Monday, August 31, 2015

Harper Misgovernance Draws UN Human Rights Committee Criticisms

UN Human Rights Committee Criticizes Harper Government

by Edward C. Corrigan - Rabble.ca


On July 20, 2015 the United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its seven-page Concluding Observations Report, adopted a number of critical observations of Canada's human right practices, treatment of Indigenous people and criticized Harper's policies on immigration and treatment of refugees. The Report was termed "A wake up call" on Canada's human rights performance.

The Committee composed of 17 International Experts conducted the first review of Canada's human rights record in nearly a decade.

The committee heard representations from the Canadian government and also from Canadian non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International and the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. They had to review thousands of pages of documentation.

Overall, the Harper Conservative government was subjected to severe criticism over its short comings.

The UN Committee acknowledged the following positive aspects of Canada's human rights record:

(a) Adoption of the Human Rights Act of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, in 2010;

(b) Adoption of the Domestic Relations Act in the Prince Edward Island that legalizes same-sex marriage, in 2008;

(c) Changes in Ontario's human rights system that allows direct complaints to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

… The Committee welcomes the ratification by the State party of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on 11 March 2010.

The UN Committee also criticized Canada's mining companies and corporations in their human rights practices while operating abroad.

The UN Committee also expressed concern over "persisting inequalities between women and men." They noted:

a) the high level of the pay gap, which is more pronounced in some provinces such as Alberta and Nova Scotia and disproportionately affects low-income women, in particular minority and indigenous women;

b) the fact that the legislation relating to equal pay differs at federal, provincial and territorial levels and for the public and private sectors, and does not exist in some provinces;

c) the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in the public and private sectors and;

d) the failure to enforce or ensure employment equality in the private sector across the country. It further regrets that the State party has not yet adopted regulations to implement the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act (art. 3).

The UN Committee also indicated that they were "concerned about the continued high prevalence of domestic violence in [Canada], in particular violence against women and girls, that mostly affects Indigenous and minority women."

Specifically they voiced their concerns over the following:

a) the low number of cases reported to the police by victims;

b) the insufficiency of shelters, support services and other protective measures for victims that reportedly prevent them from leaving their violent partner and;

c) a failure to effectively investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish perpetrators with appropriate penalties. The Committee is further concerned about the lack of statistical data on domestic violence including on investigations, prosecutions, convictions, sanctions and reparation (arts. 3, 6, 7).



The issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada was also highlighted. The Committee made the following observation:

That Indigenous women and girls are disproportionately affected by life-threatening forms of violence, homicides and disappearances. Notably, the Committee is concerned about the State party's reported failure to provide adequate and effective responses to this issue across the territory of the State party. While noting that the Government of British Columbia has published a report on the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry and adopted legislation related to missing persons, and the Government of the State party is implementing the Action Plan to Address Family Violence and Violent Crimes Against Aboriginal Women and Girls, the Committee is concerned about the lack of information on measures taken to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible (arts. 3, 6).

The issue of counter-terrorism in Canada was also the subject of examination. The Committee focused on Bill C-51 amendments to the Canadian Security Intelligence Act. The Committee acknowledged the need to address "terrorism."

Their concerns were stated as follows:

a) Bill C-51 amendments to the Canadian Security Intelligence Act confers a broad mandate and powers on the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to act domestically and abroad, thus potentially resulting in mass surveillance and targeting activities that are protected under the Covenant without sufficient and clear legal safeguards;

b) Bill C-51 creates under the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, an increased sharing of information among federal government agencies on the basis of a very broad definition of activities that undermine the security of Canada which does not fully ensure that inaccurate or irrelevant information is shared;

c) Bill C-51 codifies a no-fly list programme without a clear procedure to inform the person concerned on its status, allowing a judicial review that may be conducted in secret, and to which the system of special advocates does apply. The Committee is also concerned about the lack of adequate and effective oversight mechanisms to review activities of security and intelligence agencies and the lack of resources and power of existing mechanisms to monitor such activities (arts. 2, 14, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22).

The UN Human Rights Committee also directed their attention to the issue of "Excessive use of force during protests and police accountability." They specifically criticized the following:

The Committee is concerned about reports of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers during mass arrests in the context of protests at federal and provincial levels, with particular reference to indigenous land-related protests, G20 protests in 2010 as well as student protests in Quebec in 2012. The Committee is also concerned about reports that complaints are not always promptly investigated and the lenient nature of sanctions imposed. While noting efforts by the State party to establish oversight and accountability mechanisms to investigate serious incidents involving the police at the federal, provincial and territorial levels, the Committee is concerned about reports of the lack of effectiveness of such mechanisms. The Committee regrets the lack of statistical data on all complaints, investigations, prosecutions, convictions and sanctions imposed on police officers at all levels (art. 7).

The report also addressed concerns over the treatment of migrants and refugees. Of special concern was the mandatory detention of refugee claimants and illegal migrants who were considered "irregular arrivals" on administrative grounds. The Committee also expressed concern over the fact that refugees might be returned to a country where they faced a risk of being tortured.

The panel of experts made the following criticisms: 

The Committee is concerned that individuals who enter onto the territory of the State party irregularly may be detained for an unlimited period of time and that under Section 20.1 (1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act ("IRPA"), any migrant and asylum-seeker designated as an "irregular arrival" would be subject to mandatory detention , or until the asylum-seeker's status is established, and would not enjoy the same rights as those who arrive "regularly." The Committee is also concerned that individuals who are nationals of Designated Country of Origin are denied an appeal hearing against a rejected refugee claim before the Refugee Appeal Division and are only allowed judicial review before the Federal Court, thus increasing a risk that those individuals may be subjected to refoulement [returned to a place where they faced a risk of being tortured]. The Committee is further concerned about the 2012 cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program which has resulted in many irregular migrants losing access to essential health care services (arts. 2, 7, 9, 13).

The Federal Court of Canada, in a decision released on July 23, 2015 (Y.Z and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers IMM-3700-13 and IMM-5940-14), also expressed its concerns about the different treatment of refugees based on their country of origin.

The Court ruled that the Designated Country of Origin [DCO] provisions to be a violation of the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Federal Court also held that the Harper's government anti-refugee rhetoric turned what might be considered a policy choice into "cruel and unusual punishment."

Last July 2014 the Federal Court of Canada also ruled that the Harper government's policy of denying refugee claimants basic health care (Interim Federal Health as being contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms).

The UN Committee also expressed its concerns over prison conditions in Canada.

The Panel of Experts also addressed the Harper government's policies restricting freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The targeting of charitable groups who had policy disagreements with the Conservative government with the threat of their losing their charitable status was specially addressed.

To quote the report:

While noting explanations provided by the State party, the Committee is concerned about reports of increased repression of mass protests in the State party, such as those which occurred in the G.20 Summit in 2010, in Quebec in 2012, and the disproportionate number of arrests of participants. The Committee is also concerned by the level of apprehension within a broad sector of civil society about the State party's current policies in the areas of political, social and human rights advocacy. The Committee is further concerned at the ambit of section 149.1 of the Income Tax Act relating to donations to non-governmental organizations registered as charities whose activities are considered as political activities when they relate to the promotion of human rights (arts.19, 21, 22.)

The UN Committee Report also extensively address the treatment of Indigenous land and titles, the discrimination against Indigenous women and the over representation of indigenous people in the criminal justice system and the lack of access to justice for indigenous peoples.

The report made the following statement on the overall situation of indigenous people in Canada.

While noting measures taken by the State party, the Committee remains concerned about:

a) the risk of disappearance of indigenous languages;

b) some indigenous people lacking access to basic needs;

c) child welfare services which are not sufficiently funded;

d) the fact that appropriate redress not yet being provided to all students who attended the Indian Residential Schools (arts. 2, 27).

The UN Human Rights Committee Report is what can best be called, "A wake-up, call" on Canada's less than exemplary record on human rights and in particular its treatment of refugees and Indigenous people.

It is clear that the Harper government has serious deficiencies in how it handles human rights in Canada and their heavy handed treatment of those that do not share their political viewpoints.

Canada can, and should, do much better in addressing these human rights concerns.

It remains to be seen how the Harper Conservatives will respond to the UN Committee's concerns and also how the Canadian electorate will respond in the coming Federal Election in the Fall of 2015.

Edward C. Corrigan is a lawyer certified as a Specialist in Immigration Law and Immigration and Refugee Protection by the Law Society of Upper Canada. He can be reached at corriganlaw@edcorrigan.ca or at (519) 439-4015.

A Force that Binds: The European Union's Suicide Pact

Europe’s New Barbarians

by Conn Hallinan - CounterPunch

On one level, the recent financial agreement between the European Union (EU) and Greece makes no sense: not a single major economist thinks the $96 billion loan will allow Athens to repay its debts, or to get the economy moving anywhere but downwards. It is what former Greek Economic Minister Yanis Varoufakis called a “suicide” pact, with a strong emphasis on humiliating the leftwing Syriza government.

