Saturday, June 03, 2017

The Day the Liberty Died

Infamy at Sea: Israel’s Attack on the USS Liberty 50 Years Later

by Jeffrey St. Clair - CounterPunch

June 2, 2017

In early June of 1967, at the onset of the Six Day War, the Pentagon sent the USS Liberty from Spain into international waters off the coast of Gaza to monitor the progress of Israel’s attack on the Arab states. The Liberty was a lightly armed surveillance ship.

Damaged USS Liberty. Photo: US Navy.

Only hours after the Liberty arrived it was spotted by the Israeli military. The IDF sent out reconnaissance planes to identify the ship. They made eight trips over a period of three hours. The Liberty was flying a large US flag and was easily recognizable as an American vessel.

Soon more planes came. These were Israeli Mirage III fighters, armed with rockets and machine guns. As off-duty officers sunbathed on the deck, the fighters opened fire on the defenseless ship with rockets and machine guns.

A few minutes later a second wave of planes streaked overhead, French-built Mystere jets, which not only pelted the ship with gunfire but also with napalm bomblets, coating the deck with the flaming jelly. By now, the Liberty was on fire and dozens were wounded and killed, excluding several of the ship’s top officers.

The Liberty’s radio team tried to issue a distress call, but discovered the frequencies had been jammed by the Israeli planes with what one communications specialist called “a buzzsaw sound.” Finally, an open channel was found and the Liberty got out a message it was under attack to the USS America, the Sixth Fleet’s large aircraft carrier.

Two F-4s left the carrier to come to the Liberty’s aid. Apparently, the jets were armed only with nuclear weapons. When word reached the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara became irate and ordered the jets to return. “Tell the Sixth Fleet to get those aircraft back immediately,” he barked. McNamara’s injunction was reiterated in saltier terms by Admiral David L. McDonald, the chief of Naval Operations: “You get those fucking airplanes back on deck, and you get them back down.” The planes turned around. And the attack on the Liberty continued.

After the Israeli fighter jets had emptied their arsenal of rockets, three Israeli attack boats approached the Liberty. Two torpedoes were launched at the crippled ship, one tore a 40-foot wide hole in the hull, flooding the lower compartments, and killing more than a dozen American sailors.

As the Liberty listed in the choppy seas, its deck aflame, crew members dropped life rafts into the water and prepared to scuttle the ship. Given the number of wounded, this was going to be a dangerous operation. But it soon proved impossible, as the Israeli attack boats strafed the rafts with machine gun fire. No body was going to get out alive that way.

After more than two hours of unremitting assault, the Israelis finally halted their attack. One of the torpedo boats approached the Liberty. An officer asked in English over a bullhorn: “Do you need any help?”

The wounded commander of the Liberty, Lt. William McGonagle, instructed the quartermaster to respond emphatically: “Fuck you.”

The Israeli boat turned and left.

A Soviet destroyer responded before the US Navy, even though a US submarine, on a covert mission, was apparently in the area and had monitored the attack. The Soviet ship reached the Liberty six hours before the USS Davis. The captain of the Soviet ship offered his aid, but the Liberty’s conning officer refused.

Finally, 16 hours after the attack two US destroyers reached the Liberty. By that time, 34 US sailors were dead and 174 injured, many seriously. As the wounded were being evacuated, an officer with the Office of Naval Intelligence instructed the men not to talk about their ordeal with the press.

The following morning Israel launched a surprise invasion of Syria, breaching the new cease-fire agreement and seizing control of the Golan Heights.

Within three weeks, the Navy put out a 700-page report, exonerating the Israelis, claiming the attack had been accidental and that the Israelis had pulled back as soon as they realized their mistake. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara suggested the whole affair should be forgotten. “These errors do occur,” McNamara concluded.


In Assault on the Liberty, a harrowing first-hand account by James Ennes Jr., McNamara’s version of events is proven to be as big a sham as his concurrent lies about Vietnam. Ennes’s book created a media storm when it was first published by Random House in 1980, including (predictably) charges that Ennes was a liar and an anti-Semite. Still, the book sold more than 40,000 copies, but was eventually allowed to go out of print. Now Ennes has published an updated version, which incorporates much new evidence that the Israeli attack was deliberate and that the US government went to extraordinary lengths to disguise the truth.

It’s a story of Israel aggression, Pentagon incompetence, official lies, and a cover-up that persists to this day. The book gains much of its power from the immediacy of Ennes’s first-hand account of the attack and the lies that followed.

Now, decades later, Ennes warns that the bloodbath on board the Liberty and its aftermath should serve as a tragic cautionary tale about the continuing ties between the US government and the government of Israel.

The Attack on the Liberty is the kind of book that makes your blood seethe. Ennes skillfully documents the life of the average sailor on one of the more peculiar vessels in the US Navy, with an attention for detail that reminds one of Dana or O’Brien. After all, the year was 1967 and most of the men on the Liberty were certainly glad to be on a non-combat ship in the middle of the Mediterranean, rather than in the Gulf of Tonkin or Mekong Delta.

But this isn’t Two Years Before the Mast. In fact, Ennes’s tour on the Liberty last only a few short weeks. He had scarcely settled into a routine before his new ship was shattered before his eyes.

Ennes joined the Liberty in May of 1967, as an Electronics Material Officer. Serving on a “spook ship”, as the Liberty was known to Navy wives, was supposed to be a sure path to career enhancement. The Liberty’s normal routine was to ply the African coast, tuning in its eavesdropping equipment on the electronic traffic in the region.

