights defenders, the journalists, the peace protestors on the frontlines of this struggle in Belarus, Burma, Syria, Cuba [and] Venezuela,” he said, putting Belarus first on the list of states in desperate need of a change in government.

This builds on the back of previous statements the administration has released. In June, a joint announcement by the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom and the European Union essentially pronounced the death penalty on the Lukashenko government, in power since 1994. “We are committed to support the long-suppressed democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus and we stand together to impose costs on the regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments,” they wrote, as they announced new sanctions.

 

A “modest but significant contribution”

Covertly, Washington is taking far more wide-ranging action. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is spending millions of dollars yearly on Belarus and has 40 active projects inside the state, all with the same goal of overthrowing Alexander Lukashenko and replacing him with a more U.S.-friendly president. Although not a single individual or organization is named, it is clear from the scant public information it reveals that Washington is focusing on three areas: training activists and civil-society organizations in non-violent regime-change tactics; funding anti-government media; and bankrolling election-monitoring groups.

Earlier this year, on a Zoom meeting infiltrated by activists and released to the public, the NED’s senior Europe Program officer, Nina Ognianova, boasted that the groups leading the nationwide demonstrations against Lukashenko last year — actions that made worldwide headlines — were trained by her organization. “We don’t think that this movement that is so impressive and so inspiring came out of nowhere — that it just happened overnight,” she said, noting that the NED had made a “modest but significant contribution” to the protests.

On the same call, NED President Carl Gershman added that “we support many, many groups and we have a very, very active program throughout the country, and many of the groups obviously have their partners in exile.” Gershman also boasted that the Belarusian government was powerless to intervene and stop them: “We’re not like Freedom House or NDI [the National Democratic Institute] and the IRI [International Republican Institute]; we don’t have offices. So if we’re not there, they can’t kick us out.”

The NED was set up by the Reagan administration as a front group for the CIA, to continue the agency’s work in destabilizing other countries. “It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA,” Gershman said, explaining its creation. Another NED founder, Allen Weinstein, was perhaps even more blunt: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” he told The Washington Post.

Belarusians are largely ignorant that this is going on beneath the surface. A poll taken by the NED’s sister organization USAID found that around two-thirds of the public were unaware of the actions of any NGOs inside their country, let alone where their funding came from.

 

The chosen one

The U.S. and Europe have not only decided Lukashenko must go, but have even agreed on his replacement. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a 39-year-old former schoolteacher and wife of anti-government activist Sergei Tikhanovsky, is the D.C. establishment’s clear candidate of choice. Described almost universally in corporate media as a pro-democracy activist, Tsikhanouskaya emerged from obscurity last year after her husband was barred from standing in the 2020 elections. Sergei is currently on trial for his role in organizing the nationwide demonstrations last year, an event the government sees as a coup attempt.

The government reportedly detained tens of thousands of people, and it was this heavy-handed response that added fuel to the flames of protests, turning them into a demonstration against political repression.

If convicted, Tikhanovsky faces up to 15 years in prison. Sviatlana ran in his stead, officially winning 10% of the national vote (although she maintains that she actually won an overwhelming victory and that the contest was rigged). In recent months, she has been doing the rounds in the West, meeting with foreign leaders in an attempt to convince them to support her. In July, she traveled to Washington for a meeting with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who conveyed the U.S.’ “respect for the courage and determination of the opposition” in Belarus.

Later that month, Tsikhanouskaya received what she was looking for: an endorsement from the president of the United States. After an in-depth meeting with Joe Biden, he promoted her as the true leader of her country. “The United States stands with the people of Belarus in their quest for democracy and universal human rights,” he said in a statement. She also received NATO’s blessing, meeting with senior figures from its think tank, the Atlantic Council, on several occasions.

At a recent event with the Council on Foreign Relations, Tsikhanouskaya made it clear that she was dependent on foreign support to continue her campaign. “We don’t have a lot of space inside the country. That’s why we are so [grateful for a large] amount of help from outside,” she said, telling the audience of business figures, state officials and media personalities that she and they “shar[ed] common values.” Perhaps the clearest indication that she had won the favor of the Western establishment were the rumors of a Nobel Peace Prize. At the time of its awarding, she was equal third with the bookmarkers, but ultimately lost out to journalists Dmitry Muratov and Maria Ressa.

Despite the official endorsements, there are strong indications that Tsikhanouskaya enjoys little public support in Belarus and that her position is largely buoyed by foreign backing. A study conducted by Chatham House and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) found that only 10% of Belarusians believed she would be a good president (as opposed to 25% for Lukashenko). Both Chatham House and RUSI are directly funded by NATO and its member states like the U.S., and both have previously advocated for regime change in Belarus.

More worryingly, Tsikhanouskaya appears to be among the least trusted and most disliked people in the entire country, the poll finding that even among people who supported the 2020 protests her trustworthiness score is negative.

Furthermore, the poll was carried out by an organization that makes blatantly clear throughout the report that it wants Lukashenko overthrown, and was conducted largely online, among tech-savvy, younger Belarusians in large cities — all groups that trend heavily towards being pro-protest and anti-Lukashenko. As such, the survey could barely have been designed any more favorably for Tsikhanouskaya. That even under these circumstances her popularity is so low is telling. Moreover, the polling was carried out before she began touring the West, asking for more crippling economic sanctions on her own country.

 

Washington’s woman

Why, then, has the West decided to champion her, and not other opposition leaders, many of whom have a far greater support base according to the poll? One explanation is that the Lukashenko administration has already imprisoned them. Viktar Babaryka, for example, was sentenced to 14 years in a penal colony for a host of financial crimes. Amnesty and other Western organizations have described the ruling as “politically motivated.” Other opposition figures, such as Maksim Znak and Maria Kalesnikava have also been jailed.

Another reason could be Tsikhanouskaya’s seeming total willingness to be a representative of the U.S. government in Belarus. Her senior advisor, Franak Viačorka, for example, is a consultant for the U.S. Agency for Global Media; the creative director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, an organization described by The New York Times as a “worldwide propaganda network built by the CIA.” He is also a Non-Resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council, a NATO-linked organization that boasts no fewer than seven former CIA directors on its board. At an Atlantic Council event in July, Tsikhanouskaya called on the West to do more to overthrow her opponent, saying “I think it’s high time for democratic countries to unite and show their teeth.” According to the NED’s Gershman, the U.S. continues to work “very, very closely” with her.

Tsikhanouskaya’s ascension from obscurity to political stardom mirrors that of Venezuelan politician Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. contends is the country’s rightful president. According to Cuban intellectual Raul Capote, whom the CIA recruited to become president of the country after what it hoped would be a successful regime-change attempt, the U.S. prefers to work with unknown figures because of their lack of political baggage and Washington’s ability to shape them in a manner it sees fit. Tsikhanouskaya apparently sees herself in the same mold as Guaidó, describing him as “inspiring.” Meanwhile, Venezuelan anti-government demonstrators can be seen flying the flag of the Belarusian opposition at rallies.

Tsikhanouskaya fashions herself merely as a “transition president” who would not run for re-election after Lukashenko falls. This is eerily similar to how Jeanine Añez, the U.S. backed Bolivian leader who came to power after a coup against Evo Morales in 2019, described herself. Like Tsikhanouskaya, Añez was also an obscure political figure held up by the United States as the savior of democracy. Despite describing herself as the “interim president,” she immediately began radically transforming the country’s economy and foreign relations, privatizing state assets and moving Bolivia closer to the U.S. She also suspended elections three times before being forced to concede after a nationwide general strike paralyzed the country.

While in the United States, Tsikhanouskaya made sure to publicly meet with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland. To those in the know, this was another clear message. Nuland was the brains behind the U.S.-backed Maidan Insurrection in Ukraine that overthrew the government of Viktor Yanukovych, bringing in a far-right, pro-Western administration. Nuland flew to Kiev to personally participate in the demonstrations herself, even handing out cookies in Independence Square in the city center.

At the Council on Foreign Relations, Tsikhanouskaya said she saw “a lot of parallels” between her situation and the Maidan, adding that “the Belarusian people will fight till our victory.”

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

 

Journalist or Neo-Nazi paramilitary poster child?

A second Ukrainian connection is the case of the arrest of opposition figure Roman Protasevich. In May, the Belarusian government forced a Ryanair flight between Greece and Lithuania that Protasevich was on to land in Belarus so that they could arrest him. By way of an excuse for the flagrant breach of international law, the government claimed it had received a credible bomb threat.

Western nations strongly condemned the move, imposing sanctions on Belarus in retaliation. Left unreported in Western media, however, were Protasevich’s ties to both the Maidan Revolution and to Western governments. Universally described as a courageous journalist, Protasevich had, in fact, been a member of the infamous Azov Battalion, a Neo-Nazi paramilitary that did much of the heavy lifting to overthrow Yanukovych. He was literally the group’s poster child, appearing on the front cover of its magazine Black Sun in full fatigues and holding a rifle. The Azov Battalion has since been absorbed into the Ukrainian armed forces.

After leaving the Azov Battalion, Protasevich was awarded the Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellowship in Prague and worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Protasevich had traveled to Greece to attend a meeting with Tsikhanouskaya, the president of Greece, and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. Officially, he was there as a photographer. However, these connections certainly suggest there could be more to this story than meets the eye and that perhaps Belarusian authorities suspected something about the meeting, taking a calculated decision to detain him at all costs. What they found out or what information Protasevich was carrying will likely never be made public.

 

US supports plenty of tyrants, just not those who won’t play ball

The primary reason the U.S. government opposes the Lukashenko administration is not its authoritarianism, real as that might be. Even by its own definitions, the U.S. actively supports around three-quarters of the world’s dictatorships. Instead, Lukashenko’s steadfast refusal to privatize state assets, join NATO, or open the country up for foreign exploitation are Washington’s principal objections. Lukashenko has directly controlled the country since 1994; and, unlike the other former republics of the U.S.S.R., he has retained state control over industry and the comprehensive welfare state built up in previous decades.

As a result, there is essentially no extreme poverty in Belarus; according to a report by the World Bank and European Union, only 0.4% of the population live on less than $5.50 per day, with no one living on less than $3.20. This cannot be said for its neighbors; the number of people per capita living on less than $5.50 per day is 10 times higher in Lithuania and 18 times higher in Russia. In some other ex-Soviet countries that took different paths, such as Armenia and Georgia, the vast majority live in poverty, with fewer than 10% earning $10 or more per day.