Why construct a pact that everyone knows will fail?

On the Left, the interpretation is that the agreement is a conscious act of vengeance by the “Troika”—the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund—to punish Greece for daring to challenge the austerity program that has devastated the economy and impoverished its people. The evidence for this explanation is certainly persuasive. The more the Greeks tried to negotiate a compromise with the EU, the worse the deal got. The final agreement was the most punitive of all. The message was clear: rattle the gates of Heaven at your own peril.

It was certainly a grim warning to other countries with strong anti-austerity movements, in particular Portugal, Spain and Ireland.

But austerity as an economic strategy is about more than just throwing a scare into countries that, exhausted by years of cutbacks and high unemployment, are thinking of changing course. It is also about laying the groundwork for the triumph of multinational corporate capitalism and undermining the social contract between labor and capital that has characterized much of Europe for the past two generations.

It is a new kind of barbarism, one that sacks countries with fine print.

Take Greece’s pharmacy law that the Troika has targeted for elimination in the name of “reform.” Current rules require that drug stores be owned by a pharmacist, who can’t own more than one establishment, that over the counter drugs can only be sold in drug stores, and that the price of medicines be capped. Similar laws exist in Spain, Germany, Portugal, France, Cyprus, Austria and Bulgaria, and were successfully defended before the European Court of Justice in 2009.

For obvious reasons multinational pharmacy corporations like CVS, Walgreen, and Rite Aid, plus retail Goliaths like Wal-Mart, don’t like these laws, because they restrict the ability of these giant firms to dominate the market.

But the pharmacy law is hardly Greeks being “quaint” and old-fashioned. The U.S. state of North Dakota has a similar law, one that Wal-Mart and Walgreens have been trying to overturn since 2011. Twice thwarted by the state’s legislature, the two retail giants recruited an out-of-state signature gathering firm and poured $3 million into an initiative to repeal it. North Dakotans voted to keep their pharmacy law 59 percent to 41 percent.

The reason is straightforward: “North Dakotans have pharmacy care that outperforms care in other states on every key measure, from cost to access,” says author David Morris. Drug prices are cheaper in North Dakota than in most other states, rural areas are better served, and there is more competition.

The Troika is also demanding that Greece ditch its fresh milk law, which favors local dairy producers over industrial-size firms in the Netherlands and Scandinavia. The EU claims that, while quality may be affected, prices will go down. But, as Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz found, “savings” in efficiency are not always passed on to consumers.

In general, smaller firms hire more workers and provide more full time jobs than big corporations. Large operations like Wal-Mart are more efficient, but the company’s workforce is mostly part time and paid wages so low that workers are forced to use government support services. In essence, taxpayers subsidize corporations like Wal-Mart.

A key demand of the Troika is “reform” of the labor market to make it easier for employers to dismiss workers, establish “two-tier” wage scales—new hires are paid less than long time employees—and to end industry-wide collective bargaining. The latter means that unions—already weakened by layoffs—will have to bargain unit by unit, an expensive, exhausting and time consuming undertaking.

The results of such “reforms” are changing the labor market in places like Spain, France, and Italy.

After years of rising poverty rates, the Spanish economy has finally begun to grow, but the growth is largely a consequence of falling energy prices, and the jobs being created are mostly part-time or temporary, and at considerably lower wages than pre-2007. As Daniel Alastuey, the secretary-general of Aragon’s UGT, one of Spain’s largest unions told the New York Times, “A new figure has emerged in Spain: the employed person who is below the poverty threshold.”

According to the Financial Times, France has seen a similar development. In 2000, some 25 percent of all labor contracts were for permanent jobs. That has fallen to less than 16 percent, and out of 20 million yearly labor contracts, two-thirds are for less than a month. Employers are dismissing workers, than re-hiring them under a temporary contract.

In 1995, temporary workers made up 7.2 percent of the jobs in Italy. Today, according to the Financial Times, that figure is 13.2 percent, and 52.5 percent for Italians aged 15 to 24. It is extremely difficult to organize temporary workers, and their growing presence in the workforce has eroded the power of trade unions to fight for better wages, working conditions and benefits.

In spite of promises that tight money and austerity would re-start economies devastated by the 2007-2008 financial crisis, growth is pretty much dead in the water continent-wide. And economies that have shown growth have yet to approach their pre-meltdown levels. Even the more prosperous northern parts of the continent are sluggish. Finland and the Netherlands are in a recession.

There is also considerable regional unevenness in economic development. Italy’s output contracted 0.4% in 2014, but the country’s south fell by 1.3%. Income for southern residents is also plummeting. Some 60% of southern Italians live on less than $13,400 a year, as compared to 28.5% of the north. “We’re in an era in which the winners become ever stronger and weakest move even further behind,” Italian economist Matteo Caroli told the Financial Times.

That economic division of the house is also characteristic of Spain, While the national jobless rate is an horrendous 23.7 percent, the country’s most populous province in the south, Andalusia, sports an unemployment rate of 41 percent. Only Spanish youth are worse off. Their jobless rate is over 50 percent.

Italy and Spain are microcosms for the rest of Europe. The EU’s south—Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, and Bulgaria—are characterized by high unemployment, deeply stressed economies, and falling standards of living. While the big economies of the north, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany, are hardly booming—the EU growth rate over all is a modest 1.6 percent—they are in better shape than their southern neighbors.

Geographically, Ireland is in the north, but with high unemployment and widespread poverty brought on by the austerity policies of the EU, it is in the same boat as the south. Indeed, Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos told the annual conference of the leftwing, anti-austerity party Sinn Fein that Greece considered the Irish “honorary southerners.”

Austerity has become a Trojan horse for multinational corporations, and a strategy for weakening trade unions and eroding democracy. But it is not popular, and governments that have adopted it have many times found themselves driven out of power or nervously watching their polls numbers fall. Spain’s rightwing Populist Party is on the ropes, Sinn Fein is the third largest party in Ireland, Portugal’s rightwing government is running scared, and polls indicate that the French electorate supports the Greeks in their resistance to austerity.

The Troika is an unelected body, and yet it has the power to command economies. National parliaments are being reduced to rubber stamps, endorsing economic and social programs over which they have little control. If the Troika successfully removes peoples’ right to choose their own economic policies, then it will have cemented the last bricks into the fortress that multinational capital is constructing on the continent.

In 415 BC, the Athenians told the residents of Milos that they had no choice but to ally themselves with Athens in the Peloponnesian War. “The powerful do whatever their power allows and the weak simply give in and accept it,” Thucydides says the Athenians told the island’s residents. Milos refused and was utterly destroyed. The ancient Greeks could out-barbarian the barbarians any day.

But it is not the 5th century BC, and while the Troika has enormous power, it is finding it increasingly difficult to rule over 500 million people, a growing number of whom want a say in their lives. Between now and next April, four countries, all suffering under the painful stewardship of the Troika, will hold national elections: Portugal, Greece, Spain and Ireland. The outcomes of those campaigns will go a long way toward determining whether democracy or autocracy is the future of the continent.

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com
 

Juan Santos' Janus-Faced Stratagem in Colombia

Colombia’s Killing Fields: Peace is War

by James Petras - Dissident Voice


August 30th, 2015

Colombia has received more US military aid — over $6 billion dollars in the past decade — than any country in the Western Hemisphere. For its part, Colombia allowed the Pentagon to build seven military bases, more than all the other countries in the region combined. There are over 2,000 US military officers and private US ‘mercenary’ contractors engaged in military activities in Colombia – more than any other country in Latin America.

During the decade-long (2001-2010) regime of President Alvaro Uribe, (a drug trafficker and death squad jefe in his own right), more than one-thousand trade union leaders and activists were murdered — over one hundred a year.

Nevertheless, the ‘Colombian killing field’ regime under Uribe was described in glowing terms by all the major respectable Anglo-American newspapers, including the Financial Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post for having brought “stability and peace” (of the graveyard) to the country and making Colombia “safe for investors”.

Eventually Uribe’s excesses, his policy of ‘peace through terror’ policies frightened and appalled many Colombians and (most important for the oligarchs) he failed to defeat the armed insurgency When the regime’s new extractive export growth strategy called for massive expansion of foreign investment in guerrilla-controlled mineral and oil-rich regions tactics and key political leaders had to change.

After two terms in office, President Uribe’s former Defense Minister Juan Santos was elected on the promise of renewed peace negotiations with the principal guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

President Santos’ Peace Negotiations and the Killing Fields


Under President Santos, Colombia still retains the title as the most dangerous country in the world for trade union leaders and human rights activists. During his first 5 years in office, from 2011 to April 2015, more than 105 trade unionists have been murdered; 596 have been injured in attacks and 1,337 received death threats. Over half of the killings, which are officially labeled ‘unattributed’, have clearly been committed by the paramilitary hitmen — ‘sicarios’, and others are categorized as ‘false positives’, where the military claims civilian deaths result from the ‘cross-fire of combat operations’.