The Liberty had barely reached Africa when it received a flash message from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to sail from the Ivory Coast to the Mediterranean, where it was to re-deploy off the coast of the Sinai to monitor the Israeli attack on Egypt and the allied Arab nations.

As the war intensified, the Liberty sent a request to the fleet headquarters requesting an escort. It was denied by Admiral William Martin. The Liberty moved alone to a position in international waters about 13 miles from the shore at El Arish, then under furious siege by the IDF.

On June 6, the Joint Chiefs sent Admiral McCain, father of the senator from Arizona, an urgent message instructing him to move the Liberty out of the war zone to a position at least 100 miles off the Gaza Coast. McCain never forwarded the message to the ship.

A little after seven in the morning on June 8, Ennes entered the bridge of the Liberty to take the morning watch. Ennes was told that an hour earlier a “flying boxcar” (later identified as a twin-engine Nord 2501 Noratlas) had flown over the ship at a low level.

Ennes says he noticed that the ship’s American flag had become stained with soot and ordered a new flag run up the mast. The morning was clear and calm, with a light breeze.

At 9 am, Ennes spotted another reconnaissance plane, which circled the Liberty. An hour later two Israeli fighter jets buzzed the ship. Over the next four hours, Israeli planes flew over the Liberty five more times.

When the first fighter jet struck, a little before two in the afternoon, Ennes was scanning the skies from the starboard side of the bridge, binoculars in his hands. A rocket hit the ship just below where Ennes was standing, the fragments shredded the men closest to him.

After the explosion, Ennes noticed that he was the only man left standing. But he also had been hit by more than 20 shards of shrapnel and the force of the blast had shattered his left leg. As he crawled into the pilothouse, a second fighter jet streaked above them and unleashed its payload on the hobbled Liberty.

At that point, Ennes says the crew of the Liberty had no idea who was attacking them or why. For a few moments, they suspected it might be the Soviets, after an officer mistakenly identified the fighters as MIG-15s. They knew that the Egyptian air force already had been decimated by the Israelis. The idea that the Israelis might be attacking them didn’t occur to them until one of the crew spotted a Star of David on the wing of one of the French-built Mystere jets.

Ennes was finally taken below deck to a makeshift dressing station, with other wounded men. It was hardly a safe harbor. As Ennes worried that his fractured leg might slice through his femoral artery leaving him to bleed to death, the Liberty was pummeled by rockets, machine-gun fire and an Italian-made torpedo packed with 1,000-pounds of explosive.

After the attack ended, Ennes was approached by his friend Pat O’Malley, a junior officer, who had just sent a list of killed and wounded to the Bureau of Naval Personnel. He got an immediate message back. “They said, ‘Wounded in what action? Killed in what action?’,” O’Malley told Ennes. “They said it wasn’t an ‘action,’ it was an accident. I’d like for them to come out here and see the difference between an action and an accident. Stupid bastards.”

The cover-up had begun.


The Pentagon lied to the public about the attack on the Liberty from the very beginning. In a decision personally approved by the loathsome McNamara, the Pentagon denied to the press that the Liberty was an intelligence ship, referring to it instead as a Technical Research ship, as if it were little more than a military version of Jacques Cousteau’s Calypso.

The military press corps on the USS America, where most of the wounded sailors had been taken, were placed under extreme restrictions. All of the stories filed from the carrier were first routed through the Pentagon for security clearance, objectionable material was removed with barely a bleat of protest from the reporters or their publications.

Predictably, Israel’s first response was to blame the victim, a tactic that has served them so well in the Palestinian situation. First, the IDF alleged that it had asked the State Department and the Pentagon to identify any US ships in the area and was told that there were none. Then the Israeli government charged that the Liberty failed to fly its flag and didn’t respond to calls for it to identify itself. The Israelis contended that they assumed the Liberty was an Egyptian supply ship called El Quseir, which, even though it was a rusting transport ship then docked in Alexandria, the IDF said it suspected of shelling Israeli troops from the sea. Under these circumstances, the Israeli’s said they were justified in opening fire on the Liberty. The Israelis said that they halted the attack almost immediately, when they realized their mistake.

“The Liberty contributed decisively toward its identification as an enemy ship,” the IDF report concluded. This was a blatant falsehood, since the Israelis had identified the Liberty at least six hours prior to the attack on the ship.

Even though the Pentagon knew better, it gave credence to the Israeli account by saying that perhaps the Liberty’s flag had lain limp on the flagpole in a windless sea. The Pentagon also suggested that the attack might have lasted less than 20 minutes.

After the initial battery of misinformation, the Pentagon imposed a news blackout on the Liberty disaster until after the completion of a Court of Inquiry investigation.

The inquiry was headed by Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd. Kidd didn’t have a free hand. He’d been instructed by Vice-Admiral McCain to limit the damage to the Pentagon and to protect the reputation of Israel.

The Kidd interviewed the crew on June 14 and 15. The questioning was extremely circumscribed. According to Ennes, the investigators “asked nothing that might be embarrassing to Israeland testimony that tended to embarrass Israel was covered with a ‘Top Secret’ label, if it was accepted at all.”

Ennes notes that even testimony by the Liberty’s communications officers about the jamming of the ship’s radios was classified as “Top Secret.” The reason? It proved that Israel knew it was attacking an American ship. “Here was strong evidence that the attack was planned in advance and that our ship’s identity was known to the attackers (for it its practically impossible to jam the radio of a stranger), but this information was hushed up and no conclusions were drawn from it,” Ennes writes.