Much of this reduction in poverty occurred in the 2000s. As most countries were entering a protracted recession after the 2008 financial crisis, Belarus was going from strength to strength. Between 2003 and 2014, the number of people unable to spend more than $5.50 per day dropped from 38.3% to 0.4%, while those making a middle-class income (defined by the World Bank as being able to spend more than $10 per day) rose from under 20% to over 90% over the same period, a feat the World Bank — no lover of Belarus or the U.S.S.R. — described as “impressive.”

The government continued to provide universal healthcare and socialized housing while developing new industries such as the tech sector. During this time, economic inequality actually decreased, Belarus becoming as equal as the Scandinavian countries much feted for their progressive societies.

Since 2015, however, the economy has struggled. The World Bank’s advice to Belarus was predictable: privatize, cut benefits (particularly heating allowances) and allow business to do its job. The Lukashenko administration has actually partially moved in that direction, a decision the World Bank described as “encouraging.” For the first time, the state now directly employs fewer than half the workforce. However, this has led to increases in poverty and a reduction in support for Lukashenko, who once seemed untouchable. Nevertheless, a survey conducted by hostile neighbor Poland still found the 67-year-old former state farm boss had a 41% approval/ 46% disapproval rating (not dissimilar to that of Trump and Biden).

Hardly helping this have been the U.S. and European sanctions that have targeted the country. While billed as an effort to “get tough” on the Lukashenko “regime,” sanctions, as the United Nations notes, “disproportionately affect the poor and most vulnerable.”

In August of this year, the U.S. announced a new round of sanctions, specifically targeting state-owned businesses in an attempt to make them less profitable. The European Union did likewise, also promising to pull Belarus out of its downturn if it overthrew Lukashenko. “Once Belarus embarks on a democratic transition, the E.U. is committed to help Belarus stabilise its economy, reform its institutions in order to make them resilient and more democratic, create new jobs and improve people’s living standards,” they announced, adding, “The E.U. will continue to support a democratic, independent, sovereign, prosperous and stable Belarus. The voices and the will of the people of Belarus will not be silenced.”

The government heavily restricts polling, so any gauge of the public mood in Belarus is far from precise. However, judging by the Chatham House/RUSI survey, it is clear that significant portions of the country support Lukashenko while other significant portions oppose him, along with some who are unsure. Opposing Lukashenko, however, does not necessarily translate into backing Tsikhanouskaya. Russia is by far the most popular country among Belarusians, 32% of whom want to formally unify with their larger neighbor. Only 9% want to join the E.U. and only 7% wish to join NATO. The U.S. is the most distrusted country, even among the young, urban tech-savvy citizens Chatham House and RUSI polled. Thus, while Tsikhanouskaya consistently claims to be the authentic voice of Belarus, it appears her prime constituency is in Washington and Brussels.

The United States might be able to hurt the Belarusian economy through economic warfare, but it is unable to make the people accept Washington’s chosen candidate. Living under an authoritarian system, Belarusians understandably dream of a more democratic future. However, they should be extremely careful whom they align themselves with: the U.S., NATO and the World Bank’s vision of democracy and prosperity might not align with what they naively had in mind.

Feature photo | Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, right, pauses during a meeting with high level military officials in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 5, 2021. Nikolay Petrov | AP

Alan MacLeod is Senior 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, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post US Writes Belarus into Its Familiar Regime-Change Script appeared first on MintPress News.

The Crash Landing In Afghanistan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/10/2021 - 2:07pm in

image/png iconimage.png

article I wrote on my blog about American exit from Afghanistan

Instead of a world divided between nation-states organized hierarchically according to the world-economy, which constantly compete with each other for political-economic influence, we can act to create a humanity that freely cooperates to meet it's needs

read more

Trade routes or War Games?: Subs and the geopolitics behind the China threat

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/10/2021 - 9:47pm in

The TV show Utopia satirises Australian defence policy by saying that increased military spending is intended to protect our shipping routes. Since China is our major trading partner and we would be protecting trade with China from China, the whole thing is absurd.

That clip has been widely circulated and perhaps gives some comedic satisfaction. But it’s utterly misinformed. Australian strategic planners are well aware that it would be absurd to protect trade with China from China. That isn’t the aim of the policy. In the real world, the military build-up is about whether foreign military and intelligence activities can be conducted in another country’s exclusive economic zone.

Here’s what’s really going on.

Exclusive economic zones (EEZs) were established as a feature of international law by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982. UNCLOS refers to waters extending up to 200 nautical miles from a country’s shores. It gives coastal states the right to regulate economic activities (such as fishing and oil exploration) within their EEZs.

The United States has not ratified UNCLOS but says it will act ‘in accordance with the balance of interests’ reflected in UNCLOS ‘relating to traditional uses of the oceans, such as navigation and overflight’. It established its own EEZ within 200 nautical miles of its coast, and recognises other states’ EEZs as well.

China has ratified UNCLOS, has established its own EEZ and recognises other states’ EEZs.

The United States further says that it has the right to conduct military and intelligence-collection activities within any country’s EEZ, and can do so as close as 12 nautical miles from the coast, which are territorial waters under the jurisdiction of the coastal state. It accepts the right of other countries to do this inside its own EEZ; even during the Cold War the United States did not interfere with Soviet ships, bombers or surveillance aircraft that periodically flew close to US airspace.

China states that it respects freedom of navigation in the disputed South China Sea but does not respect the right of foreign governments to conduct military and intelligence-collection activities within its EEZ. Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of China’s joint staff, asked, ‘When has freedom of navigation in the South China Sea ever been affected? It has not, whether in the past or now, and in the future there won’t be a problem as long as nobody plays tricks… China consistently opposes so-called military freedom of navigation, which brings with it a military threat and which challenges and disrespects the international law of the sea’.[1]Erik Slavin, ‘Chinese Admiral Contests Freedom of Navigation in South China Sea’, Stars and Stripes, 19 July 2016. jQuery('#footnote_plugin_tooltip_14909_4_1').tooltip({ tip: '#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_14909_4_1', tipClass: 'footnote_tooltip', effect: 'fade', predelay: 0, fadeInSpeed: 200, delay: 400, fadeOutSpeed: 200, position: 'top center', relative: true, offset: [-7, 0], });

The right to conduct military activities inside another country’s EEZ hass been at the centre of incidents between US and Chinese ships and aircraft since at least 2001. The issue is separate from the question of territorial disputes in the South China and East China Seas. Even if all these territorial demarcation questions were resolved, China would still oppose ‘military freedom of navigation’, which, as a senior diplomat said, ‘is an excuse to throw America’s weight about wherever it wants. It is a distortion and a downright abuse of international law into the “freedom to run amok”’.

Likewise, the United States would still insist on applying its own concept. It fears that if China’s position were to gain greater international acceptance, it would affect the United States’ ability to project naval and air power in other EEZs such as the Persian Gulf. That would force it to conduct operations from more than 200 miles offshore, significantly reducing the range of its sensors and missiles. It would be much harder to place its marines and their equipment in an amphibious tactical lodgement.

The submarines we will host or acquire are intended to threaten China so that the United States can preserve its ability to project power globally. Australian strategic planners know this—but presumably they’re happy to let people think they’re too stupid to realise they’re ‘protecting our trade with China from China’.

Comedy programs on TV aren’t the same as geopolitical analysis. 


Sub-Imperial Australia

Guy Rundle, 16 Sep 2021

Our focus on subs has long been an expression of our idea that any defence would involve us contributing a subordinated part of a giant US-led naval force in the region.


China Games

Clinton Fernandes, Jun 2021

China responded to the US presence in the Bashi Channel by sending Su-30 and J-16 fighter aircraft and Xian H-6 bombers into the area, where they simulated missile attacks on the US vessels.

References[+]

References

↑1 Erik Slavin, ‘Chinese Admiral Contests Freedom of Navigation in South China Sea’, Stars and Stripes, 19 July 2016.

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AUKUS: It’s about Sovereignty, not Submarines

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/09/2021 - 3:02am in

Tags 

United States, War

The announcement on 15 September that the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia had formed a new security relationship surprised most. It shocked France, whose exaggerated sense of fidelity was wounded. It puzzled the European Union, eager to push its own policy for the Indo-Pacific. And it worried neighbours such as Indonesia, who warned that a regional arms race was being given needless impetus.

The creation of AUKUS was a new ‘enhanced trilateral security partnership’ with an initial standout: ‘we commit to a shared ambition to support Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy’.  It ensured the scuttling of the troubled $90 billion contract with France’s Naval Group for the construction of diesel-powered submarines based, perversely enough, on a French nuclear design. 

The central point of AUKUS has little to do with whether Australia has its own nuclear-powered submarines. No contracts, as yet, have been drawn up. Costs, always a huge problem in the field of submarine technology, remain the stuff of speculative fantasy. Australia lacks a shipyard capable of building or maintaining such vessels—an infrastructural defect gently ignored in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s praise of South Australia as ‘home to some of the most skilled shipbuilding workers in the world’, replete with ‘know-how, ingenuity, industrial knowledge and determination’. The only concrete detail we are left with is a promise from Morrison to engage in an eighteen-month ‘intense examination of what we need to do to exercise our nuclear stewardship responsibilities here in Australia’.

Which brings us to the self-evident point, one generally neglected in the plumes of commentary on the submarines, leaving aside Guy Rundle’s sharp observations in Crikey.  The vessels, ultimately, are irrelevant. Whether Australia ever acquires them is equally irrelevant. (Two decades in defence planning is not just a distant country but another, barely visible galaxy.) The United States and the United Kingdom have them, which is all that matters. They have the staff and the expertise. Australia, as it so often does in its policy ventures, is engaging in yet another exercise of outsourcing, only this time on a more momentous, sovereignty-denuding scale.  

The consequences of that outsourcing are twofold. Australia will be further militarised and garrisoned, with US military personnel and assets offering insurance against attack. In doing so, Canberra will naturally be expected to muck in should the United States find itself in conflict in the Indo-Pacific. The claim by policy wonks such as Peter Jennings of the US-funded Australian Strategic Policy Institute that this is an arms deal with no such obligations is disingenuous.