Few arrests have ever been made in a country where assassins enjoy immunity. Over 80% of trade union leader assassinations are attributed to paramilitary-military-police while 6% are blamed on the guerrillas. In the case of the guerrillas, most of the ‘victims’ are not popularly elected trade unionists but agents, appointed by the employers and government, with links to the paramilitary gangs, who identify and purge militant workers and have nothing to do with the defense of workers rights.

There are a minority of cases of guerrilla units committing human rights violations. These are investigated and the guilty are punished by the national leaders — a far cry from Bogota’s policy. A recent case, which took place in early August, led to severe internal sanctioning of a FARC unit.

The drop in the ‘number’ of labor leaders murdered, from an average of 100 a year under Uribe to 25 a year under Santos, is due to the precipitous decline in the number of trade unionists overall — thanks to a decade of slaughter under Uribe. In other words, there may be fewer union leaders murdered under President Santos, but overall the proportion of leaders assassinated remains essentially the same — and the life expectancy for a Colombian labor leader is the lowest in the hemisphere!

What has changed under Santos is the shift away from slaughtering a dwindling number of union leaders, to killing and jailing human rights and social movement activists.

In 2014, 35 activists were murdered. During the first half of 2015, the death toll has almost doubled with 69 social movement and human rights activists killed.

The Patriotic March is the major Colombian umbrella movement, bringing together over 100 social organizations, including the country’s major indigenous groups, Afro-Colombians, regional peasant and human rights groups. More than 9,000 Patriotic March activists have been arrested and 40 have been killed during Santos reign of terror.

Peace Negotiations and Cross Border Aggression


Santos’ peace negotiations with the main guerrilla groups, as well as the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire, has allowed the Colombian military and its paramilitary allies to step up their cross-border drug and contraband smuggling and terrorist incursions into Venezuela.

In mid-August, a Colombian paramilitary squad entered Venezuela and wounded 3 Venezuelan soldiers who had been part of a team combating large-scale contraband and arms smuggling across the Colombian border. Cross-border smuggling has a double purpose: It creates insecurity and shortages in Venezuela inciting opposition to the government while earning huge profits for paramilitary leaders who re-sell the subsidized Venezuelan goods (food, medicine and gasoline) at a huge mark-up in Colombia.

Cross-border paramilitary-smuggling operations have vastly increased under President Santos. While the regime claims to be negotiating a peace accord with the FARC in Havana, Venezuelan security is under threat.

Large-scale, widespread smuggling gangs from Colombia enjoy impunity, intelligence and encouragement from the Colombian government and its US Special Forces ‘advisers’ intent on ‘regime change’ in Caracas. And with the FARC honoring its unilateral ceasefire, the paramilitaries no longer have to contend with attacks from the guerrillas.

Peace Negotiations and Extractive Capital


President Santos’ economic policies are attracting large flows of foreign investment into Colombia’s mining and energy sector. The oil and mineral-rich regions are heavily influenced by the armed guerrillas. Furthermore, there is a tradition of militant trade unionism among miners and oil workers. In order to make these regions safe and extremely profitable for multinational oil and mining companies, Santos has adopted a ‘two-pronged’ approach. He negotiates ceasefires and disarmament with the two insurgent movements (the FARC and the ELN-the National Liberation Army) in Havana, while stepping up repression and terror against union leaders in the oil and mining sectors.

During the Santos’ regime the greatest number of assassinated trade union leaders have come from the mining and energy sector (25.4%), followed by the manufacturing (19.3%), education (18%) and agriculture (12.7%). From 2014 to mid 2015, 90% of paramilitary and military assaults against civilians have targeted union leaders and activists (208 out of 229).

In other words, Santos’ strategy has been designed to neutralize the guerrillas via bogus peace negotiations in Havana in order to concentrate state repression against mass popular movement activists and trade unionists, as they struggle to secure a fairer share of Colombia’s immense natural wealth which is being pillaged by the gigantic foreign mining and energy companies and their local oligarch partners.

Under Santos, assassinations and attacks have become more selective than the indiscriminate mass killings that characterized his predecessor’s regime. The scorched earth policies which drove 4 million peasants and small farmers from their lands have been replaced by the targeted killing and assault of trade unionists active in strategic economic sectors.

Cross border incursions by the Colombian military harassing Venezuela border patrols have been replaced by proxy criminal and paramilitary gangs of smugglers operating with the blessing of Bogota and Washington.

Santos’ dual strategy allows him to pose as a ‘peacemaker’ in Havana and a ‘hatchet-man’ for foreign investors in Colombia’s mineral-rich regions.

The assassinations of two dozen trade unionists per year, the murders of six dozen human rights activists in the first 6 months of 2015, and the 9,000 social movement activists rotting in Colombia’s prisons is not reported in the international mass media, or at international forums, and regional meetings. Meanwhile, the press concentrates on the ‘peace negotiations’ between the FARC and President Santos in Havana — as if nothing were happening on the ground in Colombia.

Conclusion


The new policies pursued by President Santos, which combine peace negotiations with Colombian guerrilla movements in Havana and violent repression against mass social movements and labor leaders at home; friendly overtures to Cuba and cross-border smuggling and destabilization campaigns against Venezuela, do not bode well for future regional peace or stability.

President Santos’ two-faced policies mirror those of the Obama regime. While Obama pursues negotiation with Iran, he wages proxy wars against Iran’s allies in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. While, Obama celebrates the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, he intensifies a policy of sabotage and ‘regime change’ with Cuba’s close ally in Venezuela.

The parallels between Santos and Obama’s policies reflect their common ideology and their political strategy of talking peace while waging war.

This two track policy brings up the fundamental strategic question: how durable and reliable are peace gestures in the midst of proxy wars and mass killing.

With regard to Colombia one thing is certain: The signing of a “peace agreement” between the Santos regime and the FARC will not end the killing of trade unionists and human rights activists; it will not free the thousands of social movement activists in Colombian prisons. By the same token, Obama’s agreement with Iran has not reduced US military intervention in the Middle East and South Asia.

Imperial agreements are temporary expedients. They represent a brief prelude to new and more virulent aggression against independent nations and emerging national and class-based mass movements.

James Petras is author of Extractive Imperialism in the Americas: Capitalism's New Frontier (with Henry Veltmeyer) and The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle East. Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Chaos by the Numbers: More US-Trained "Soldiers" Thrown into the Syrian Crucible

Rinse and Repeat: 82 New US-Trained Syrians Prepare for Fighting

by Sharmine Narwani - RT

A US military source has revealed in private conversation that the US-led Coalition formed to target the Islamic State (IS) and other terrorist groups is currently training 82 new recruits for its Syria operations. These include 12 new fighters in Jordan and 70 in Turkey.

A spokeswoman for the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM), Major Genieve David, would not confirm these numbers. “We are not giving out numbers due to operational security concerns,” she said via phone.

But Turkey’s Foreign Minister Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu’s comment a few days ago that “in the second group we have around 100 (fighters)” suggests that the source’s numbers are likely to be accurate.

It is uncertain, anyway, if all 82 trainees will graduate from the Coalition training program."

As US Defense Secretary Ash Carter explained in a hearing last month, the first group of 60 recruits to “graduate” into field roles inside Syria were whittled down from an initial pool of 7,300 candidates. Only days after his July 7 testimony to the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee, that number fell further to 54.

But the vaunted train-and-equip program to which Congress allocated a whopping $500 million last year, is hemorrhaging more than just recruits. The principles upon which it closely vets trainees now appear to have more holes than Swiss cheese.

According to legislation approved by the US Congress, the candidates have to be “screened for any association with terrorist groups, militias aligned with or supporting the government of Syria, and any groups that were associated with Iran,” CENTCOM spokesman Lt. Commander Kyle Raines said from headquarters in Tampa, Florida.

Jabhat al Nusra - Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria and a US-designated terrorist organization - is clearly one such group.

But a TV interview last week with Abu Iskandar, a leader of the 54 coalition-trained fighters, illustrates how - post-training - these “rebels” break all the rules. Asked about the group’s interactions with Al Nusra, Abu Iskandar replied:

“We are required to coordinate with all the fighting groups. There were contacts made with Nusra a week before we entered. Four months ago, Nusra expressed great admiration for our program. They said: go get arms and come and fight Daesh (ISIS). You will relieve some of the pressure that’s on us.”

“Coordinating” with Al Nusra, in fact, seems exactly the kind of activity that is prohibited under the guidelines established by Congress. But Abu Iskandar embraces the group further during the interview and calls Jabhat al-Nusra “our brothers.”