Similarly, the Court of Inquiry deep-sixed testimony and affidavits regarding the flag-Ennes had ordered a crisp new one deployed early on the morning of the attack. The investigators buried intercepts of conversations between IDF pilots identifying the ship as flying an American flag.

It also refused to accept evidence about the IDF’s use of napalm during the attacks and choose not to hear testimony regarding the duration of the attacks and the fact that the US Navy failed to send planes to defend the ship.

“No one came to help us,” said Dr. Richard F. Kiepfer, the Liberty’s physician.

“We were promised help, but no help came. The Russians arrived before our own ships did. We asked for an escort before we ever came to the war zone and we were turned down.”

None of this made its way into the 700-page Court of Inquiry report, which was completed within a couple of weeks and sent to Admiral McCain in London for review.

McCain approved the report over the objections of Captain Merlin Staring, the Navy legal officer assigned to the inquiry, who found the report to be flawed, incomplete and contrary to the evidence.

Staring sent a letter to the Judge Advocate General of the Navy disavowing himself from the report. The JAG seemed to take Staring’s objections to heart. It prepared a summary for the Chief of Naval Operations that almost completely ignored the Kidd/McCain report. Instead, it concluded:

that the Liberty was easily recognizable as an American naval vessel; that it’s flag was fully deployed and flying in a moderate breeze; that Israeli planes made at least eight reconnaissance flights at close range; the ship came under a prolonged attack from Israeli fighter jets and torpedo boats.

This succinct and largely accurate report was stamped Top Secret by Navy brass and stayed locked up for many years. But it was seen by many in the Pentagon and some in the Oval Office. But here was enough grumbling about the way the Liberty incident had been handled that LBJ summoned that old Washington fixer Clark Clifford to do damage control. It didn’t take Clifford long to come up with the official line: the Israelis simply had made a tragic mistake.

It turns out that the Admiral Kidd and Captain Ward Boston, the two investigating officers who prepared the original report for Admiral McCain, both believed that the Israeli attack was intentional and sustained. In other words, the IDF knew that they were striking an American spy ship and they wanted to sink it and kill as many sailors as possible. Why then did the Navy investigators produce a sham report that concluded it was an accident?

Twenty-five years later we finally found out. In June of 2002, Captain Boston told the Navy Times: “Officers follow orders.”

It gets worse. There’s plenty of evidence that US intelligence agencies learned on June 7 that Israel intended to attack the Liberty on the following day and that the strike had been personally ordered by Moshe Dayan.

As the attacks were going on, conversations between Israeli pilots were overheard by US Air Force officers in an EC121 surveillance plane overhead. The spy plane was spotted by Israeli jets, which were given orders to shoot it down. The American plane narrowly avoided the IDF missiles.

Initial reports on the incident prepared by the CIA, Office of Naval Intelligence and the National Security Agency all reached similar conclusions.

A particularly damning report compiled by a CIA informant suggests that Israeli Defense minister Moshe Dayan personally ordered the attack and wanted it to proceed until the Liberty was sunk and all on board killed. A heavily redacted version of the report was released in 1977. It reads in part:

“[The source] said that Dayan personally ordered the attack on the ship and that one of his generals adamantly opposed the action and said, ‘This is pure murder.’ One of the admirals who was present also disapproved of the action, and it was he who ordered it stopped and not Dayan.”

This amazing document generated little attention from the press and Dayan was never publicly questioned about his role in the attack.

The analyses by the intelligence agencies are collected in a 1967 investigation by the Defense Subcommittee on Appropriations. Two and half decades later that report remains classified. Why? A former committee staffer said: “So as not to embarrass Israel.”

More proof came to light from the Israeli side. A few years after Attack on the Liberty was originally published, Ennes got a call from Evan Toni, an Israeli pilot. Toni told Ennes that he had just read his book and wanted to tell him his story. Toni said that he was the pilot in the first Israeli Mirage fighter to reach the Liberty. He immediately recognized the ship to be a US Navy vessel. He radioed Israeli air command with this information and asked for instructions. Toni said he was ordered to “attack.” He refused and flew back to the air base at Ashdod. When he arrived he was summarily arrested for disobeying orders.


How tightly does the Israeli lobby control the Hill? For the first time in history, an attack on an America ship was not subjected to a public investigation by Congress. In 1980, Adlai Stevenson and Barry Goldwater planned to open a senate hearing into the Liberty affair. Then Jimmy Carter intervened by brokering a deal with Menachem Begin, where Israel agreed to pony up $6 million to pay for damages to the ship. A State Department press release announced the payment said, “The book is now closed on the USS Liberty.”

It certainly was the last chapter for Adlai Stevenson. He ran for governor of Illinois the following year, where his less than perfect record on Israel, and his unsettling questions about the Liberty affair, became an issue in the campaign. Big money flowed into the coffers of his Republican opponent, Big Jim Thompson, and Stevenson went down to a narrow defeat.

But the book wasn’t closed for the sailors either, of course. After a Newsweek story exposed the gist of what really happened on that day in the Mediterranean, an enraged Admiral McCain placed all the sailors under a gag order. When one sailor told an officer that he was having problems living with the cover-up, he was told: “Forget about it, that’s an order.”