Any sceptic about such eventualities need only consult the various statements and comments from the AUKUS parties. According to US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin III, the trilateral security pact ‘will help contribute to what I call integrated defence in the region, the ability for the United States militarily to work more effectively with our allies and partners in defence of our shared security interests’. 

Despite assurances from Austin and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that this would not entail ‘follow-on reciprocal requirements of any kind’ as part of ‘a quid pro quo mindset’, Australian Minister of Defence Peter Dutton was happy to clear things up. Fleshing out what such integrated deterrence might look like, Dutton, speaking at the same press conference as Austin and Blinken, envisaged Australia becoming the base for ‘rotational deployments of all types of US military aircraft’. This would be accompanied by the establishment of ‘combined logistics, sustainment, and capability for maintenance to support our enhanced activities’. 

The already existing complement of 5000 US marines on rotation in the Northern Territory would be increased, an idea Dutton was already floating in June, along with a potential joint US Marine Corps–ADF training brigade. Australia would also offer ‘storage of different ordnances’.   

It is worth noting in this regard that Australia’s own defence department has always been at pains to use the language of mobility and action when describing the presence of the marines, which has increased since the initial deployment of 200 in 2012 when the Gillard and Obama governments first took steps to contain China. Best call it the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D) rather than the Marine Garrison of Darwin. At least Defence is not coy in admitting that this ‘highly capable force…provides significant opportunities to enhance interoperability with the Australian Defence Force’.   

Much of this beefing up of US forces is already in train, with the unveiling in July of plans to build four new military sites at Robertson Barracks, Kangaroo Flats, Mount Bundey and Bradshaw Field for the princely sum of $747 million. 

The US Navy will also be delighted at the prospect of having the means to project a greater presence in the Indo-Pacific. The point was made by a retired US submarine admiral to USNI News: ‘“Maintenance was a big factor in limiting [our deployments]’. The agreement, former US National Security Council member Barry Pavel similarly confirmed, would also enable ‘US submarine access to Australian support infrastructure’ as part of Washington’s ‘increasingly “latticed” defence posture’.

AUKUS is also a screeching message to powers in the region that the Anglophone bloc, with its vast historical baggage, intends to police the region against a country never mentioned in the joint statement but crystal clear to all present. ‘It is impossible to read this’, writes Sam Roggeveen of the Lowy Institute, ‘as anything other than a response to China’s rise, and a significant escalation of American commitment to that challenge’. 

Such a development is no cause for celebration for those in the EU and, for that matter, some of the countries of the Indo-Pacific. The AUKUS announcement was a stark statement to others who also intend to play some role in the region, not least Paris and the EU in general.  Benjamin Haddad, director of the Atlantic Council’s Europe Centre, called this ‘a blow to transatlantic strategy in the region’ that risked placing a ‘lasting hurdle in US-France relations’. 

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, in expressing regret over the lack of consultation regarding these new arrangements, bluntly stated, ‘We must survive on our own, as others do’. Currently, the grouping is, according to a statement, ‘exploring ways to ensure enhanced naval deployments by EU Member States to help protect the sea lines of communication and freedom of navigation’. The Indo-Pacific promises to get even messier.

Having just returned from Washington, where he played the role of eager pleaser to the US imperium, Prime Minister Morrison will now have to tally the losses AUKUS has already brought. The largest European power in the Indo-Pacific is giving him and his ministers the cold shoulder. There is a better than even chance that France will make Australia’s efforts to achieve a free trade deal with Brussels that much more difficult. But most significant of all is the sense that Australians now wake up to a country with diminished sovereignty. Not that there was much of that to begin with.


The Rules-Based Order

Clinton Fernandes, Sep 2021

Military historians are well aware that Australian governments have not gone to war for sentimental reasons or because they were duped. The organising principle of Australian foreign policy is to remain on the winning side of a worldwide confrontation between the empire and the lands dominated by it. 

War Is a Racket: Ex-State Department Official Matthew Hoh Speaks Out

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/09/2021 - 12:05am in

What was the Afghanistan War all about? That is the question on many people’s lips after a devastating 20-year campaign that has killed an estimated 176,000 people and displaced nearly 6 million more.

Today, Watchdog host Lowkey is joined by a man who knows the war from both inside and out. Matthew Hoh was at the forefront of the American empire’s campaign in the Middle East, first serving as a captain in the U.S. Marines, then moving to the Department of Defense and the State Department. In 2009, he publicly resigned from his position in the State Department in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, over U.S. policy in the country, which he saw as both illogical and immoral.

The recent fall of the U.S.-backed Afghan government, only days after NATO troops withdrew, and the Taliban’s quick re-emergence as the dominant political force in the country were no surprise to him. “The same thing would have happened in 2009 [when I was there],” Hoh told Lowkey today. “This has always been a house of cards; any little thing was going to cause it to collapse.”

Hoh, who has since become an anti-war activist, discussed the reasoning behind his decision to follow his conscience and leave his lucrative and distinguished career behind him. Already jaded after his experiences in Iraq, he told Lowkey that he was “holding on to the hope that somehow the Afghan War was going to be different and somehow fundamentally a war worth fighting… I didn’t want to let go of who I had become and the career I was in.”

Afghanistan, however, was as corrupt, unwinnable and immoral an endeavor as Iraq was. Hoh’s efforts to stem the heroin boom proved completely futile, as the country was run by the biggest kingpins, all with American government approval. “The Afghan government is the drug trade,” he said, “They are the ones that control it over there.” Ultimately, he realized that the American presence there was only fueling the insurgency, a position that has now been clearly vindicated.

The North Carolinian also described the extraordinary waste and corruption in both the U.S. and the Middle East, noting that 40% of the “aid” money scheduled for places like Iraq and Afghanistan never leaves the U.S. at all, staying in what is now colloquially known as “Raytheon Acres” — the ring of expensive suburbs around Washington, D.C., home to the headquarters of a myriad of weapons contractors and aid agencies alike. “The one place that reconstruction was successful was in Northern Virginia,” Hoh quipped. And 20% more goes to management fees, leaving barely 10 cents on the dollar for the actual projects in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, American officials in those countries were living the high life. “Holy cow, I was living like Scarface… I was paying out anywhere between $300,000 to $400,000 per week to $5 million per week at times. All in cash,” he said. “The most I ever had at one point was $24 million on hand, in $100 bills, sitting in safes in my bedroom. And there was hardly any oversight whatsoever. Once we signed that money out of the vault in Baghdad, it was up to me how to document that money was spent and where the money went.”

“I Was Living Like Scarface”: The Ludicrous Costs of the War in Afghanistan Revealed in New Documents, Testimonies

Today, Matthew Hoh has left that life behind and is a Senior Fellow with the Center for International Policy and a member of the Eisenhower Media Network, organizations challenging orthodox thinking in U.S. foreign policy.

Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Hoh took part in the American occupation of Iraq, first in 2004-5 in Salah ad Din Province with a State Department reconstruction and governance team and then in 2006-7 in Anbar Province as a Marine Corps company commander. When not deployed, Matthew worked on Afghanistan and Iraq war policy and operations issues at the Pentagon and State Department from 2002 to 2008. He is a 100% disabled veteran.

The new MintPress podcast “The Watchdog,” hosted by British-Iraqi hip-hop artist Lowkey, closely examines organizations about which it is in the public interest to know — including intelligence, lobby and special-interest groups influencing policies that infringe on free speech and target dissent. The Watchdog goes against the grain by casting a light on stories largely ignored by the mainstream, corporate media. 

MintPress News is a fiercely independent, reader-supported outlet, with no billionaire owners or backers. You can support us by becoming a member on Patreon, bookmarking and whitelisting us, and by subscribing to our social media channels, including Twitch, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.

Also, be sure to check out the new Behind the Headlines channel on YouTube.

Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic, political campaigner, and a MintPress video and podcast host. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique, and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network, and The Peace and Justice Project founded by Jeremy Corbyn.

The post War Is a Racket: Ex-State Department Official Matthew Hoh Speaks Out appeared first on MintPress News.

Chris Hedges: America’s Fate: Oligarchy or Autocracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/09/2021 - 2:33am in

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY (Scheerpost) — The competing systems of power in the United States are divided between oligarchy and autocracy. There are no other alternatives. Neither are pleasant. Each have peculiar and distasteful characteristics. Each pays lip service to the fictions of democracy and constitutional rights. And each exacerbates the widening social and political divide and the potential for violent conflict.

The oligarchs from the establishment Republican party, figures such as Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, George and Jeb Bush and Bill Kristol, have joined forces with the oligarchs in the Democratic Party to defy the autocrats in the new Republican party who have coalesced in cult-like fashion around Donald Trump or, if he does not run again for president, his inevitable Frankensteinian doppelgänger.

The alliance of Republican and Democratic oligarchs exposes the burlesque that characterized the old two-party system, where the ruling parties fought over what Sigmund Freud called the “narcissism of minor differences” but were united on all the major structural issues including massive defense spending, free trade deals, tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, the endless wars, government surveillance, the money-saturated election process, neoliberalism, austerity, deindustrialization, militarized police and the world’s largest prison system.

The liberal class, fearing autocracy, has thrown in its lot with the oligarchs, discrediting and rendering impotent the causes and issues it claims to champion. The bankruptcy of the liberal class is important, for it effectively turns liberal democratic values into the empty platitudes those who embrace autocracy condemn and despise. So, for example, censorship is wrong, unless the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop are censored, or Donald Trump is banished from social media. Conspiracy theories are wrong, unless those theories, such as the Steele dossier and Russiagate, can be used to damage the autocrat. The misuse of the legal system and law enforcement agencies to carry out personal vendettas are wrong, unless those vendettas are directed at the autocrat and those who support him. Giant tech monopolies and their monolithic social media platforms are wrong, unless those monopolies use their algorithms, control of information and campaign contributions to ensure the election of the oligarch’s anointed presidential candidate, Joe Biden.