What does CENTCOM have to say about this? Raines explains: “We don’t ‘command and control’ these forces – we only ‘train and enable’ them.”

In other words, once the Coalition trainees are in the field, the US military “maintains communications and assists,” but does not instruct and direct them in their activities. Says Raines: “Who they say they’re allying with, that’s their business.”

So much for the training precondition that restricts association with terrorists. But what about that other essential demand on Congress’ wish list? The one that prohibits recruits from targeting any other forces other than ISIS – and specifies that the Syrian army/state is off limits?

“Our fight is with Bashar,” says Abu Iskandar at one point during the interview.

And again: “[Free Syrian Army and Al Nusra] should be martyred either fighting Assad or Baghdadi’s men who are killing Sunnis.”

And another: “At this point, Bashar is the enemy and he’s going to fall, but who is the alternative? Who will take his place? He is going to fall. If we had a strong army with unified command, we could remove him in 48 hours.”

Abu Iskandar is clearly not on-message. Nor does he inspire much confidence in the Coalition’s vetting process. It is hard to imagine that western military trainers did much more with this motley crew of 54 Syrians than strap GPS devices onto their persons, give them fancy satellite phones, a few rounds at the shooting range, and some state-of-the-art military toys.

Abu Iskandar knows none of this means a whit anyway. “Our problem is not training,” he laments. “Our problem is the lack of a no-fly zone. Give us that and we will not need training from any outside country.”

But the CENTCOM spokesman makes clear: “There is no No Fly Zone (NFZ) under consideration.”

So why is this train-and-equip operation still chugging ahead? What will the 82 or 64 or 28 recruits graduating from the next New Syria Forces (NSF) class going to bring to the table? Twenty-two of the existing 54 graduates are currently incarcerated by their Al Nusra “brothers.”

The kidnappings, according to a McClatchy News report this week, were reportedly set-up by the Turks – who, in turn, are part of the coalition that trained these very fighters.

Doing the same thing; expecting different results


If perchance you’re confused, you’re not alone.

Nothing much makes sense about the many moving parts of the Syrian conflict, least of all the sharply conflicting interests of the United States and its pro-militant allies.

Washington’s “side” in this Syrian conflict consists of other western powers, Turkey, and several Arab states of the Persian Gulf, most prominently Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Sneak Jordan onto that list, too. It leases itself out to wealthy allies who run their clandestine activities from Amman hotel rooms, refugee camps, operation centers and training camps that run along the stretch of border with Syria.

Jordan often plays a double game in this conflict. Mindful of its own domestic vulnerability to a militant Islamist threat from within, Amman has reportedly shared military intelligence with the Syrian government - when it suits. On the other hand, much of the CIA’s covert Syria activities operate out of Jordan too. US officials claim the CIA spends about $1 billion per annum on these ops, and has trained and equipped nearly 10,000 of the fighters inside Syria today.

On the other side of Syria lies NATO-member Turkey, which has reportedly sanctioned the flow of weapons and fighters to Islamist militant groups, including Al Nusra, Ahrar al Sham and ISIS, over the past few years. Media reports from Turkey have identified truckloads of assistance crossing into Syria under the watchful eye of Turkish military intelligence. Wiretapped leaks from early 2014 even have Turkey’s Intel Chief Hakan Fidan boasting about “2,000 truckloads of weapons” he has transported into the Syrian military theater.

US Vice President Joe Biden last year made clear that Washington’s regional allies were fueling the terrorism in Syria:

“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks…the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

It is no wonder that the Turks have refused to participate meaningfully in the multinational effort to thwart ISIS – until recently, refusing even to allow coalition forces to launch air raids from the handy Incirlik airbase in Turkey.

Over in the Persian Gulf, you have Turkey’s fellow Muslim Brotherhood-inclined Qatari allies helping to bankroll Ankara’s grand plan for an Islamist Middle East. Qatar, which hosts the biggest US military base in the region, has been a staunch supporter of Islamist militants inside Syria and so is often called upon to negotiate the release of hostages – western and otherwise – nabbed by terrorist groups.

Qatar’s longtime rival in the Persian Gulf is Saudi Arabia, which shares Doha and Ankara’s single-minded determination to unseat the Syrian government, but prefers to work with like-minded hardcore Salafists. In 2012 and 2013, under the guidance of Riyadh’s former ambassador (for 22 years) to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudis steered the escalation of violence inside Syria, backing radical Islamists with unlimited money, weapons and support.

As the US’s closest Arab ally - and biggest recipient of American weapons in recent years – a pampered Saudi Arabia doesn’t really know when to quit, even when the terror blows back inside its own borders.

Why rehash old facts about coalition partners and stalwart US allies vested in the Syrian conflict? Because in order to comprehend why 82 more Syrian recruits are being trained by the US-led Coalition in Turkey and Jordan “to fight ISIS,” you have to first be reminded of a particular quirk of humanity: some of us do the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome.

Reading the Mideast tea leaves


So here’s what’s coming in the days, weeks and months ahead on the terrorist-busting front.

An alliance will split apart. A coalition will lose its direction. A bloodbath will mark the demise of the most foolhardy constellation of players since the European religious wars.

The key US-led coalition members do not share common objectives. On the rare occasion when their tactical interests converge and they achieve a victory, they quickly splinter off, each vying to establish their own primacy – directly or via proxies.

And there is no overriding strategy that binds. Forget the publicly-stated objectives for a moment. This coalition was purportedly assembled to fight ISIS and other like-minded terrorists. But who are these other terrorists? Jabhat Al Nusra? Washington “says” so, but then commits to turning a blind eye when allies Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel coddle and support the Al Qaeda affiliate.

What about Ahrar al Sham militants, who have recently been the subject of some stunning whitewashing by western media and punditry? When asked to characterize Ahrar’s level of militancy for the record, a State Department spokesman told me in July: “The US has neither worked with nor provided any assistance to Ahrar al-Sham. The US supports moderate Syrian opposition groups."

That sounds as vague and uncertain a statement as I’ve ever heard. Nobody is ready to publicly “commit” to any one of these groups – mainly because they know that, tomorrow, that very group could feature in a Syrian atrocity video and sink their “investment.” Privately, however, active and tacit foreign support continues to plump up these terror groups, unabated.

What is the coalition’s most fundamental goal then? To defeat ISIS? They’ve as much as said that’s not possible. To bolster “moderates?” They can’t even name them. To overthrow Assad? After four years of failed attempts, and now jihadists at their borders, the West will have none of that these days.

If this coalition cannot agree on the most basic definitions of “good guys” and “bad guys” in this conflict, they’re never going to share in the larger picture.

And we are seeing that manifest now, in The Big Fight Brewing on The Turkish Border.

Washington has been very cautious about criticizing Turkey’s role in the Syrian conflict to date. That is likely to change in the foreseeable future if Ankara escalates its conflict with Kurds in Turkey, Syria and even Iraq. The Kurdish autonomy project in Iraq is especially dear to the Americans, and Kurds are currently involved in hard-fought battles with ISIS on several fronts – to great effect.

Turkey’s new Kurdish strategy is not going down well in Washington at all. And there is concern that the confrontation will worsen as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan marches toward two goals: 1) whittling away at Kurdish legitimacy inside Turkey so that his AKP party can win in November elections; and 2) carving out a buffer zone in northern Syria to break up the “Kurdish Corridor” that flanks the Turkish border.

Turkey’s priorities are manifestly clear. In their short stint as coalition partners “fighting extremists in Syria and Iraq,” the Turks have managed to launch more than 400 airstrikes against Kurdish targets - and only 3 against ISIS forces.

In taking on the Kurds, Erdogan has just placed the United States in geopolitical hell. Washington has to tread a very fine line between the Turks and the Kurds – all while trying to attain its vastly bigger goals of containing ISIS; sabotaging Iranian, Russian and Hezbollah aspirations; placating some very trigger-happy Israelis; ushering an unpopular Iran nuclear deal through a Republican Congress; babysitting a paranoid Saudi Arabia, and a myriad other pressing Mideast priorities.

Coalition members’ interests are diverging more than ever before. Even as Russian and Iranian initiatives converge to offer ceasefires and transition plans for Syria, US partners have moved further apart, each juggling domestic priorities with more urgency as blowback from regional conflicts come home to roost.

Now throw in 82 off-message, bumbling Syrian rebels into the mix and what do you get? Rinse and repeat: that ridiculous pipedream that ‘more of the same’ will produce a different outcome.

This Syrian ‘experiment’ needs to be over. Repeating the same mistakes will never change the trajectory of the conflict in Syria – as it won’t in Iraq or in Yemen. Why are terrorist-supporters Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar even in this Coalition? Why are the Americans, British and French - who have backed autocracies to the hilt, weaponized the bad guys, and seeded radicalism in the region through their Iraqi and Afghani military adventures – at the helm of this dubious venture?This Coalition is rotten at its core. It is time to change the players, if not the game itself, to create even a long shot at success."

Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She is a former senior associate at St. Antony's College, Oxford University and has a master’s degree in International Relations from Columbia University. Sharmine has written commentary for a wide array of publications, including Al Akhbar English, the New York Times, the Guardian, Asia Times Online, Salon.com, USA Today, the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, BRICS Post and others. You can follow her on Twitter at @snarwani 

A Grave Called Guantánamo: Buried Alive with No Light in Sight

Yemeni Prisoner Zaher Hamdoun Says He Is “Buried in a Grave Called Guantánamo”

by Andy Worthington


Aug. 30, 2015

Guantanamo prisoner Zaher Hamdoun (aka Zaher bin Hamdoun) in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On Friday, the Guardian published words from Guantánamo written by Zaher Hamdoun (ISN 576), also identified as Zaher bin Hamdoun (or Zahir bin Hamdoun), a Yemeni held at the prison since May 2002. Hamdoun’s words were interspersed with commentary by his lawyer, Pardiss Kebriaei, a Senior Staff Attorney at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.

I’m cross-posting the article below, which is worth reading not only for Hamdoun’s own words about his long ordeal, but also for Pardiss Kebriaei’s frustration with the review process — the Periodic Review Boards — established by President Obama in 2013 to examine the cases of all the prisoners still held when he took office who were not subsequently approved for release in 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force he appointed (44 of the 116 men still held) or who have not been put forward for trials (just ten of the men still held).

Hamdoun is one of 47 men awaiting a chance to pitch for his release through a Periodic Review Board, a process that, as Kebriaei notes, is appallingly slow. “At the rate prisoners’ reviews are going,” she writes, “the administration will not finish by the time Obama leaves office.” Just 17 reviews have taken place since November 2013, and, as a result, ten men have been approved for release (but just two have been freed), four others have had their ongoing detention approved (but two are awaiting the results of a second review), and three others are awaiting the results of their reviews.

Kebriaei doesn’t write about how her client, seized in a house raid in Pakistan in February 2002, came to be on the list of prisoners eligible for Periodic Review Boards, but that too is enlightening, as he is one of dozens of men who were regarded as “too dangerous to release” by the task force, even though it was also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. What this means, of course, is that the information relied upon by the government is fundamentally untrustworthy, consisting primarily of statements made by the prisoners’ fellow inmates, largely in circumstances that were not conducive to them telling the truth.

Examples in Hamdoun’s file — in which the authorities tried to claim, improbably, that, although he was just 22 or 23 years old at the time of his capture, he was an al-Qaeda member, who had been a trainer in a military camp — came, for example, from the notorious torture victim Abu Zubaydah, for whom the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was first developed, from Yasim Basardah, a Yemeni well-known as the most prolific liar within Guantánamo, and from Adel al-Zamel, a Kuwaiti who has stated publicly that, under duress, he made false statements about people he didn’t know.

‘I have become a body without a soul': 13 years detained in Guantánamo

By Pardiss Kebriaei, the Guardian, August 28, 2015

It’s been four years since the Obama administration promised to review indefinite detentions. For my client there, it’s been one long nightmare.

I feel like there is a heavy weight on my chest – it’s as if I’m breathing through a needle hole. And then I ask myself, “If I write or say something, is anybody going to listen to me? Is it really going to make any difference?”

Zaher Hamdoun is a 36-year-old Yemeni man who has been detained in Guantánamo without charge since he was 22, one of 116 prisoners still detained there six years after Obama promised to close the facility. After I visited him earlier this summer, he followed up with a letter filled with questions.

Will there be a day when I will live like others live? Like a person who has freedom, dignity, a home, a family, a job, a wife and children?

Hamdoun is not among the 52 men approved for transfer from Guantánamo, nor is he in a dwindling group of detainees the government plans to charge. He is in a nebulous middle category of people the Obama administration has determined it is not going to charge but doesn’t know if it is ever going to release. Though the president in 2011 ordered periodic administrative reviews of men in this group to ensure that any continuing detentions were “carefully justified,” the reviews didn’t start until a mass hunger strike broke out in 2013 and forced Guantánamo back onto the administration’s agenda. Still today, the majority of men haven’t been reviewed, including Hamdoun.

Though he has been a Guantánamo prisoner for almost 14 years without charge, and doesn’t know if he will ever be released, the administration says this is not indefinite detention. When I met with him, he asked me questions I couldn’t answer.

Will Obama’s conscience weigh on him when he remembers that tens of human beings who have fathers, mothers, wives and children have been waiting here for over 13 years, and some of them died before even seeing their loved ones again? Will his conscience weigh on him and make him finally put an end to this matter? Or are we going to remain the victims of political conflicts, which we have nothing to do with?

We discussed the reasons for the fits and starts of progress on Guantánamo – the political fear-mongering, judicial abdication, administration dysfunction, the public exhaustion.

Many people have written, demonstrated, spoken out, filed lawsuits in courts, held sit-ins and repeatedly gone on hunger strikes for long periods of time. Hopelessness has, without a rival, become the master of the situation. Mystery surrounds us from every direction, and hope has become something that we only read about in novels and stories.

At the rate prisoners’ reviews are going, the administration will not finish by the time Obama leaves office. Of those reviewed, most have been approved for transfer, but they continue to languish. They’ve been added to the administration’s long list of people waiting for release, most for years.

The reviews are far from a panacea. They don’t reach the underlying harm of the administration’s sanction of perpetual detention without charge. They can only limit the incidence, and in even this they are so far failing.

I have become a body without a soul. I breathe, eat and drink, but I don’t belong to the world of living creatures. I rather belong to another world, a world that is buried in a grave called Guantánamo. I fall asleep and then wake up to realize that my soul and my thoughts belong to that world I watch on television, or read about in books. That is all I can say about the ordeal I’ve been enduring.

I’ll see Hamdoun again soon. He is still waiting to be heard.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ was released in July 2015). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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

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

A Hot, Dry Summer: Fire, Smoke and Change

Burning: A Summer of Fire, Smoke, Ash and Change

by Ray Grigg - Shades of Green

Wildfires are ripping across California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska during this summer of 2015, the result of unprecedented droughts and record temperatures. Millions of hectares are being burned along with hundreds of homes. Fire-fighting costs are multiplying, the economic damage is soaring and the environmental consequences are foreboding.

The old ecologies of the Pacific Northwest are being reshaped as climate change begins the long and disruptive process of altering the weather and remaking the biological structure of the region.

Countless statistics tumble out of news reports as uncontrolled fires scorch California and dozens of active fires burn in Oregon and Washington. Bushfires explode because of unprecedented heat and wind, igniting whole neighbourhoods and even parts of downtowns, as was the case at the end of June in Wenatchee. Sometimes firefighters are the casualties.

Grass becomes tinder in the Pacific Northwest, waiting for any spark to set off a conflagration. Washington stopped counting and even fighting some its fires during parts of August, letting them burn to exhaustion, whenever that may occur. At least one is spreading northward toward British Columbia.

BC's fire situation is similar to that in the American states to the south. Over 1,734 have been counted in the province since April and firefighting costs of more than $224 million have dwarfed a budget of $63 million. The focus of media attention shifts quickly from place to place depending on the size of the fire, the loss of property and the extent of human tragedy. Some people have barely escaped with their lives as walls of flames have roared toward them. The charred bodies of dead wildlife are commonly found in the ashen remains of the blackened landscapes. The danger in BC is exacerbated by the 13 million hectares of interior forest killed by the mountain pine beetle.

Alaska, like BC, has undergone an average temperature increase of about 1.4°C, mostly during the last 50 years, and is at least as vulnerable to the effects of rising temperatures, droughts and wildfires. Record areas of the state have burned in 2015, 183 more than the 216 fires that burned during the scorching season of 2004.

From a climate perspective, Alaska's fires are particularly serious because they burn off the deep layers of organic insulation that are protecting the permafrost from further melting and the subsequent release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. “Everything is connected,” notes Bob Bolton, a University of Alaska hydrologist. “The climate, the permafrost, the water, the fires. You can't look at one without looking at the other. Changes in one changes everything. It's a really, really sensitive system.”

Complex ecologies such as the Pacific Northwest are similarly sensitive. Increased levels of atmospheric of carbon dioxide from human sources are raising temperatures, changing weather and forcing the region into a protracted and traumatic transition. Altered precipitation patterns are lowering crucially important snowpacks, degrading the vitality of watersheds and transforming the character of West Coast forests as California's climate shifts northward.