The Navy went to bizarre lengths to keep the crew of the Liberty from telling what they knew. When gag orders didn’t work, they threatened sanctions. Ennes tells of the confinement and interrogation of two Liberty sailors that sounds like something right out of the CIA’s MK-Ultra program.

“In an incredible abuse of authority, military officers held two young Liberty sailors against their will in a locked and heavily guarded psychiatric ward of the base hospital,” Ennes writes.  

“For days these men were drugged and questioned about their recollections of the attack by a ‘therapist’ who admitted to being untrained in either psychiatry or psychology. At one point, they avoided electroshock only by bolting from the room and demanding to see the commanding officer.”

Since coming home, the veterans who have tried to tell of their ordeal have been harassed relentlessly. They’ve been branded as drunks, bigots, liars and frauds. Often, it turns out, these slurs have been leaked by the Pentagon. And, oh yeah, they’ve also been painted as anti-Semites.

In a recent column, Charley Reese describes just how mean-spirited and petty this campaign became. “When a small town in Wisconsin decided to name its library in honor of the USS Liberty crewmen, a campaign claiming it was anti-Semitic was launched,” writes Reese. “And when the town went ahead, the U.S. government ordered no Navy personnel to attend, and sent no messages. This little library was the first, and at the time the only, memorial to the men who died on the Liberty.”


So why then did the Israelis attack the Liberty?

A few days before the Six Days War, Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban visited Washington to inform LBJ about the forthcoming invasion. Johnson cautioned Eban that the US could not support such an attack.

It’s possible, then, that the IDF assumed that the Liberty was spying on the Israeli war plans. Possible, but not likely. Despite the official denials, as Andrew and Leslie Cockburn demonstrate in Dangerous Liaison, at the time of the Six Days War the US and Israel had developed a warm covert relationship. So closely were the two sides working that US intelligence aid certainly helped secure Israel’s devastating and swift victory. In fact, it’s possible that the Liberty had been sent to the region to spy for the IDF.

A somewhat more likely scenario holds that Moshe Dayan wanted to keep the lid on Israel’s plan to breach the new cease-fire and invade into Syria to seize the Golan.

It has also been suggested that Dayan ordered the attack on the Liberty with the intent of pinning the blame on the Egyptians and thus swinging public and political opinion in the United States solidly behind the Israelis. Of course, for this plan to work, the Liberty had to be destroyed and its crew killed.

There’s another factor. The Liberty was positioned just off the coast from the town of El Arish. In fact, Ennes and others had used town’s mosque tower to fix the location of the ship along the otherwise featureless desert shoreline. The IDF had seized El Arish and had used the airport there as a prisoner of war camp. On the very day the Liberty was attacked, the IDF was in the process of executing as many as 1,000 Palestinian and Egyptian POWs, a war crime that they surely wanted to conceal from prying eyes. According to Gabriel Bron, now an Israeli reporter, who witnessed part of the massacre as a soldier: “The Egyptian prisoners of war were ordered to dig pits and then army police shot them to death.”

The bigger question is why the US government would participate so enthusiastically in the cover-up of a war crime against its own sailors. Well, the Pentagon has never been slow to hide its own incompetence. And there’s plenty of that in the Liberty affair: bungled communications, refusal to provide an escort, situating the defenseless Liberty too close to a raging battle, the inability to intervene in the attack and the inexcusably long time it took to reach the battered ship and its wounded.

That’s but par for the course. But something else was going on that would only come to light later. Through most of the 1960s, the US congress had imposed a ban on the sale of arms to both Israel and Jordan. But at the time of the Liberty attack, the Pentagon (and its allies in the White House and on the Hill) was seeking to have this proscription overturned. The top brass certainly knew that any evidence of a deliberate attack on a US Navy ship by the IDF would scuttle their plans. So they hushed it up.

In January 1968, the arms embargo on Israel was lifted and the sale of American weapons began to flow. By 1971, Israel was buying $600 million of American-made weapons a year. Two years later the purchases topped $3 billion. Almost overnight, Israel had become the largest buyer of US-made arms and aircraft.

Perversely, then, the IDF’s strike on the Liberty served to weld the US and Israel together, in a kind of political and military embrace. Now, every time the IDF attacks defenseless villages in Gaza and the West Bank with F-16s and Apache helicopters, the Palestinians quite rightly see the bloody assaults as a joint operation, with the Pentagon as a hidden partner.

Thus, does the legacy of Liberty live on, one raid after another.

A version of this essay appeared in The Politics of Anti-Semitism by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair.

Planting the Pinapple: Noriega's Last Six Feet

CIA Asset Turned American Enemy, Manuel Noriega, Dead At 83

by Whitney Webb - MintPress News

June 1, 2017

News reports on the recent death of dictator Manuel Noriega have largely ignored the U.S.’ invasion of his country after he ceased to be “useful.” The 1989 invasion resulted in countless civilian deaths and helped cement the U.S.’ reputation as an oppressive force in Latin America.

CHILE Former dictator of Panama Manuel Noriega died on Monday, prompting media outlets throughout the Americas and elsewhere to reflect on his legacy – a legacy dominated by the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama that was intended to end his rule. Noriega, who was well-known for his ties to the CIA, was removed from power in what was then the largest American military action to take place since Vietnam due to his connections to drug trafficking and brutality.

While there is no denying that Noriega was a dictator, media reports on his death have largely failed to acknowledge the real motives behind the fall of grace of a man who was a long-time CIA asset, receiving $100,000 from the intelligence agency annually for his “help.”