The perfidy of the oligarchs, masked by the calls for civility, tolerance, and respect for human rights, often out does that of the autocracy. The Trump administration, for example, expelled 444,000 asylum seekers under Title 42, a law that permits the immediate expulsion of those who potentially pose a public health risk and denies the expelled migrants the right to make a case to stay in the U.S. before an immigration judge. The Biden administration not only embraced the Trump order in the name of fighting the pandemic, but has thrown out more than 690,000 asylum seekers since taking office in January. The Biden administration, on the heels of another monster hurricane triggered at least in part by climate change, has opened up 80 million acres for oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and boasted that the sale will produce 1.12 billion barrels of oil over the next 50 years. It has bombed Syria and Iraq, and on the way out the door in Afghanistan murdered ten civilians, including seven children, in a drone strike. It has ended three pandemic relief programs, cutting off benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance that were given to 5.1 million people who worked as freelancers, in the gig economy or as caregivers. An additional 3.8 million people who received assistance from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation for the long term unemployed have also lost access to their benefits. They join the 2.6 million people who no longer receive the $300 weekly supplement and are struggling to cope with a $1,200 drop in their monthly earnings. Biden’s campaign talk of raising the minimum wage, forgiving student debt, immigration reform, and making housing a human right has been forgotten. At the same time, the Democratic leadership, proponents of a new cold war with China and Russia, has authorized provocative military maneuvers along Russia’s borders and in the South China Sea and speeded up production of its long-range B-21 Raider stealth bomber.

Chris Hedges: The Empire Does Not Forgive

Oligarchs come from the traditional nexus of elite schools, inherited money, the military and corporations, those C. Wright Mills calls the “power elite.” “Material success,” Mills notes, “is their sole basis of authority.” The word oligarchy is derived from the Greek word “oligos” meaning “a few” and it is the oligos that sees power and wealth as its birthright, which they pass on to their family and children, as exemplified by George W. Bush or Mitt Romney. The word “autocracy” is derived from the Greek word “auto” meaning “self,” as in one who rules by himself. In decayed democracies the battle for power is always, as Aristotle points out, between these two despotic forces, although if there is a serious threat of socialism or left-wing radicalism, as was true in the Weimar Republic, the oligarchs forge an uncomfortable alliance with the autocrat and his henchmen to crush it. This is why the donor class and hierarchy of the Democratic Party sabotaged the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, although on the political spectrum Sanders is not a radical, and publicly stated, as the former CEO of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein did, that should Sanders get the nominee they would support Trump. The alliance between the oligarchs and the autocrats gives birth to fascism, in our case a Christianized fascism.

The oligarchs embrace a faux morality of woke culture and identity politics, which is anti-politics, to give themselves the veneer of liberalism, or at least the veneer of an enlightened oligarchy. The oligarchs have no genuine ideology. Their single-minded goal is the amassing of wealth, hence the obscene amounts of money accrued by oligarchs such as Bill Gates, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos and the staggering sums of profit made by corporations that have, essentially, orchestrated a legal tax boycott, forcing the state to raise most of its revenues from massive government deficits, now totaling $3 trillion, and disproportionally taxing the working and middle classes.

Oligarchies, which spew saccharine pieties and platitudes, engage in lies that are often far more destructive to the public than the lies of a narcissist autocrat. Yet, the absence of an ideology among the oligarchs gives to oligarchic rule a flexibility lacking in autocratic forms of power. Because there is no blind loyalty to an ideology or a leader there is room in an oligarchy for limited reform, moderation and those who seek to slow or put a brake on the most egregious forms of injustice and inequality.

An autocracy, however, is not pliable. It burns out these last remnants of humanism. It is based solely on adulation of the autocrat, no matter how absurd, and the fear of offending him. This is why politicians such as Lindsey Graham and Mike Pence, at least until he refused to invalidate the election results, humiliated themselves abjectly and repeatedly at the feet of Trump. Pence’s unforgiveable sin of certifying the election results instantly turned him into a traitor. One sin against an autocrat is one sin too many. Trump supporters stormed the capital on January 6 shouting “hang Mike Pence.” As Cosimo de’ Medici remarked, “we are nowhere commanded to forgive our friends.”

The political and economic disempowerment that is the consequence of oligarchy infantilizes a population, which in desperation gravitates to a demagogue who promises prosperity and a restoration of a lost golden age, moral renewal based on “traditional” values and vengeance against those scapegoated for the nation’s decline.

The Biden’s administration’s refusal to address the deep structural inequities that plague the country is already ominous. In the latest Harvard/Harris poll Trump has overtaken Biden in approval ratings, with Biden falling to 46 percent and Trump rising to 48 percent. Add to this the report by the University of Chicago Project on Security & Threats that found that nine percent of Americans believe the “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.”  More than a fourth of adults agree, in varying degrees, the study found, that, “the 2020 election was stolen, and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” The polling indicates that 8.1 percent  — 21 million Americans  — share both these beliefs. Anywhere from 15 million to 28 million adults would apparently support the violent overthrow of the Biden administration to restore Trump to the presidency.

“The insurrectionist movement is more mainstream, cross-party, and more complex than many people might like to think, which does not bode well for the 2022 mid-term elections, or for that matter, the 2024 Presidential election,” the authors of the Chicago report write.

Fear is the glue that holds an autocratic regime in place. Convictions can change. Fear does not. The more despotic an autocratic regime becomes, the more it resorts to censorship, coercion, force, and terror to cope with its endemic and often irrational paranoia. Autocracies, for this reason, inevitably embrace fanaticism. Those who serve the autocracy engage in ever more extreme acts against those the autocrat demonizes, seeking the autocrat’s approval and the advancement of their careers.

Revenge against real or perceived enemies is the autocrat’s single-minded goal. The autocrat takes sadistic pleasure in the torment and humiliation of his enemies, as Trump did when he watched the mob storm the capital on January 6, or, in a more extreme form, as Joseph Stalin did when he doubled over in laughter as his underlings acted out the desperate pleading for his life by the condemned Grigori Zinoviev, once one of the most influential figures in the Soviet leadership and the chairman of the Communist International, on the way to his execution in 1926.

Autocratic leaders, as Joachim Fest writes, are often “demonic nonentities.”

“Rather than the qualities which raised him from the masses, it was those qualities he shared with them and of which he was a representative example that laid the foundation for his success,” Fest wrote of Adolf Hitler, words that could apply to Trump. “He was the incarnation of the average, ‘the man who lent the masses his voice and through whom the masses spoke.’ In him the masses encountered themselves.”

The autocrat, who celebrates a grotesque hyper-masculinity, projects an aura of omnipotence. He demands obsequious fawning and total obedience. Loyalty is more important than competence. Lies and truth are irrelevant. The statements of the autocrat, which can in short spaces of time be contradictory, cater exclusively to the transient emotional needs of his followers. There is no attempt to be logical or consistent. There is no attempt to reach out to opponents. Rather, there is a constant stoking of antagonisms that steadily widens the social, political, and cultural divides. Reality is sacrificed for fantasy. Those who question the fantasy are branded as irredeemable enemies.

“Anyone who wants to rule men first tries to humiliate them, to trick them out of their rights and their capacity for resistance, until they are as powerless before him as animals,” wrote Elias Canetti in Crowds and Power of the autocrat. “He uses them like animals and, even if he does not tell them so, in himself he always knows quite clearly that they mean just as little to him; when he speaks to his intimates, he will call them sheep or cattle. His ultimate aim is to incorporate them into himself and to suck the substance out of them. What remains of them afterwards does not matter to him. The worse he has treated them, the more he despises them. When they are no more use at all, he disposes of them as he does excrement, simply seeing to it that they do not poison the air of his house.”

Chris Hedges: The Age of Social Murder

It is, ironically, the oligarchs who build the institutions of oppression, the militarized police, the dysfunctional courts, the raft of anti-terrorism laws used against dissidents, ruling through executive orders rather than the legislative process, wholesale surveillance and the promulgation of laws that overturn the most basic Constitutional rights by judicial fiat. Thus, the Supreme Court rules that corporations have the right to pump unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns because it is a form of free speech, and because corporations have the constitutional right to petition the government. The oligarchs do not use these mechanisms of oppression with the same ferocity as the autocrats. They employ them fitfully and therefore often ineffectually. But they create the physical and legal systems of oppression so that an autocrat, with the flick of a switch, can establish a de facto dictatorship.

The autocrat oversees a naked kleptocracy in place of the hidden kleptocracy of the oligarchs. But it is debatable whether the more refined kleptocracy of the oligarchs is any worse than the crude and open kleptocracy of the autocrat. The autocrat’s attraction is that as he fleeces the public, he entertains the crowd. He orchestrates engaging spectacles. He gives vent, often through vulgarity, to the widespread hatred of the ruling elites. He provides a host of phantom enemies, usually the weak and the vulnerable, who are rendered nonpersons. His followers are given license to attack these enemies, including the feckless liberals and intellectuals who are a pathetic appendage to the oligarchic class. Autocracies, unlike oligarchies, make for engaging political theater.

We must defy the oligarchs as well as the autocrats. If we replicate the cowardice of the liberal class, if we sell out to the oligarchs as a way to blunt the rise of autocracy, we will discredit the core values of a civil society and fuel the very autocracy we seek to defeat. Despotism, in all its forms, is dangerous. If we achieve nothing else in the fight against the oligarchs and the autocrats, we will at least salvage our dignity and integrity.

Feature photo | Original illustration by Mr. Fish.

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: America’s Fate: Oligarchy or Autocracy appeared first on MintPress News.

Havana Syndrome, Directed Energy Weapons, and the New Cold War

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/09/2021 - 3:34am in

HAVANA — It started in 2016. U.S. officials in Havana, Cuba, began complaining en masse about hearing strange noises, suffering recurring headaches, nausea, hearing and memory loss. From there it spread around the world, with hundreds of U.S. spies and diplomats in the United Kingdom, Colombia, China, Uzbekistan, Germany, Austria, and in Washington itself reporting similar symptoms. Very little about the cases — even the identities of those involved — can be verified. Nevertheless, the story has become a media sensation, appearing on front pages the world over, with journalists speculating that futuristic microwave weapons are the culprit, likely wielded by devious Russian spies. While the scientific and medical community have cautioned not to jump to conclusions, underlining a number of key flaws in the narrative, the existence of directed energy weapons (DEWs), as they are known, is beyond doubt.

 

Our men in Havana

Tensions with Cuba are high, the island being the home to many cloak-and-dagger plots both by and against the Cuban government, ever since the revolution of 1959, which marked the Caribbean nation as an enemy of Washington. Officials affected typically report hearing a grating sound coming from a particular direction and experiencing pressure in their heads. Those nearby were not affected. The Cuban government’s vehement denials, as well as their openness in helping the U.S. with their investigations, shifted suspicion away from them in Washington’s eyes, the chief culprit assumed by many to be Vladimir Putin’s Russia, although little public evidence of this exists.