The summer fires are just part of a difficult and disruptive climate revolution we have set in motion. This change may be welcomed by those who like California's climate, but the process is going to leave many others badly burned

Christians Displaced in Palestine for Seperation Wall Extension

Palestinians Christians Clash with Soldiers Following Sunday Mass 

by IMEMC News & Agencies

August 30, 2015


Palestinian Christians clashed with Israeli forces, following mass on Sunday, when priests and demonstrators marched to protest renewed work on the apartheid wall in the Christian majority town of Beit Jala, in the occupied West Bank.

The march, the most recent in a string of protests, moved through neighborhoods in the Bethlehem-district town where Israeli forces have started new work on the separation wall, which is illegal under international law.

Protesters, according to Ma'an, also condemned the nearby illegal Israeli settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo, which they fear will be expanded if the construction on the wall goes ahead.

Several clergymen participated in the march led by Archbishop and Latin Patriarch Micheal Sabbah. Israeli forces shot tear-gas at protesters and physical altercations broke out between Israeli forces attempting to suppress the protest.

Sabbah urged the world to support the people of Beit Jala in their battle against the separation wall and called on the Palestinian Authority to bring attention to Israeli violations against Palestinians. Nearly 60 kilometers of the wall already cuts through the Bethlehem governorate and is built on Palestinian land, according to the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs. Israel's High Court ruled in April that the work must stop and told the government to consider alternative routes.

However, on July 6 the court reversed the decision, ruling that the previous ban referred only to an area of a few hundred meters alongside a monastery in the town's Cremisan Valley.

Walid Assad, the head of a local group, the Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission, said that demonstrators rejected the Israeli authorities' aim to seize Palestinian land and isolate Palestinian communities in the area.

Assaf added that details of Israel's confiscation of Palestinians land in Beit Jala ought to be submitted to the International Criminal Court.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, a popular resistance activist, said that the separation wall would destroy nature in the area by uprooting of trees and plants necessary for its expansion.

Earlier this month, European Union missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah said they were "concerned" about the renewed construction work in Cremisan, noting that it will directly affect the livelihoods of 58 families.

A 15-member delegation of European Union diplomats later visited Beit Jala to assess the situation. Local Christian landowners said that construction of the wall could ultimately force them to emigrate and "cleanse" the area of its Christian residents.

Israel began building the separation wall with concrete slabs, fences and barbed-wire inside the occupied West Bank in 2002 at the height of the Second Intifada, or uprising, claiming that it was crucial for security.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that construction of the wall was illegal and, like the UN General Assembly, demanded that it be dismantled.

Palestinians, many of whom refer to it as the "apartheid wall," say the wall is a land grab, pointing out that when complete, 85 percent of it will have been built inside the West Bank.

The wall has already completely cut off occupied East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. The Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem says the wall will effectively annex around 13 percent of the total area of the West Bank.

Palestinians living in the Bethlehem district have already lost a substantial amount of land due to the wall and the expansion of 19 Jewish-only settlements and outposts in the area.

Mystery Disappearance of the Nathan E. Stewart

Mystery Disappearance of the Nathan E. Stewart

by Ingmar Lee - 10,000 Ton Tanker


So we are now able to confirm that the Nathan E Stewart is no longer in service since its mysterious turnaround off Kitkatla on August 7, when it was escorted back to Ketchikan by the tug, Ethan B. 

It is very important to know what sort of difficulty caused the Texas Tanker to reverse course in Canadian waters, and then require an escort. 

Here's the Nokea off Cape Mudge
this morning, (Aug. 30, 2015).

I have contacted the local Ketchikan newspaper regarding this issue and am awaiting a response.

The barge, DBL 55, which is usually " mated" to Nathan E Stewart is now loaded, at Seymour Narrows, northbound and being towed by the Texas-based tug, " Nokea"

Letter to Pacific Pilotage Authority CEO, Captain Kevin Obermeyer

Hello Kevin, just wondering if the Kirby tug, "Nokea" has also received all your 'special waivers?' It is just now as I write, passing through Seymour Narrows, towing the loaded barge DBL 55, which was formerly "mated" to the Nathan E Stewart.

It is of great concern to us that the Nathan E Stewart was turned around in Canadian waters off Kitkatla on August 7th and had to be escorted back to Ketchikan, where it now languishes. Could you please let me know what happened? If you don't know, could you please give them a call and find out?

Also, we need to knwo if that ATB service has now been replaced by the tow-tugs " John Brix" and the "Nokea" -both of which are owned by the Kirby Corporation of Texas.

If so, this is, by your own previous explanations, a reduction in the "high" safety standards of running this petroleum traffic by ATB's.

Sincerely, Ingmar

Kidnapper Caught on Tape: Soldier's Abduction Attempt Thwarted by Child's Family

Kidnapper Caught on Tape: Soldier's Abduction Attempt Thwarted by Child's Family

by Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh


Nabi Saleh on Friday saw a remarkable confrontation when an Israeli occupation soldier tried to kidnap a child (with arm in cast after an earlier attack on him ended up with a broken arm) but his family came to his aid and freed him.


Watch this remarkable video: 


This is not the first time family members stick together. Ahed and her younger brother challenged Israeli soldiers who kidnapped their older brother earlier (the other older girl is cousin Marah Tamimi) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWlxLq-2RQA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bh9pwEPpn0Q

The Tamimi children ofcourse are like any other children interested in living their lives on their land and having access to their water spring things denied to them by a brutal colonial racist occupation. HERE ARE THE CHILDREN helping us in studying nature and biodiversity in their beautiful village:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=331&v=Qu65JUCU5bk

Yesterday (Saturday) we were protesting with the Palestinian Presbyterian Church, other churches (including Archbishop Atallah Hanna), and activists the illegal “sale” of church property near Al-Aroub. Also yesterday Falastinyat organization held a memorial for Naji Al-Ali in his ethnically cleansed village of Al-Shajara under the tree where he used to play as a child (he is the creator of Handala cartoons). Today (Sunday) we were protesting in Beit Jala were occupation soldiers used violence and arrested three people who were peacefully protesting. The uprooting of 2000+ year old olive trees to build an apartheid wall and confiscate 3000 dunams of land in Beit Jala is a crime against humanity. These are videos from the scene (please note how some people come merely to be interviewed in the media and the local people pay the price of the resistance):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPreA77cPj8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGMc4q_U05w
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jZqMwy-xJo
http://youtu.be/-YNKvmp4HGg (my own video, I was knocked down at one point)

Mazin Qumsiyeh
Professor and Director
Palestine Museum of Natural History
Bethlehem University
Palestinenature.org
Tel 972-22773553

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Unist'ot'en Camp "High Alert"

Unist'ot'en Camp on "high alert" under rumours of police raid

by Elizabeth McSheffrey 


 RCMP say recent discussion on social media concerning 
the Unist'ot'en Camp doesn't reflect "the situation."

Aug 27th, 2015

ACCESS DENIED: A still from video footage shows Houston RCMP officers requesting Unist’ot’en Camp spokesperson Freda Huson for access on July 15. When that failed, Chevron American officials tried on July 23 and got the same response.

Policers officers have not directly confirmed or denied rumours of an impending raid of the Unist'ot'en Camp in northwestern B.C., which has long been on their radar for repeatedly denying the oil and gas industry access to its territory.

Corporal Janelle Shoihet, a media relations officer in Surrey, said a press release issued by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) outlining the "mass arrest operation" is currently under review and no police action has been taken yet.

"We understand that there has been some discussions on social media that don't accurately reflect the RCMP's action or the situation," she told Vancouver Observer in an email statement.
"To date, there has been no police action. It is our understanding that discussions between industry and the Wet'suwet'en are still possible."

Rumours of the "mass arrest operation" outlined in the UBCIC release quickly gained traction among local leaders and activists, who discouraged police action against the peaceful residents of the Unist'ot'en Camp in any form.

Standing in solidarity


More than 50 individuals and organizations including Elizabeth May, David Suzuki, and Greenpeace Canada, signed an online declaration of support for the clan, which has claimed and governed the territory through its traditional and hereditary laws.

"We are deeply and gravely concerned to learn from a variety of sources that the RCMP appear to be on the verge of executing a highly provocative and dangerously reckless operational plan to make arrests," said the document.
"We are local, national and international organizations monitoring these developments closely and we affirm that the Unist’ot’en are not alone."


The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) also sent a letter to the RCMP urging them to scrap any plans to cross into Unist'ot'en territory and make arrests.

"... Police must proceed with the utmost caution in a situation such as this, so as not to interfere with the constitutional rights of the Indigenous people," wrote BCCLA executive director Josh Paterson. "If the RCMP is, as reported, planning to move in on the camp and remove its members against their will, we urge that this plan be reconsidered."

RCMP will have to cross Unist'ot'en checkpoints to enter the territory and make arrests.

Possible indicators of RCMP action


Union of BC Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said that senior RCMP officials used “deliberate language” around their intentions to go in the Unist'ot'en Camp and make arrests during a meeting with the First Nations Leadership Council on Mon. Aug. 24.