Indeed, both of the crimes that allegedly led the U.S. to remove Noriega – drug-running, and brutality – were committed with the full knowledge – and likely the assistance – of the CIA.

The U.S. justification for the invasion of Panama cited Noriega’s drug-running operation in tandem with infamous narcotraficante Pablo Escobar, who in recent years was also revealed to be a CIA asset. Indeed, the 2007 crash of a CIA plane in Mexico bound to the U.S. – filled with 4 tons of cocaine – suggests that this is a habit the agency never intended to kick – and still hadn’t when the U.S. invaded Panama in 1989.
In addition, Noriega’s brutality was already considered problematic by U.S. authorities at the time. Noriega, who had political opponents butchered and regularly sent violent supporters into the streets to intimidate the opposition, did so with the full knowledge of the U.S., which sought to keep him in power as long as he remained useful.

During Noriega’s time in power, the U.S. backed numerous military dictatorships throughout Latin America, such as the brutal regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and none of these leaders were subjected to the unilateral invasion and coup that targeted Noriega. Clearly, “brutality” was not the motive.

Noriega’s true crime could be found in his attempts to act independently from the U.S., along with the fact that he – perhaps naively – tried to play both sides of the struggle between the U.S. and Latin American leftists. Noriega’s fate was most likely sealed, however, when he displayed minimal enthusiasm about aiding the CIA and their Contra army in waging a hellish war against Nicaraguan civilians.

“Overwhelming force” directed at innocent citizens of Panama

But more troubling than the U.S.’ real reasons for taking out Noriega was the invasion itself. Nearly 27,000 U.S. troops were sent to Panama to hunt for a single man. However, the massive deployment was indicative of the Colin Powell doctrine of “overwhelming force” that would make itself known in the years to follow.

While U.S. media justified the intervention as necessary due to Noriega’s abuses of human rights, the invasion itself violated human rights on a massive scale and left scores of innocents dead. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that civilians, particularly those living in the El Chorillo neighborhood of Panama City, where Noriega was born, were intentionally targeted by the U.S. military in order to terrify them into submission.

Three hours before U.S. forces razed El Chorillo to the ground, American officials had been informed by a European diplomat about Noriega’s exact location. While the diplomat had been “100-percent certain” of the dictator’s whereabouts, he stated that “when I called, SouthCom [the U.S. southern military command] said it had other priorities.”

What followed was the near-complete destruction of one of Panama City’s poorest neighborhoods. According to anonymous witnesses, whose testimonies were recounted in the award-winning documentary The Panama Deception,

“The North Americans began burning down El Chorillo at about 6:30 in the morning. They would throw a small device into a house and it would catch on fire. They would burn a house, and then move to another and begin the process all over again. They burned from one street to the next. They coordinated the burning through walkie-talkies.” 

Aside from the mass burnings of homes, innocent civilians were crushed by tanks and executed in the street by U.S. forces, who later piled the corpses together and burned them. Survivors were allegedly hired to fill mass graves and were paid $6 per corpse. To top it all off, U.S. forces also indiscriminately bombed El Chorillo.

The Central American Human Rights Commission (COEDHUCA) estimates that between 2,000 and 3,000 Panamanians were killed in the invasion, likely a conservative estimate.

The U.S. invasion of Panama is indicative of how the U.S. has treated Latin America for much of the past century. According to historian John Coatsworth, the U.S. overthrew 41 governments in Latin America between 1989 and 1994, many of which were targeted in order to teach Latin Americans “to elect good men,” as Woodrow Wilson had once put it. However, the invasion of Panama also paved the way for later U.S. military intervention.

Conducted unilaterally and internationally condemned, the invasion of Panama sent a clear message that the U.S. military was free to do as it pleased, unbound by ethics or laws. Not only that, but the invasion marked the first time that the restoration of “democracy” had been used as a justification for “humanitarian-based” unilateral action, making the U.S.’ imposition of its definition of democracy on other nations more important than the precept of national sovereignty.

Whitney Webb is a MintPress contributor who has written for several news organizations in both English and Spanish; her stories have been featured on ZeroHedge, the Anti-Media, 21st Century Wire, and True Activist among others - she currently resides in Southern Chile.

More articles by Whitney Webb

May's Shocking Plans to Gut the NHS

Theresa May in Election Jitters Caught Lying About Tory Plans to Cut The National Health Service


June 2, 2017

The National Health Service in the UK plans to delay or cancel treatment in half the country. This according to English health charity, The King's Fund. The shocking level of cuts in half of local areas in England is a result of attempts to meet financial targets, according to The King's Fund. Health professionals accuse the Tories of willfully destroying the NHS by starving it of cash it needs to operate safely.

This brings to mind the comments of Tory Party grandee Oliver Letwin who in 2004 allegedly told a private meeting that NHS would cease to exist in five years of a Tory government. Letwin, then advisor to the Tory chancellor, also offered a book titled Privatising the World. Later, what he said actually comes true, albeit a bit later than he had predicted. Joining us now to discuss all of this about the UK National Health Service is Kam Sandhu. Kam is an investigative journalist and editor and co-founder of the UK-based independent media outlet, Real Media.

Kam Sandhu of Real Media says there is evidence that Tories plan to sell off assets to service NHS; this is the first sign of distress and it will lead to privatization.