US embassy in Cuba

The US embassy in Havana, Cuba. Home of the first alleged “sonic attacks” on American diplomats. Desmond Boylan | AP

From there, officials around the world began to report similar symptoms. Some, like one CIA agent stationed in Moscow, claim to have been debilitated from it. The Biden administration has taken the reports seriously. “The president and I are committed to getting to the bottom of this,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in June. Later this summer, Vice-President Harris’ official trip to Vietnam was delayed after a suspected outbreak of Havana Syndrome in Hanoi. Earlier this month, Blinken scheduled a meeting with 41 diplomats who have been afflicted.

The news of American agents being secretly targeted has created an ongoing media furor. “CIA analysts who are Russia experts, diplomats and scientists contend that evidence points to Moscow,” wrote The New York Times. “Biden must call out Putin’s secret war against the United States,” demanded The Washington Post’s editorial board. Other big media outlets have peppered their coverage of the Havana Syndrome with pictures of the Kremlin, suggesting an iron-clad link to Moscow.

 

No smoking microwave gun

There is, however, considerable reason to be skeptical of all this, not least because the CIA showed reluctance to release information about those affected, even to other government departments. Then-Director of the agency Gina Haspel was reportedly unconvinced even that any attacks had occurred, let alone that Russia was responsible. An FBI investigation into the phenomenon concluded that those involved were suffering from a mass psychogenic illness (MPI), a condition where a group of people all suffer from similar conditions at the same time despite there being no logical cause — akin to a mass hysteria. Likewise, the Cuban Academy of Sciences concluded last week that the idea of a microwave attack was “not scientifically acceptable in any of its components,” and has survived largely because of “sensationalist media coverage” and a “biased use of science.”


The Cuban Academy of Sciences blamed the US gov’t and media endorsement of the attack theory in part for the MPI

Furthermore, most of the reports are based on accounts from anonymous agents working in organizations whose job it is to plant false information into the public domain. MintPress contacted a number of officials claiming to have been struck down with Havana Syndrome, including a CIA operative and a former embassy intern, but none responded.

“Nobody has detected microwaves, acoustic waves, etc. that could cause the symptoms. The issue is not resolved nor is it likely to be unless more information is forthcoming,” Kenneth Foster, Professor Emeritus of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, told MintPress, adding:

I have been unable to come up with a plausible exposure scenario where pulsed microwaves could produce the reported effects. So far more than 300 people around the world have reported ‘symptoms’ and it is beyond belief that someone could be beaming microwaves at them at sufficient intensity to produce effects without it being noticed.”

Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh, shared some of Professor Foster’s suspicions. “This story is very interesting, as it enters the realm of widely accepted truth with almost no evidential basis, and it reads as a modern era spy story, with all the elements of mystery and betrayal,” he told MintPress.

 

Bad science

A 2018 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) did a great deal to legitimize the theory of a microwave attack. The study found evidence of neurological impairment in a number of diplomats who claimed to be suffering from the mystery ailment. Although it did not determine the cause of the injuries, its main author considers microwaves to be the “main suspect.”

The news elicited a torrent of media coverage. However, the report was littered with poor methodology, as Della Sala and others were quick to point out. Among the most questionable decisions was to qualify anyone scoring below the 40th percentile in various cognitive tests as “impaired.” In plain English, those performing worse than 60% of adults would be labeled as impaired — an extremely generous definition of injury. Despite this, only 28% of those tested scored below this line, considerably fewer than would be expected if participants were simply picked at random. Della Sala commented:

I looked at the data made available. The data do not support the existence of a new syndrome. Anyone assessed using those criteria could [appear to be] pathological, it is a statistical fact. There is no common, homogeneous pattern that distinguishes the patients from the controls. Hence, if there is no syndrome, it is rather vain to [have a discussion] about its potential causes, which could be multifarious.

If people claim to have seen a donkey flying, the discussion ensuing is how would this be possible; however first we would need to ascertain whether it is true that donkeys can fly. There are several cases of similar psychological reactions to stressful events. These potential causes should also be seriously considered.”

Others were even more scathing. Academics from around the world condemned JAMA for dabbling in a “conspiracy theory.” Neuroscience and neurology journal Cortex suggested JAMA retract the article. One paper reviewing the study concluded that the evidence “all points to mass psychogenic illness exacerbated by mundane sounds and Cold War beliefs.” It was later revealed that a peer reviewer of the article had recommended JAMA reject the study owing to its numerous flaws. Why it was published at all remains a mystery, although Della Sala speculated that it might have been “dictated by a political agenda.”

Two years after the JAMA study, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report that suggested the symptoms displayed by U.S. government workers there were consistent with those of exposure to microwave energy, although it very prominently warned that “evidence has been lacking, no hypothesis has been proven and the circumstances remain unclear.” This added more fuel to the public speculation that Russia was secretly attacking us.

Like the JAMA study, the report was also heavily criticized by academics. Alberto Espay, a neurologist from the University of Cincinnati, described it as “the closest equivalent in science to fake news.” Professor Foster was similarly unconvinced, telling MintPress:

As I mention in my article, I have a strong sense that at least some individuals have experienced something real, whatever may have happened to the many other people reporting symptoms. I have been telling the government that they are going down a blind alley with the microwave theory. The government should cast a broader net and not rule out mass psychogenic illness for at least some of the affected individuals, and they should not rule out acoustic weapons.”

 

Chasing shadows

Mass psychogenic illnesses certainly do happen and are more common than many realize. In 2011, 18 children at a school in Le Roy, NY, spontaneously developed facial tics, muscle spasms and stutters. Four years previously, an MPI event happened in Australia, as more than two dozen schoolgirls in Melbourne began fainting. Going further back, in 1518, hundreds of residents of Strasbourg, then in the Holy Roman Empire, began dancing uncontrollably for days. Some sources even claim many danced themselves to death. The phenomenon of MPIs is believed by experts to be triggered in close-knit groups in situations of sudden or heavy stress. It is not out of the question that embassy staff could fall into that category.

Perhaps an even more relevant example, given the Cold War undertones, is the “Yellow Rain” phenomenon of the 1980s. While patrolling in the area, U.S. forces in southeast Asia noticed a yellow substance on leaves. Immediately fearing the worst, they suspected they had been attacked by chemical weapons, even though no casualties were recorded. Paranoid officials from the State Department promoted the idea, formally accusing the Soviet Union of supplying weapons of mass destruction to Communist forces in the region. The story became a national scandal lasting for much of the early 1980s, only for the U.S. to admit, years later, that the yellow substance on the leaves was actually honey bee feces.

 

Science fact

While the jury is still out on what happened in Havana, Guangzhou, London and the other locations, there can be no doubt that futuristic directed energy weapons do indeed exist. MintPress spoke with Suzie Dawson, a journalist who has followed DEWs’ development. “It is an open secret” that DEWs exist and are part of militaries around the world,” she said, adding:

WikiLeaks documents from the #HackingTeam releases confirm other publicly available commercial documentation and show that DEWs not only exist but that they have been operationally tested. They have already had a period of rollout and that rollout has been not only to militaries but to domestic police agencies around the world.”

The WikiLeaks documents to which Dawson is referring include a set of 2014 emails from a military market research company that notes that a number of major arms manufacturers — including BAE Systems, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon — are developing DEWs, as well as other nations, including Russia, Israel, China and France.

Wikileaks Direct Energy Weapons

Emails leaked by Wikileaks in 2015 show that a number of weapons makers and governments have active DEW programs

These weapons are already in service with the military. The Office of Naval Research (ONR), an official U.S. government organization, notes that “Navy DEWs include systems that use high energy lasers that emit photons, and high power microwaves that release radiofrequency waves. The U.S. Navy uses DEWs for power projection and integrated defense missions.”

DEWs have a number of advantages over conventional weapons, including their ability to be used quickly, quietly and without being detected. Running primarily on electricity, their firepower is essentially unlimited and they are far cheaper to operate than other weapons.

Office of Naval Research report on DEWs

An image from a declassified 2019 Office of Naval Research report on the state of US Directed Energy Weapons reserach

Navy railguns, for example, use magnetic fields created by high electrical currents and can propel projectiles at over 5,000 miles per hour. “Although it was once an object of imagination, theory, and science fiction, the electromagnetic railgun has finally made the leap from laboratory concept to weapon-grade technology,” the ONR writes, adding that electronic railguns will “play a significant role in the future of the U.S. Navy.” General Atomics and BAE Systems have both already developed railguns for the Navy.

The ONR’s 2019 annual report also reveals that high-powered microwaves (HPM) have been a key area of research for some time. “The U.S. Navy uses HPM to gain and sustain tactical, operational, and strategic advantage in the arena of EM Maneuver Warfare and Integrated Defense for U.S. forces across the full range of military operations, including power projection and integrated defense missions,” it wrote.

Also operational around the world are sophisticated lasers that can concentrate huge amounts of energy on a target, disabling it. These lasers are already effective against ground and air vehicles, including trucks and drones. The Navy has been using laser weaponry to this end since at least 2014.



Russia has certainly developed its own DEWs, with the new MiG-35 fighter jets employing laser weaponry. In 2014, it was widely rumored that a Russian jet had temporarily disabled the U.S.S. Donald Cook, a destroyer patrolling the Black Sea, with some kind of DEW.

China, too, is a world leader in the development of directed energy weapons. At the 2017 International Defense Exhibition and Conference, Chinese companies showed off a 50-70 kilowatt laser named Silent Hunter, capable of directing a beam of energy strong enough to burn out a car’s engine from over a mile away, making it twice as powerful as Lockheed Martin’s ATHENA laser system.

China has unveiled a system that unleashes a torrent of microwave radiation that disables or destroys integrated circuits, giving it the ability to paralyze electronic equipment, including in missiles and vehicles.

The United Kingdom is also heavily investing into DEWs. Last Tuesday, the Ministry of Defence announced a new $100 million contract with Thales and Raytheon U.K. to create similar anti-aircraft and anti-UAV laser weaponry that will be fitted to its ships. “Directed energy weapons are a key element of our future equipment programs and we intend to become a world leader in the research, manufacture and implementation of this next-generation technology,” said Jeremy Quin, the Minister for Defence Procurement. “These technologies have the potential to revolutionize the future battlefield for our Armed Forces, enabling the prosecution of new targets in the land, sea and air domains and allowing commanders to meet mission objectives in new ways,” he added.