He also said this meeting was preceded by phone call with RCMP about "growing concerns" with the camp's placement, contributing to theories that a raid on the Unist'ot'en residence may be coming soon.

"It seems like incredibly drastic actions on the part of the RCMP," he told Vancouver Observer.
"We said that there needs to be a very real effort made at negotiations as opposed to mobilizing a large force of RCMP officers moving in on a camp."

Phillip said any police action against the Unist'ot'en will undoubtedly surface in an annual meeting between Premier Clark, her cabinet, and Indigenous leaders between Sept. 8 and 10.

In the meantime, residents of the Unist'ot'en Camp are preparing for an imminent police shakedown.

Peacefully awaiting arrest


"We’re just peacefully sitting here, waiting for them to show up," said camp spokesperson Freda Huson.
"That’s all we’ve been doing because we have every right to be here."

Unist'ot'en checkpoints have been set up on two entrances to its territory on Moricewest Forest Service Road and Chisolm Road. The Indigenous group has allowed loggers, tree-planters, and hunters to pass through peacefully, but has used the barriers to keep oil and gas officials at bay.

The camp has not and never will approve pipeline construction on its land, said Huson, despite more than 10 proposals involving its ancestral land. Among the most controversial pipeline projects that would affect the Unist'ot'en are Enbridge Northern Gateway and Chevron's Pacific Trail Pipeline.

Operation Gladio 2.0 in Europe?

Has Gladio Returned to Europe?

by Wayne Madsen - SCF

 Aug. 29, 2015 
The recent shooting of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul by two women who were claimed by Turkish authorities to be members of a far-left terrorist group, the Revolutionary People's Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C), as well as a suspicious incident on a Thalys high-speed train bound for Paris from Amsterdam, indicate that the false flag operations conducted by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s Cold War-era «stay behind network» known as Gladio may be back in full operation.

The DHKP-C is claimed to have carried out a suicide bombing of the U.S. embassy in Ankara in 2013, an attack that killed a Turkish security guard.

 In that attack, a website called «The People's Cry», supposedly operated by DHKP-C, claimed that one of its members, Ecevit Sanli, carried out the suicide bombing at the embassy, which killed both Sanli and the Turkish guard.

The problem with the overall claim of DHKP-C involvement was a video posted by «The People’s Cry» that was discovered by the Israeli Mossad-linked «Search for International Terrorist Entities» or «SITE», a Washington, DC-based group that has been known to distribute to the media dubious videos and communiqués purporting to be from «Al Qaeda», «the Islamic State», and other alleged Islamist terrorist groups.

The alleged resurgence of DHKP-C has provided the Turkish government with cover to pound Kurdish guerrillas in eastern Turkey and instill a siege mentality among Turkish voters as the country heads into another national election that pits the Islamist-oriented government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against the secular opposition.

Moroccan national Ayoub El Khazzani is accused of boarding a Paris-bound train in Brussels in order to launch a killing spree on passengers. Khazzani, who had in his possession an AK-47 and other weapons in a bag that he said he «found» in a Brussels park, was overpowered by three Americans and a British national. Two of the Americans who helped subdue Khazzani are members of the U.S. military, U.S. Air Force Airman Spencer Stone and Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos. The British national is Chris Norman, born in Uganda and a resident of southern France.

It is believed that Khazzani, a native of Tetouan, Morocco, like so many alleged Islamist attackers in France, had traveled abroad extensively prior to committing his terrorist attack. Khazzani was a resident of Algeciras and Madrid in Spain until 2014, whereupon he took a job with the French mobile phone company Lycamobile and moved to France.

Khazzani reportedly was radicalized at a mosque in Algeciras, across from the British territory of Gibraltar, where British intelligence keeps a very close eye on surrounding Spanish territory, including Algeciras. In June of this year, Khazzani was reportedly fighting alongside Islamic State guerrillas in Syria, later traveled from Antakya, Turkey to Tirana, Albania.

Khazzani’s story is almost the same as the one proffered by Mehdi Nemmouche, the Franco-Algerian who is said to have attacked the Jewish Museum of Brussels. Before the Brussels attack, Nemmouche is said to have fought with the Islamic State’s forces in Syria and spent some time in Britain. After attacking the Brussels museum, Nemmouche caught an overnight bus to Marseille from Brussels. A customs check discovered Nemmouche’s bag with an AK-47, a revolver, and bullets.

Nemmouche claimed after his arrest by French police that he discovered the weapons in a parked car in Brussels and stole them in order to sell them on the black market in Marseille. Khazzani claims that he intended to use the weapons he found in a Brussels park, an AK-47, a Luger pistol, a box cutter, a half-liter of gasoline, and nine magazines of ammunition to rob passengers on the Thalys train in order to buy food because he was penniless and homeless.

Both Kazzani and Nemmouche were well-known to French and other European law enforcement agencies as potential threats, yet no action was taken to conduct surveillance of their activities. Before the attack on the train, Khazzani was the subject of a French police «Fiche S» or «S notice that was transmitted to various European law enforcement agencies and requested Khazzani to be placed under police special surveillance. In addition, the Spanish police had Khazzani’s DNA on file. Moreover, not only Spanish, but German and Belgian, as well as French intelligence, had fairly complete files on Khazzani prior to the attack on the Thalys train.

Mohamed Merah, the Franco-Algerian who killed seven people in the Toulouse region, including three Jewish school children, in 2012, and Said and Cherif Kouachi, the Franco-Algerian brothers who attacked the offices of «Charlie Hebdo» magazine in January of this year, also had «Fiche S» and other intelligence files collected on them by French authorities.

The Franco-Senegalese-Malian gunman Amedy Coulibaly, who attacked the Hyper-Cacher Jewish supermarket in Paris at the same time the Charlie Hebdo offices were attacked, was also well-known to French police and intelligence. Danish police and intelligence files also turned up the name of the alleged deadly attacker of Copenhagen’s Central Synagogue and a Danish film festival, Omar Alhamid Alhussein, a Danish national of Palestinian descent and criminal with a violent record who was released from a Danish prison just two weeks prior to the attack on the synagogue. Danish police shot and killed Alhussein after his alleged twin attacks.


The Thalys train was traveling through the Oignies region in Haute Picardie, France when Khazzani was subdued by the passengers. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve immediately suggested that Khazzani was a member of a radical Islamist group.Cazeneuve also wasted no time in flying to Copenhagen right after the synagogue and film festival attacks.


French Police Commissioner Helric Fredou

It was Cazeneuve who was reportedly under investigation by 45-year old French Police Commissioner Helric Fredou, the second in command of the French Judicial Police in Limoges, for links with Jeanette Bougrab.


Bougrab was the so-called «girlfriend» of slain «Charlie Hebdo» editor Stephane Charbonnier or «Charb», as he was known to his colleagues. Bougrab claimed to have been Charb's girlfriend and even insinuated that he fathered her daughter. Fredou is said to have committed suicide at the height of his investigation of a link between Bougrab and Cazeneuve. Fredou is said to have shot himself in the head after becoming despondent after meeting the family of one of victims of the French attacks. However, Fredou's family and friends discounted reports that Fredou was depressed. Furthermore, they pointed out that he had cracked open a major lead in the terrorist attacks a move that placed him at loggerheads with Cazeneuve.

According to French news reports, Fredou had Cazeneuve under suspicion since the police commissioner's days as Cherbourg police «commissaire». Cazeneuve has been mayor of the town of Cherbourg-Octeville since 2001 and it was during his time as police commissioner that Fredou first became aware of Cazeneuve's links with Mossad and his relationship with Bougrab and her cabal of anti-Muslim provocateurs.

The re-introduction of Gladio on the European political scene is in response to growing hostility to the European Union and austerity dictates by European central bankers. The corporatists and fascists who have steered Europe into bankruptcy are now using their media assets to morph their favorite threat over the last two decades - Islamist terrorism - to a combined menace of Islamist terrorists teamed up with an international network of anarchists. 
In Greece, Italy, Turkey, and Spain there are signs that the paradigm shift from Islamist terrorism to leftist anarchism is already occurring, with highly-suspicious and likely false flag bombings taking place at embassies and other facilities. The media will step up planted stories designed to link «anarchists» to «Jihadists».

After the Thalys train incident in Brussels, Cazeneuve and his friend, the anti-Muslim and right-wing Socialist French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, are calling for airport-style security checks at European train stations. The end-game is for the European Union to exercise increased political and social control over the peoples of the continent.

It is noteworthy that the rise of previously unknown «anarchist» groups is occurring in the very same countries where Gladio’s operations were most extensive: Italy, Turkey, and Greece. Italy was the nexus for «Organazzizione Gladio», the Italian branch of the pan-European CIA-led terrorist operations. In Turkey, Gladio was known as «Ergenekon» and in Greece, the Gladio operations were known as «Operation Sheepskin».