Kam Sandhu is a journalist and the co-founder of the UK-based Real Media.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Passes for Ethical Lapses: Trump's "Pre-Charge" Pardons

White House Issues "Retroactive" Ethics Waivers to Senior Officials

by Democracy Now

June 2, 2017

In Washington, D.C., the Trump administration says it has granted retroactive waivers to senior staff to allow them to skirt ethics rules aimed at preventing conflicts of interest.

The disclosure came in undated memos by the counsel to the president that were made public Wednesday evening.

One of those benefiting from the move is Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, who has reportedly maintained contact with the far-right website Breitbart Media in violation of a White House ethics pledge.

Bannon formerly headed Breitbart, which frequently publishes racist, sexist and xenophobic news. The director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, told The New York Times the move was invalid, saying,

"There is no such thing as a retroactive waiver. If you need a retroactive waiver, you have violated a rule."

Back to the Future: Indian Army "Innovates" in Kashmir

In Kashmir, India Is Witnessing Its General Dyer Moment

by Partha Chatterjee  - The Wire

June 2, 2017

There are chilling similarities between the justifications advanced for the actions of the British Indian army in Punjab in 1919 and those being offered today in defence of the acts of the Indian army in Kashmir.

Most Indians will find it hard to believe that as a nation state we have just arrived at our own General Dyer moment. Credit: PTI/Wikimedia Commons

Most Indians will find it hard to believe
that as a nation state we have just arrived
at our own General Dyer moment.
Credit: PTI/Wikimedia Commons

“It was my duty – my horrible, dirty duty,” the general explained.

“I had the choice of carrying out a very distasteful and horrible duty or of neglecting to do my duty, of suppressing disorder or of becoming responsible for all future bloodshed. 
It was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd, but one of producing a sufficient moral effect, from a military point of view, not only on those who were present but more specially throughout the Punjab. There could be no question of undue severity.”

Those are the words of Brigadier-General (temporary) Reginald Dyer, known in Indian history as “the butcher of Amritsar”. He was defending his orders in April 1919 when his troops fired 1,650 rounds for about ten minutes on an unarmed crowd of some 20,000 who had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh. By official count, 379 people were killed, but local estimates claimed that the figure was over a thousand. Every schoolchild in India knows the momentous effect this incident had on the course of nationalist politics in India.

An unpleasant reflection

There are times when one looks in the mirror and is shocked to see a face one doesn’t recognise – the repulsive face of a nasty stranger. Most Indians will find it hard to believe that as a nation state we have just arrived at our own General Dyer moment. But careful and detached reflection will show chilling similarities between the justifications advanced for the actions of the British Indian army in Punjab in 1919 and those being offered today, nearly a century later, in defence of the acts of the Indian army in Kashmir.

Called upon to defend a polling station against a stone-pelting crowd during the recent by-election in Jammu and Kashmir in which only 7% of voters showed up, Major Leetul Gogoi had Farooq Ahmad Dar, who was passing by on his motorbike, strapped to the bonnet of an army jeep and paraded through the streets for hours, supposedly to deter the crowds from throwing stones at the security forces. When video images of the event began to circulate in the media on April 14 (the same day, incidentally, when in 1919 the world came to know about the Jallianwala Bagh massacre), a horrified public began to ask questions. Taken aback, the army ordered a court of inquiry. But even before its report could be published, General Bipin Rawat, the army chief, stepped in to present Major Gogoi with a certificate of commendation for his distinguished services in counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir.

Subsequently, in a press interview, Rawat offered an extended justification of Major Gogoi’s tactics, making it clear that this was no one-off incident but part of a new phase in the army’s campaigns. Strongly supported by statements from senior ministers of the Union government, Rawat’s interview pointed to something like a new politico-military strategy to deal with the problem of Kashmir. “It is a dirty war,” the general said. “That is where innovation comes in. You fight a dirty war with innovations.” When Major Gogoi decided to use a civilian as a human shield, he had in fact invented an innovative tactic by which he could protect his men from the stone-throwing crowd without shooting at it. “If my men ask me what do we do, should I say, just wait and die? I will come with a nice coffin with a national flag and I will send your bodies home with honour. Is it what I am supposed to tell them as chief?”

The difficulty was, of course, that the army had to deal with a civilian enemy that did not use firearms. “In fact,” he said, “I wish these people, instead of throwing stones at us, were firing weapons at us. Then I would have been happy. Then I could do what I…,” he said, leaving the sentence unfinished but making his thought eerily transparent. When dealing with an insurgent populace – an amorphous and unconventional enemy – he had to think of the army’s morale. “That is my job,” he said. “I always tell my people, things will go wrong, but if things have gone wrong and you did not have mala fide intent, I am there.” General Rawat was fully backing what Major Gogoi had done.

Dyer’s ‘innovative ways’

Dyer too thought he was faced with an insurgent populace. His principal duty was to establish order and restore the authority of the government. As in the rest of the country, there had been agitations in Amritsar against the Rowlatt Act, but when Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, the main organisers, were arrested and deported from Punjab, events took an ugly turn. Crowds assembled at various points and threw stones at the troops which then fired back. Twelve people were killed. By the evening, crowds set fire to numerous public buildings, five Europeans were beaten to death and an English woman – a doctor – was left for dead though she later recovered in hospital. Two days later, Dyer arrived in Amritsar, declared all public assemblies illegal and when people gathered for the baisakhi festival at Jallianwala Bagh, decided they must be taught an exemplary lesson.