 

Domestic use and abuse

The United Kingdom deployed an American-made Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), in essence, a sound cannon, during the London 2012 Olympics. Products like LRAD represent a shift from military to domestic usage of directed energy weapons, Dawson noted, explaining:

DEW manufacturers seem to be developing more hand-held versions of what was industrial-scale military weaponry. So they are transitioning from something that was the size of a truck used in Afghanistan or Iraq and turning it into something more like a taser that can be held by a police officer. In fact, the Taser Corporation, as well as other manufacturers of crowd-control weaponry, are listed in the WikiLeaks files as being manufacturers of directed energy weapons.”

LRADs are used at airports to deter wildlife from runways. But they are also commonly used by law enforcement against protestors, such as at Occupy Oakland, the George Floyd protests, and at the 2017 Women’s March.

 EU police officer deploys an LRAD

An EU police officer deploys an LRAD near a popular refugee crossing point on the Greek – Turkish border, May 21, 2021. Giannis Papanikos | AP

LRAD focuses a piercing and unbearable noise at those at whom it is pointed, leaving targets dizzy and suffering headaches. It is undoubtedly effective, but also poses a risk to human health. The National Institutes of Health advises that permanent hearing loss can begin when exposed to sounds of more than 85 dB. Yet police LRADs are capable of producing sounds of higher than 150 dB. There are serious concerns that the LRAD will be used liberally and illegally to disperse peaceful demonstrations. This is already happening: in 2017, the city of New York was forced to pay $748,000 to Black Lives Matter protestors targeted with LRAD. The NYPD suspended its use.

Other DEWs intended for domestic use are a working heat-ray gun called the Active Denial System, which fires a high-energy beam heating human skin to an unbearable temperature. Volunteers describe it as like being blasted by an oven and producing an instant “goodbye effect” — an overwhelming need to escape the beam immediately.

 

Cold War 2.0?

There was a time not so long ago when Russia was considered almost an ally of the United States. Just 10 years ago, a majority of Americans held positive opinions toward the world’s largest country by land area. During the 2012 presidential elections, Barack Obama mocked his opponent Mitt Romney’s assertion that Russia was the United States’ number one geopolitical enemy. “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back… the Cold War has been over for 20 years,” Obama said, to great public approval.

But after the 2016 election, in which Democrats accused Vladimir Putin of interfering to help Donald Trump, public opinion quickly plummeted, to the point where views on Russia have hit historic lows, lower even than during the Cold War.

For its part, NATO continues to encroach closer and closer towards Russia, with the United States taking the lead in supporting the Euromaidan Revolution in 2014, which Moscow sees as little more than a Western takeover of Ukraine.

Relations with Cuba, too, have gone downhill in recent years. The Trump administration increased sanctions against the island — already estimated by the United Nations to have caused $1.1 trillion worth of damage by 2014 — blocking remittances from the United States. This, added to the COVID-induced tourism collapse, has greatly affected the local economy, leading to shortages and unemployment. This economic dislocation was a factor in the recent protests on the island, protests that were immediately supported and signal-boosted by the Biden administration.

The Bay of Tweets: Documents Point to US Hand in Cuba Protests

It has become, once again, a world in which weapons like DEWs seem to have a logical, if not inevitable, place. And while the jury is still out on who committed the attacks against U.S. officials, or even whether there were any attacks at all, directed energy weapons certainly do exist, and not just in prototype form. Havana Syndrome might be science fiction, but directed energy weapons are very much science fact.

Feature photo | US Navy personnel operate a Directed Energy Weapon aboard the USS Ponce during an operational demonstration in the Persian Gulf in 2014. Photo | DVIDS

Alan MacLeod is Senior 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, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post Havana Syndrome, Directed Energy Weapons, and the New Cold War appeared first on MintPress News.

Grief and Anger After UAE Soldiers Torture and Kill Yemeni-American Student Trying to Visit Family

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/09/2021 - 1:56am in

DHAMAR, YEMEN –– As his hope that the Sana’a International Airport will be reopened has faded, smiley-faced Abdulmalek Anwar Alsanabani — a 25-year-old Yemeni-American living in Fresno, California — finally decided to take the risky journey across the south of Yemen in order to see his family in Sana’a. Al-Sanabani had gone eight years away from his loved ones. On Wednesday, he arrived at southern Yemen’s Aden Airport, where he shared his last Facebook post before his smiley face became bloodied and bruised.

Abdulmalek, a graduate of Huntsville Community College, was not kidnapped, imprisoned, and tortured like the thousands of Yemeni students traveling through Saudi-controlled points of entry have been. Rather he was robbed, tortured and murdered at a checkpoint in the Tour Al-Baha district in the northern Lahj province by the Security Belt Forces of Transitional Council, an armed militant group backed by the United Arab Emirates.

On Wednesday, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) announced they had arrested “a suspected member of the Houthi rebel movement” while he was traveling with thousands of U.S. dollars from Aden towards Houthi-controlled areas in the north. The news, published on websites supporting the UAE, was accompanied by a photo showing Alsanabani with his hands tied behind his back on the bed of a military vehicle.

Abdulmalek UAE

A photo showing Abdulmalek bound in the back of a truck belonging to UAE-backed militants

Abdulmalek’s father recounted to MintPress that “We were in constant contact with Abdulmalek during his trip before communication was cut on Wednesday afternoon.” Later, his family was surprised when media outlets and statements by officials affiliated with the Saudi-led Coalition in Tor Al-Baha began reporting the arrest of their son on charges of belonging to the Houthis and possessing sums of money. “We quickly traveled to Aden, but were shocked to find his dead body in the morgue of the Republican Hospital in Aden after he had been tortured and killed,” his father said. Abdulmalek’s body was full of bruises and wounds indicating that he had been tortured. There were also three bullet entry wounds in his back and a fourth in his leg, according to the Alsanabani family.

 

Death for no reason

Abdulmalek, who had never so much as belonged to a political party or group, was looted of what he had saved for his family, tortured and killed by gunshots by soldiers wearing the uniform of, and receiving their salary from, Abu Dhabi. He committed no crime other than being from an area classified by the Coalition as a “Houthi area.” But Abdulmalek was not the only one to meet such a fate because of the region from which he hailed, his sect or his family.

On Saturday, four students — Hossam Tariq al Shaibani, Ibrahim Ahmed al-Shahari, Ahmed Moeen al-Madani, and Yahya Mansour al-Areiqi — were kidnapped when they arrived at Aden Airport. Their families told MintPress that their fate is still unknown, a fact confirmed by the General Union of Yemeni Students in Malaysia, which issued a statement in the wake of the disappearance.

Since 2015 — when the Saudi war, supported by the United States and other Western military powers, transformed this nation on the Arabian Peninsula into a large prison for millions of Yemenis — students studying abroad, along with stranded medical patients and expatriates, have had only this option to return home: either cross al-Mahrah, Syoun in the east or Aden in the south, all routes that pass through Lahj, Shabwah and Marib, areas under Saudi-led Coalition control. As soon as they arrive at these places, militants affiliated with Saudi Arabia or the UAE check their identities. If they live in provinces, cities, streets, or even neighborhoods that are classified as a hotbed for Ansar Allah (Houthis), or if they belong to certain Yemeni families or are affiliated with a Shia Muslim sect, they ​are often arrested, tortured and imprisoned on charges of belonging to the Houthis.

 

Grieving and protests

The plights of Abdulmalek and the four other students have touched the hearts of Yemenis across the political and religious divide and sparked an uproar inside the country and abroad. In the United States, hundreds of Yemeni expatriates took to the streets in Michigan, California and New York. Protesters condemned the crime and held the UAE responsible, calling for the Sana’a International Airport to be reopened so that Yemenis can travel safely without the risk of imprisonment, torture and death.



In Yemen, dozens of protests were held, mostly in the northern provinces, but the largest demonstration was in Abdulmalek’s hometown of Dhamar, a city in southwestern Yemen. There, many of his relatives who spoke to MintPress accused both the Biden administration and the UAE of murdering a family member and U.S. citizen. “If the Sana’a Airport was open, Abdulmalek would now live in peace. We know in fact that the airport siege is supported by America,” Hani Alsanabani, one of Abdulmalek’s relatives, told MintPress in the wake of a protest that took place in Sanaban. Abdulmalek’s death has also triggered condemnation from nearly all Yemeni political parties, human rights organizations, activists, journalists, lawyers, and members of the Yemeni community in the United States.

 

Forced to sell an organ for rent

The closure of the Sana’a Airport and the imposition of an air embargo have exacerbated the humanitarian situation for many civilians both inside and outside the country. With the continued absence of safe corridors, many stranded students, patients and professionals recently deported from Saudi Arabia are left in a state of legal limbo, unable to secure citizenship in neighboring countries and therefore unable to work — leaving them with no way to earn money short of begging on the street or agreeing to sell their organs.

In 2018, Musa al-Ezaki, the editor of Yemen’s widely-circulated Al-Hayat newspaper, made a very public offer to sell one of his kidneys to the highest bidder. Al-Ezaki coordinated with his brother who was living in Egypt at the time to place an ad in a Cario newspaper with the caption, “Under compelling circumstances, I regret to announce the sale of my kidney to pay rent; if someone wants to buy a kidney, please call me.” It’s unknown if al-Ezaki ever found a buyer.

A Saudi Move to Deport Yemeni Professionals En Masse is Likely to Backfire Dramatically

Since 2015, the Saudi bombing of civilians and infrastructure and the imprisonment and torture of political opponents have often characterized the news from Yemen. But the imprisonment of students in secret prisons supervised and managed by both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — a fact that is well-known and likely supported by the United States — may be the darkest chapter in this dirty war.

The deaths of Abdulmalek and other students have again sparked concerns among millions of Yemenis — particularly expatriates, students, and medical patients stranded abroad — about the unchecked violence carried out by the Saudi-led Coalition in their country. The incidents further highlight the dangers faced by Yemenis seeking to travel across the country in dangerous circumstances, and the role of the United States in the ongoing suffering of Yemenis who struggle against starvation, epidemics and bombing. It is estimated that nearly four million Yemenis are currently stranded abroad, according to data provided by the Sana’a International Airport Media Center.