As long as Gladio is back in operation in Europe, the people of the continent should be afraid, in fact, they should be very afraid.

America's Policing Problem

What’s Wrong with Police in America - We need peace officers, not Pinkertons

 by Dave Lindorff  - This Can't Be Happening

Aug. 29, 2015
 
Americans got a glimpse of what policing is like in a more humane and civilized society last year when four young Swedish cops, on vacation in New York City and riding on a subway, found themselves faced with a bloody fight in the aisle by two angry black men.


New York's Finest busting up a legally protected
protest during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street Movement

A subway car full of New Yorkers watched in stunned disbelief as the four Scandinavian cops, all in civvies and unarmed, leapt into action [1]. They used non-lethal techniques to pin the two combatants without hurting either one and then began trying to talk them down, calmly, never raising their voices, and avoiding any swearing or verbal abuse. Neither man was hit by any of the officers despite their struggling. As the Swedish cops waited for New York’s Finest to arrive, they gently rubbed and patted the distressed captives and spoke to them reassuringly.

It was not the way that situation would likely have gone down had it been four off-duty New York cops in that car. First of all, they would almost certainly have had guns on them. Second, they would have been shouting and upping the tension level. Third, they might well have applied choke-holds instead of arm restraints, and would have had the men pinned face down, with knees in their backs. Quite possibly punches would have been thrown along with kicks and stomping in a gang-banging frenzy. Given the history of prior such incidents, it’s conceivable that shots might even have been fired, and that passengers could have been hit by stray police bullets (as happened in a Times Square incident not long ago). One or both of the fighters might well have been injured or even killed.

Instead a violent incident was peacefully halted...incredibly with nobody hurt.

That’s how policing is done in much of Europe, where police shootings are almost unheard of [2]. It’s how it should be done here.

But the whole concept of policing in the US is quite different from what prevails in most democratic countries. For one thing, abroad police are not ubiquitous in most places. I was in Finland, Austria and southern Germany last year, as well as in Quebec, and it’s actually hard to find a cop in any of those places when you’re looking for one. I walked for two hours in Montreal and didn’t see a single police officer, on foot or in a patrol car. Not so in New York, Philadelphia, Boston or even my local community of Upper Dublin, PA, where it’s easy to pass two or three cop cars just while driving the three miles between my house and the train station.

America is infested with police, and instead of responding to emergencies, they spend a lot of their time, from what I can observe, just looking for things to bust people for. Laws that can get people arrested have proliferated over the past few decades so fast [3] that today most of us are probably breaking laws every day that we don’t even know are on the books. This country is so over-policed that departments are thinking up ways to keep busy by spying on us, and they’re using tax money and confiscated cash to buy fancy new toys, from “Stingray” mobile phone taps to drones [4] (including armed drones), that will help them do it.

But it’s not just that. Cities and communities are hiring people as police officers who are not fit to be public servants. Many are bullies and have mental problems that lead them to resort to violent confrontation instead of negotiated solutions [5]. They are also people who tend to turn quickly to using a gun or a taser when they feel threatened or even disrespected.

Think about the other major category of uniformed public employee: firefighters. Here we have people who have signed up, and often literally volunteered to do probably the most dangerous job that a person can do: running into burning buildings that could collapse at any moment in order to rescue someone who might be in there, and if so, might still be alive.

I witnessed this kind of action once when I lived in an apartment in New York. We lived on the 11th floor of a large fireproof building of 17 stories. One day, there was an alarm and fire trucks rushed onto the street. Looking out my living window, I saw thick black smoke and flames pouring out of an apartment about five stories below and to the right of mine. Fire fighters were rushing into the front door of the building.

I raced down the stairs to the floor of the fire, and went into the hall, rushing down to the door of the burning apartment, which was metal, but had paint blistering paint on it from the heat of the fire inside. At that moment two firefighters -- both large men in full gear with compressed air tanks on their backs and cans of fire retardant in hand came around the corner after having climbed the stairs. They told me to get away, and then walked up to the door. Without even stopping to think -- or say a prayer -- one guy just kicked hard on the door and busted it wide open. Smoke, flames and heat roared out at them and yet, to my astonishment, they just rushed in together into that inferno.

As it turned out, nobody was in the two-room apartment, and the two men came back out. The fire was extinguished with hoses that sprayed in through the windows from the outside and it was quickly all over.

I’ve thought about that incident over the years, and especially lately as we see case after case of police officers shooting unarmed young men and women (and sometimes young kids), claiming their actions were justified because they “felt threatened.”

Those two firemen certainly had to have “felt threatened” as they contemplated, however briefly, busting down that door with its bubbling paint and then rushed into the darkness and smoke of the apartment in search of someone in need of rescuing. Yet they didn’t hold back and wait for the trucks outside to douse the fire. They went in.

Why are firefighters willing to put their lives at risk to save people (even black ones!), while so many cops, with their body armor and their guns, are so quick to shoot to kill people that they imagine might be intending to harm them? Why do we as a society expect our firefighters to put their lives on the line to save us without a thought for themselves, but just shrug when cops, instead of putting their lives on the line to defuse situations involving drunken or mentally ill, or otherwise disturbed or possibly suicidal people, just take out their guns and blow such people away?

I’m not saying that there may not be cases where a police officer has no alternative but to shoot someone (although shoot-to-kill policies in place at most departments [6] are an outrage that makes such killings much more likely), and I’m not saying that there aren’t cops who have the same courage and compassion as firefighters, but most of the cases we’re seeing lately are showing the opposite. Shooting a fleeing man in the back, as happened in Charleston South Carolina, or choking a man to death for being uncooperative during a bust for selling cigarettes illegally, or driving up to a 12-year-old kid with a toy gun who is sitting calmly on a park bench and shooting him immediately upon exiting the car, or tossing a stun grenade through a window into a house with kids in it and killing a baby are not examples of restraint or even of a willingness to take risk to save others' lives.

If killer cops like these were firefighters, they’d be fired the first day out on the job because they’d be the cowardly ones refusing to go into burning apartments or houses to rescue people crying for assistance.

It seems clear to me that the problem with police in America is not going to be solved by requiring body-cams or by requiring independent prosecutors to investigate police shootings and seriously prosecuting questionable shootings and abuse. Nor is it going to be solved by hiring more minority and women cops, or by requiring racial sensitivity training. What we need is a wholesale revamping of concept of policing, and a re-evaluation of why we need police in the first place. Whatever we do, it’s clear that we need a whole lot fewer cops, and a whole lot less firepower in the hands of the ones we do have, too.

Two weekends ago I was just driving through the upstate town of Walton in New York, where there was a county fair underway. A guy, clearly a part-time or off-duty cop judging by his unruly facial hair, was directing traffic to the fairground on Main Street. He was dressed in civilian clothes, with a yellow reflecting vest that said “Police”. Although he was simply directing traffic, he had a pistol holstered prominently on his belt.

I found myself wondering, “Why in the hell does this guy need a gun to direct traffic?” And indeed, in Europe or the UK he would not have been wearing one. Because he was packing though, if there were some incident involving a driver doing something wrong, and if that incident involved a black driver, the gun could easily have come into play. That’s just nuts, but it’s the norm in the US. We need to change that.

American police may sometimes display the phrase “Protect and Serve” on the side of their patrol cars, but for the most part, that is not what they do. They are “law enforcement.” The connotation of that term is something completely different from protecting and serving. Someone who protects and serves talks politely, and acts like a servant of the public. Someone who “enforces” is inherently oppositional, which is why we Americans are expected to say “yes sir” and “no sir” to police when they stop us. Argue with a cop in America and you’re looking for trouble...or worse. Run and, especially if you’re not white, you may well be shot or tased. (Hell, I’m a 66-year-old white guy and I was recently threatened with arrest by a thuggish young cop if I continued trying to hitch-hike after he, incorrectly, informed me that it was illegal in Pennsylvania and ordered me to stop.)

What we need is to have the same kind of people who apply to be firefighters applying to be cops -- people who are ready to put their own lives on the line to save others’ lives, not to take them.

We need real heroes and real public servants, in other words, and not overlords, bullies and thugs who want to strut their guns, tasers, clubs, fists and cuffs.

If we had cops who were more like firefighters, we wouldn’t be talking about requiring them to wear bodycams.


Links:
[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izdfnHBMwSs
[2] http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/09/the-counted-police-killings-us-vs-other-countries
[3] http://www.threefeloniesaday.com/Youtoo/tabid/86/Default.aspx
[4] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/12/08/cellphone-data-spying-nsa-police/3902809/
[5] http://targetfreedom.com/cfr/police-state-jobs-available-for-psychopaths/
[6] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/21/police-shoot-kill-taser-force-experts-law