Dyer too devised innovative ways to establish the authority of British arms in Punjab. Martial law was declared, summary trials were held and over a hundred people were sentenced to death, of whom 18 were hanged in public before the practice was stopped. The most common form of punishment for the violation of curfew rules was public flogging. Dyer’s most notorious innovation was the “crawling lane” – the street where Miss Sherwood, the English doctor, had been beaten. Those wishing to pass through the street, including its residents, were made to crawl on all fours, sliding on their bellies as soldiers kicked them or prodded them with their bayonets.

He explained his action with a bizarre flourish of Orientalist knowledge:

“The order meant that the street should be regarded as holy ground, and that, to mark this fact, no one was to traverse it except in a manner in which a place of special sanctity might naturally in the East be traversed.” 

Dyer was clear that his job as an army man was to create a “moral effect” throughout the province. “These were rebels and I must not treat them with gloves on. Yes, throughout the Punjab, I wanted to reduce their moral; the moral of the rebels.” (One assumes that he meant “their morale”.) He was also mindful of the need to make his actions that day have a lasting effect on the people: merely dispersing the crowd was not enough.

“I could disperse them for some time, then they would all come back and laugh at me and I considered I would be making myself a fool.” 

What was at stake was the very authority of the Raj.

General Rawat too was forthright about maintaining the authority of the army over a potentially restive civilian population. “Adversaries must be afraid of you and at the same time your people must be afraid of you. We are a friendly army, but when we are called to restore law and order, people have to be afraid of us.” Hence, innovative methods of dealing with violent crowds had to be devised with the future in mind.

“Tomorrow elections have to be held in Anantnag and similar things may happen. If the army does not respond to calls for assistance, then the trust between the people whom we are protecting – police and army – will break. That is something I cannot allow to happen.”

When does a nation’s army start to believe that to preserve its authority, it must be feared by its own people?

We should remember that even though most Indians today believe that the Jallianwala Bagh killings were unprovoked and unwarranted, the British authorities in Punjab, led by the governor Michael O’Dwyer, were convinced that a major conspiracy had been laid by Congress leaders to create massive disorder throughout the country leading to a revolt against British rule on a scale not seen since 1857. O’Dwyer and other senior officials in India fully backed Dyer, calling him “the saviour of the Punjab.”

Political reactions in Britain, however, were less charitable. The secretary of war, Winston Churchill, no lover of Indian nationalists, was appalled by such wanton and needless violence: it was “a monstrous event,” he said, “an event which stands in sinister and singular isolation”. Asquith said: “It is one of the worst outrages in the whole of our history.” Edwin Montagu, as secretary of state for India, formed a committee of inquiry which, some months later, censured Dyer for “a mistaken conception of his duty” and called his crawling order “an act of humiliation” which “punished innocent as well as guilty” and caused “bitterness and racial ill-feeling”. But Tory imperialists and those with India connections kept up their full-throated support for Dyer when he returned to Britain, feting him and raising for him a fund of some £26,000, not a small sum those days. In fact, Dyer became for some time a popular national hero in Britain.

Mixing politics and the military 



Farooq Ahmad Dar being used as a human shield. 
Credit: Video screengrab

In Major Gogoi’s case, even though the army has set up a court of inquiry, it is the political leadership that has most vociferously defended his cause. Arun Jaitley, the defence minister, said that when there was “a war-like situation”, military officers should be allowed to make their own decisions. Venkaiah Naidu “totally agreed” with General Rawat that there was a dirty war going on in Kashmir. And Rajnath Singh hinted that a new strategy was being devised that would ensure a “permanent solution” to the Kashmir problem.

Major Gogoi himself was allowed, perhaps even encouraged, to defend his action in the public media even as the inquiry against him was on, something that is unprecedented in the history of the armed forces of independent India. Only a few retired military personnel, representing a disappearing old guard, have expressed their horror at such outrageous behaviour by a professional army. Lieutenant-General H.S. Panag, the most distinguished among them, said that Major Gogoi’s act was “illegal and inhuman” and that the image of Dar tied to the jeep’s bonnet could end up, like the napalm girl of Vietnam, as the defining image of the Indian army in Kashmir. But such voices of sanity are being drowned by the patriotic cacophony of political cheerleaders.

These events seem to point to an impending transformation in the relation of the military with the civilian wing of the government, on the one hand, and society, on the other. For nearly seven decades, the professional armed forces of India, a country in which there is no compulsory military service, have been kept firmly under civilian control and out of politics. There is little by way of public celebration of the exploits of the national army and even a victory such as that in 1971 has few memorials. Until very recently, retired generals have almost never entered politics. This is particularly significant because of all democracies in the world, India has had the longest and most extensive counter-insurgency operations within its own national territory of which Jaitley’s “war-like situation” is only a euphemism. The problem that Indian rulers have faced is how to keep the army constantly deployed in combating domestic unrest without letting military leaders make political decisions. An impartial observer would have to admit that thus far both political and military leaders have done a fairly good job.

That situation seems to be changing. Retired military officers are being invited to join political parties, run for elections and become ministers. The army’s exploits, both within and outside the country’s borders, are loudly and spectacularly projected in the media to bolster the ruling party’s hyper-nationalist ideology. Serving officers are encouraged to appear in public forums and echo the political line. This is being done, we are told, in order to give the armed forces their much deserved place of honour in society. What is not being realised is that there is only a small gap between a privileged place of honour and the paternalist claim to the power to punish, especially for a branch of the state that has an overwhelming superiority in the use of armed violence. When does a nation’s army start to believe that to preserve its authority, it must be feared by its own people?