Feature photo | A photo showing Abdulmalek bound in the back of a truck belonging to UAE-backed militants

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

The post Grief and Anger After UAE Soldiers Torture and Kill Yemeni-American Student Trying to Visit Family appeared first on MintPress News.

How the US Government Stokes Racial Tensions in Cuba and Around the World

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/09/2021 - 1:34am in

HAVANA — “A Black uprising is shaking Cuba’s Communist regime,” read The Washington Post’s headline on the recent unrest on the Caribbean island. “Afro-Cubans Come Out In Droves To Protest Government,” wrote NPR. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal went with “Cuba’s Black Communities Bear the Brunt of Regime’s Crackdown” as a title.

These were examples of a slew of coverage in the nation’s top outlets, which presented what amounted to one day of U.S.-backed protests in July as a nationwide insurrection led by the country’s Black population — in effect, Cuba’s Black Lives Matter moment.

Apart from dramatically playing up the size and scope of the demonstrations, the coverage tended to rely on Cuban emigres or other similarly biased sources. One noteworthy example of this was Slate, which interviewed a political exile turned Ivy League professor presenting herself as a spokesperson for young Black working class Cubans. Professor Amalia Dache explicitly linked the struggles of people in Ferguson, Missouri with that of Black Cuban groups. “We’re silenced and we’re erased on both fronts, in Cuba and the United States, across racial lines, across political lines,” she said.

Dache’s academic work — including “Rise Up! Activism as Education” and “Ferguson’s Black radical imagination and the cyborgs of community-student resistance,” — shows how seemingly radical academic work can be made to dovetail with naked U.S. imperialism. From her social media postings, Dache appears to believe there is an impending genocide in Cuba. Slate even had the gall to title the article “Fear of a Black Cuban Planet” — a reference to the militant hip-hop band Public Enemy, even though its leader, Chuck D, has made many statements critical of U.S. intervention in Cuba.

Perhaps more worryingly, the line of selling a U.S.-backed color revolution as a progressive event even permeated more radical leftist publications. NACLA — the North American Congress on Latin America, an academic journal dedicated, in its own words, to ensuring “the nations and peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean are free from oppression and injustice, and enjoy a relationship with the United States based on mutual respect, free from economic and political subordination” — published a number of highly questionable articles on the subject.

One, written by Bryan Campbell Romero, was entitled “Have You Heard, Comrade? The Socialist Revolution Is Racist Too,” and described the protests as “the anger, legitimate dissatisfaction, and cry for freedom of many in Cuba,” against a “racist and homophobic” government that is unquestionably “the most conservative force in Cuban society.”

Campbell Romero described the government’s response as a “ruthless … crackdown” that “displayed an uncommon disdain for life on July 11.” The only evidence he gave for what he termed “brutal repression” was a link to a Miami-based CBS affiliate, which merely stated that, “Cuban police forcibly detained dozens of protesters. Video captured police beating demonstrators,” although, again, it did not provide evidence for this.

Campbell Romero excoriated American racial justice organizations like Black Lives Matter and The Black Alliance for Peace that sympathized with the Cuban government, demanding they support “the people in Cuba who are fighting for the same things they’re fighting for in the United States.”

“Those of us who are the oppressed working-class in the actual Global South — colonized people building the socialist project that others like to brag about — feel lonely when our natural allies prioritize domestic political fights instead of showing basic moral support,” he added. Campbell Romero is a market research and risk analyst who works for The Economist. Moreover, this oppressed working class Cuban proudly notes that his career development has been financially sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

Bryan Campbell Romero

Cuban government critic Bryan Campbell Romero proudly touts his US State Department-funded education

Unfortunately, the blatant gaslighting of U.S. progressives did not end there. The journal also translated and printed the essay of an academic living in Mexico that lamented that the all-powerful “Cuban media machine” had contributed to “the Left’s ongoing voluntary blindness.” Lionizing U.S.-funded groups like the San Isidro movement and explicitly downplaying the U.S. blockade, the author again appointed herself a spokesperson for her island, noting “we, as Cubans” are ruled over by a “military bourgeoisie” that has “criminaliz[ed] dissent.” Such radical, even Marxist rhetoric is odd for someone who is perhaps best known for their role as a consultant to a Danish school for entrepreneurship.

NACLA’s reporting received harsh criticism from some. “This absurd propaganda at coup-supporting website NACLA shows how imperialists cynically weaponize identity politics against the left,” reacted Nicaragua-based journalist Ben Norton. “This anti-Cuba disinfo was written by a right-wing corporate consultant who does ‘market research’ for corporations and was cultivated by U.S. NGOs,” he continued, noting the journal’s less than stellar record of opposing recent coups and American regime change operations in the region. In fairness to NACLA, it also published far more nuanced opinions on Cuba — including some that openly criticized previous articles — and has a long track record of publishing valuable research.

 

BLM refuses to play ball

The framing of the protests as a Black uprising against a conservative, authoritarian, racist government was dealt a serious blow by Black Lives Matter itself, which quickly released a statement in solidarity with Cuba, presenting the demonstrations as a consequence of U.S. aggression. As the organization wrote:

The people of Cuba are being punished by the U.S. government because the country has maintained its commitment to sovereignty and self-determination. United States leaders have tried to crush this Revolution for decades.

Such a big and important organization coming out in unqualified defense of the Cuban government seriously undermined the case that was being whipped up, and the fact that Black Lives Matter would not toe Washington’s line sparked outrage among the U.S. elite, leading to a storm of condemnation in corporate media. “Cubans can’t breathe either. Black Cuban lives also matter; the freedom of all Cubans should matter,” The Atlantic seethed. Meanwhile, Fox News contributor and former speechwriter for George W. Bush, Marc A. Thiessen claimed in The Washington Post that “Black Lives Matter is supporting the exploitation of Cuban workers” by supporting a “brutal regime” that enslaves its population, repeating the dubious Trump administration claim that Cuban doctors who travel the world are actually slaves being trafficked.

Despite the gaslighting, BLM stood firm, and other Black organizations joined them, effectively ending any hopes for a credible shot at intersectional imperialist intervention. “The moral hypocrisy and historic myopia of U.S. liberals and conservatives, who have unfairly attacked BLM’s statement on Cuba, is breathtaking,” read a statement from the Black Alliance for Peace.

The Bay of Tweets: Documents Point to US Hand in Cuba Protests

 

Trying to create a Cuban BLM

What none of the articles lauding the anti-government Afro-Cubans mention is that for decades the U.S. government has been actively stoking racial resentment on the island, pouring tens of millions of dollars into astroturfed organizations promoting regime change under the banner of racial justice.

Reading through the grants databases for Cuba from U.S. government organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and USAID, it immediately becomes clear that Washington has for years chosen to target young people, particularly Afro-Cubans, and exploit real racial inequalities on the island, turning them into a wedge issue to spark unrest, and, ultimately, an insurrection.

For instance, a 2020 NED project, entitled “Promoting Inclusion of Marginalized Populations in Cuba,” notes that the U.S. is attempting to “strengthen a network of on-island partners” and help them to interact and organize with one another.

A second mission, this time from 2016, was called “promoting racial integration.” But even from the short blurb publicly advertising what it was doing, it is clear that the intent was the opposite. The NED sought to “promote greater discussion about the challenges minorities face in Cuba,” and publish media about the issues affecting youth, Afro-Cubans and the LGBTI community in an attempt to foster unrest.

NED grant Cuba

A 2016 NED grant targets hides hawkish US policy goals behind altruistic language like “promoting racial integration”

Meanwhile, at the time of the protests, USAID was offering $2 million worth of funding to organizations that could “strengthen and facilitate the creation of issue-based and cross-sectoral networks to support marginalized and vulnerable populations, including but not limited to youth, women, LGBTQI+, religious leaders, artists, musicians, and individuals of Afro-Cuban descent.” The document proudly asserts that the United States stands with “Afro-Cubans demand[ing] better living conditions in their communities,” and makes clear it sees their future as one without a Communist government.

The document also explicitly references the song “Patria y Vida,” by the San Isidro movement and Cuban emigre rapper Yotuel, as a touchstone it would like to see more of. Although the U.S. never discloses who exactly it is funding and what they are doing with the money, it seems extremely likely that San Isidro and Yotuel are on their payroll.

Only days after “Patria y Vida” was released, there appeared to be a concerted effort among high American officials to promote the track, with powerful figures such as head of USAID Samantha Power sharing it on social media. Yotuel participates in public Zoom calls with U.S. government officials while San Isidro members fly into Washington to glad-hand with senior politicians or pose for photos with American marines inside the U.S. Embassy in Havana. One San Isidro member said he would “give [his] life for Trump” and beseeched him to tighten the blockade of his island, an illegal action that has already cost Cuba well over $1 trillion, according to the United Nations. Almost immediately after the protests began, San Isidro and Yotuel appointed themselves leaders of the demonstrations, the latter heading a large sympathy demonstration in Miami.

“The whole point of the San Isidro movement and the artists around it is to reframe those protests as a cry for freedom and to make inroads into progressive circles in the U.S.,” said Max Blumenthal, a journalist who has investigated the group’s background.

Cuba’s cultural counter-revolution: US gov’t-backed rappers, artists gain fame as ‘catalyst for current unrest’

 

Rap as a weapon

From its origins in the 1970s, hip hop was always a political medium. Early acts like Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation, KRS One, and Public Enemy spoke about the effect of drugs on Black communities, police violence, and building movements to challenge power.

By the late 1990s, hip hop as an art form was gaining traction in Cuba as well, as local Black artists helped bring to the fore many previously under-discussed topics, such as structural racism.

Afro-Cubans certainly are at a financial disadvantage. Because the large majority of Cubans who have left the island are white, those receiving hard currency in the form of remittances are also white, meaning that they enjoy far greater purchasing power. Afro-Cubans are also often overlooked for jobs in the lucrative tourism industry, as there is a belief that foreigners prefer to interact with those with lighter skin. This means that their access to foreign currency in the cash-poor Caribbean nation is severely hampered. Blacks are also underrepresented in influential positions in business or education and more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. In recent times, the government has tried to take an activist position, passing a number of anti-racism laws. Nevertheless, common attitudes about what constitutes beauty and inter-racial relationships prove that the society is far from a racially egalitarian one where Black people face little or no discrimination.

Cuba Black Lives Matter

Cubans attend a pro-government demonstration in a show of support for the Cuban revolution, in Havana, July 17, 2021. Eliana Aponte | AP

The new blockade on remittances, married with the pandemic-induced crash in tourism, has hit the local economy extremely hard, with unemployment especially high and new shortages of some basic goods. Thus, it is certainly plausible that the nationwide demonstrations that started in a small town on the west side of the island were entirely organic to begin with. However, they were also unquestionably signal-boosted by Cuban expats, celebrities and politicians in the United States, who all encouraged people out on the streets, insisting that they enjoyed the full support of the world’s only superpower.

However, it should be remembered that Cuba as a nation was crucial in bringing about the end of apartheid in South Africa, sending tens of thousands of troops to Africa to defeat the racist apartheid forces, a move that spelled the end for the system. To the last day, the U.S. government backed the white government.

Washington saw local rappers’ biting critiques of inequality as a wedge issue they could exploit, and attempted to recruit them into their ranks, although it is far from clear how far they got in this endeavor, as their idea of change rarely aligned with what rappers wanted for their country.

Sujatha Fernandes, a sociologist at the University of Sydney and an expert in Cuban hip hop told MintPress:

For many years, under the banner of regime change, organizations like USAID have tried to infiltrate Cuban rap groups and fund covert operations to provoke youth protests. These programs have involved a frightening level of manipulation of Cuban artists, have put Cubans at risk, and threatened a closure of the critical spaces of artistic dialogue many worked hard to build.”

In 2009, the U.S. government paid for a project whereby it sent music promoter and color-revolution expert Rajko Bozic to the island. Bozic set about establishing contacts with local rappers, attempting to bribe them into joining his project. The Serbian found a handful of artists willing to participate in the project and immediately began aggressively promoting them, using his employers’ influence to get their music played on radio stations. He also paid big Latino music stars to allow the rappers to open up for them at their gigs, thus buying them extra credibility and exposure. The project only ended after it was uncovered, leading to a USAID official being caught and jailed inside Cuba.

Creative Associates International (CAI): It’s Not Exactly the CIA, But Close Enough

Despite the bad publicity and many missteps, U.S. infiltration of Cuban hip hop continues to this day. A 2020 NED project entitled “Empowering Cuban Hip-Hop Artists as Leaders in Society” states that its goal is to “promote citizen participation and social change” and to “raise awareness about the role hip-hop artists have in strengthening democracy in the region.” Many more target the wider artistic community. For instance, a recent scheme called “Promoting Freedom of Expression of Cuba’s Independent Artists” claimed that it was “empower[ing] independent Cuban artists to promote democratic values.”

Of course, for the U.S. government, “democracy” in Cuba is synonymous with regime change. The latest House Appropriations Bill allocates $20 million to the island, but explicitly stipulates that “none of the funds made available under such paragraph may be used for assistance for the Government of Cuba.” The U.S. Agency for Global Media has also allotted between $20 and $25 million for media projects this year targeting Cubans.

 

BLM for thee, not for me

What is especially ironic about the situation is that many of the same organizations promoting the protests in Cuba as a grassroots expression of discontent displayed a profound hostility towards the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, attempting to defame genuine racial justice activists as pawns of a foreign power, namely the Kremlin.

In 2017, for example, CNN released a story claiming that Russia had bought Facebook ads targeting Ferguson and Baltimore, insinuating that the uproar over police murders of Black men was largely fueled by Moscow, and was not a genuine expression of anger. NPR-affiliate WABE smeared black activist Anoa Changa for merely appearing on a Russian-owned radio station. Even Vice President Kamala Harris suggested that the hullabaloo around Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest was largely cooked up in foreign lands.

Meanwhile, at the height of the George Floyd protests in 2020, The New York Times asked Republican Senator Tom Cotton to write an op-ed called “Send in the Troops,” in which he asserted that “an overwhelming show of force” was necessary to quell “anarchy” from “criminal elements” on our streets.

Going further back, Black leaders of the Civil Rights era, such as Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, were continually painted as in bed with Russia, in an attempt to delegitimize their movements. In 1961, Alabama Attorney General MacDonald Gallion said, “It’s the communists who were behind this integration mess.” During his life, Dr. King was constantly challenged on the idea that his movement was little more than a communist Trojan Horse. On Meet the Press in 1965, for instance, he was asked whether “moderate Negro leaders have feared to point out the degree of communist infiltration in the Civil Rights movement.”

 

Nicaragua

The U.S. has also been attempting to heighten tensions between the government of Nicaragua and the large population of Miskito people who live primarily on the country’s Atlantic coast. In the 1980s, the U.S. recruited the indigenous group to help in its dirty war against the Sandinistas, who returned to power in 2006. In 2018, the U.S. government designated Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela as belonging to a “troika of tyranny” — a clear reference to the second Bush administration’s Axis of Evil pronouncement.

Washington has both stoked and exaggerated tensions between the Sandinistas and the Miskito, its agencies helping to create a phony hysteria over supposed “conflict beef” — a scandal that seriously hurt the Nicaraguan economy.

Why Shady Billionaire-Funded NGOs Pushed a PBS Report on Nicaraguan “Conflict Beef”

The NED and USAID have been active in Nicaragua as well, attempting to animate racial tensions in the Central American nation. For instance, a recent 2020 NED project, entitled “Defending the Human Rights of Marginalized Communities in Nicaragua,” claims to work with oppressed groups (i.e., the Miskito), attempting to build up “independent media” to highlight human rights violations.

To further understand this phenomenon, MintPress spoke to John Perry, a journalist based in Nicaragua. “What is perhaps unclear is the extent to which the U.S. has been engaged,” he said, continuing:

There is definitely some engagement because they have funded some of the so-called human rights bodies that exist on the Atlantic coast [where the Mistiko live]. Basically, they — the U.S.-funded NGOs — are trying to foment this idea that the indigenous communities in the Atlantic coast are subjected to genocide, which is completely absurd.”

In 2018, the U.S. backed a wave of violent demonstrations across the country aimed at dislodging the Sandinistas from power. The leadership of the Central American color revolution attempted to mobilize the population around any issue they could, including race and gender rights. However, they were hamstrung from the start, as Perry noted:

The problem the opposition had was that it mobilized young people who had been trained by these U.S.-backed NGOs and they then enrolled younger people disenchanted with the government more generally. To some extent they mobilized on gay rights issues, even though these are not contentious in Nicaragua. But they were compromised because one of their main allies, indeed, one of the main leaders of the opposition movement was the Catholic Church, which is very traditional here.”

USAID LGBT

A Nicaraguan man poses at a USAID event about LGBT issues in 2018. Source | CAI

U.S. agencies are relatively open that their goal is regime change. NED grants handed out in 2020 discuss the need to “promote greater freedom of expression and strategic thinking and analysis about Nicaragua’s prospects for a democratic transition” and to “strengthen the capacity of pro-democracy players to advocate more effectively for a democratic transition” under the guise of “greater promot[ion of] inclusion and representation” and “strengthen[ing] coordination and dialogue amongst different pro-democracy groups.” Meanwhile, USAID projects are aimed at getting “humanitarian assistance to victims of political repression,” and “provid[ing] institutional support to Nicaraguan groups in exile to strengthen their pro-democracy efforts.” That polls show a large majority of the country supporting the Sandinista government, which is on course for a historic landslide in the November election, does not appear to dampen American convictions that they are on the side of democracy. Perry estimates that the U.S. has trained over 8,000 Nicaraguans in projects designed to ultimately overthrow the Sandinistas.

In Bolivia and Venezuela, however, the U.S. government has opted for exactly the opposite technique; backing the country’s traditional white elite. In both countries, the ruling socialist parties are so associated with their indigenous and/or Black populations and the conservative elite with white nationalism that Washington has apparently deemed the project doomed from the start.

 

China

Stoking racial and ethnic tension appears to be a ubiquitous U.S. tactic in enemy nations. In China, the Free Tibet movement is being kept alive with a flood of American cash. There have been 66 large NED grants to Tibetan organizations since 2016 alone. The project titles and summaries bear a distinct similarity to Cuban and Nicaraguan undertakings, highlighting the need to train a new generation of leaders to participate in society and bring the country towards a democratic transition, which would necessarily mean a loss of Chinese sovereignty.

Likewise, the NED and other organizations have been pouring money into Hong Kong separatist groups (generally described in corporate media as “pro-democracy activists”). This money encourages tensions between Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese with the goal of weakening Beijing’s influence in Asia and around the world. The NED has also been sending millions to Uyghur nationalist groups.

Intersectional Imperialism: A Wholesome Menace

 

Intersectional empire

In Washington’s eyes, the point of funding Black, indigenous, LGBT or other minority groups in enemy countries is not simply to promote tensions there; it is also to create a narrative that will be more likely to convince liberals and leftists in the United States to support American intervention.

Some degree of buy-in, or at least silence, is needed from America’s more anti-war half in order to make things run smoothly. Framing interventions as wars for women’s rights and coup attempts as minority-led protests has this effect. This new intersectional imperialism attempts to manufacture consent for regime change, war or sanctions on foreign countries among progressive audiences who would normally be skeptical of such practices. This is done through adopting the language of liberation and identity politics as window dressing for domestic audiences, although the actual objectives — naked imperialism — remain the same as they ever were.

The irony is that the U.S. government is skeptical, if not openly hostile, to Black liberation at home. The Trump administration made no effort to disguise its opposition to Black Lives Matter and the unprecedented wave of protests in 2020. But the Biden administration’s position is not altogether dissimilar, offering symbolic reforms only. Biden himself merely suggested that police officers shoot their victims in the leg, rather than in the chest.

Thus, the policy of promoting minority rights in enemy countries appears to be little more than a case of “Black Lives Matter for thee, but not for me.” Nonetheless, Cuba, Nicaragua, China and the other targets of this propaganda will have to do more to address their very real problems on these issues in order to dilute the effectiveness of such U.S. attacks.

Feature photo | Cubans attend a pro-government demonstration in a show of support for the Cuban revolution, in Havana, July 17, 2021. Ismael Francisco | AP

Alan MacLeod is Senior 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, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post How the US Government Stokes Racial Tensions in Cuba and Around the World appeared first on MintPress News.

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