It would be unfair to suggest that General Rawat’s motives are the same as those of Dyer. Rather, the similarity in their words stems from a structural feature that is now being revealed in the way in which the Indian army is permanently deployed in regions under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act – like an occupying force in a conquered colony. The example of Israel that is often cited these days as the model from which India should learn is, in this context, particularly troubling.

Israel is, properly speaking, a settler colony that regards Palestinians as a hostile and rebellious other that must be subdued and kept apart. Is that what India’s political leaders believe their relation must be to the people of Kashmir or Manipur or Nagaland? One can only hope that as a nation, we have not reached the edge of a slippery slope. Otherwise, our General Dyer moment could prove to be the precursor to a General Ayub Khan moment. Or is it Yahya Khan or Zia-ul-Huq who will be the preferred role models?

Partha Chatterjee is a social scientist and historian.

Seriously, Time to Consider the Case for Impeachment

It’s Time to Make the Case for Impeaching Trump

by John Nichols  - The Nation

June 2, 2017

Donald Trump’s campaign boast that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters” may still hold true for the dead-enders who cling to the fantasy that he’s a competent commander in chief.

But the Trump team doesn’t set the standard for presidential accountability. That was done back in 1787, when the initiators of the American experiment delineated the impeachment power that is suddenly all the rage.

Impeachment is not the only tool for checking and balancing errant presidents. Congress has the power of the purse, the duty to declare wars, and “advise and consent” oversight authority. Unfortunately, the separation-of-powers protections outlined in the Constitution have taken a beating on the long march from George Washington’s “prudent” administration to the imperial presidency that Trump inherited.

There’s al­ready a good case for obstruction of justice.

Thankfully, the American people have always been more constitutionally inclined than the political elites. Tens of millions of good citizens are now prepared to explore every option for checking the authoritarian instincts of a man who would be what patriots have always feared: “a king for four years.” In a Public Policy Polling survey from mid-May, 48 percent of the people surveyed said they supported impeachment, compared with just 41 percent who were opposed.

The list of grievances fueling the “Impeach Trump Now” campaign may have started with complaints that this billionaire president is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause—a concern highlighted by Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan when he warned in a February 2 floor speech that, should President Trump fail to address his potential conflicts of interest and continue to disregard demands for transparency,

“We’ll have to take other actions, including legislative directives, resolutions of disapproval, and even explore the power of impeachment.” 

But that list of grievances has grown exponentially larger as this presidency has lurched from crisis to crisis.

After the president fired FBI director James Comey—in what Trump essentially admitted in a nationally televised interview was a blatant attempt to thwart the bureau’s investigation into the charges of Russian involvement with his campaign—Pocan said the “impeachment clock” had moved “an hour closer to midnight.” When it was revealed that Trump had confided to Russian officials after the Comey firing that “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off,” the impeachment clock’s alarm sounded.

According to Comey, Trump had requested that the FBI drop its investigation into former national-security adviser Michael Flynn and his ties to Russia. Those details now read like the elements of an article of impeachment for obstruction of justice. As Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe explained in a May 14 argument for impeachment,

“This president has shown that he cannot be trusted to remain within the law, and our Constitution’s last resort for situations of that kind is to get the person out of office.”

Of course, House Speaker Paul Ryan disagreed—and as long as this relentless Republican partisan holds his fractious caucus together, he can thwart any efforts to hold Trump accountable. But the acknowledgment by a few back-bench Republicans, like Justin Amash of Michigan, that Trump’s apparent obstructions of justice could be grounds for impeachment raised the stakes even higher in May.

Unfortunately, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s response was to tell impeachment-inclined Democrats to “curb their enthusiasm.” Top Democrats say they want to let the current host of inquiries—
including a narrowly drawn investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign’s Russian entanglements—follow their slow and protracted course. In fact, Democrats in Washington are betting that Trump’s declining popularity will help the party prevail in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

That determination to put political strategy ahead of principle is wrong, both morally and practically. If any official—the president or, for that matter, the vice president or the attorney general—betrays the public trust and threatens the republic, that official should be impeached and removed. The people know this, and history reminds us that voters reward honest advocates for accountability.

After the Democrats addressed Richard Nixon’s high crimes and misdemeanors in 1974, they swept that year’s congressional elections and took the presidency in 1976. (Even the Republicans who abused the impeachment process with their petty—and unpopular—targeting of Bill Clinton’s “sexual relations” in 1998–99 maintained control of Congress in 2000; they even secured the presidency, albeit under tainted circumstances.)

Impeachment is a powerful tool, and the impeachment process should be treated seriously. But there is nothing serious, or responsible, about taking a constitutional remedy off the table, as too many DC Democrats have suggested.

We would all do well to recall George Mason’s counsel from the summer of 1787:

“No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued.” 

The founders may not have anticipated a rogue quite like Donald Trump winning the presidency when they crafted the impeachment power, but they did anticipate crises like this one. And they gave us the tools, as citizens acting through our elected representatives, to thwart the monarchical impulses of “elected despots.”

Impeachment is not a “constitutional crisis”; it is rather the cure for one. A failure to apply that cure, for reasons of caution or partisan calculation, is a form of political malpractice that ill serves the republic that not just presidents but members of Congress swear to defend.

British Press Peeps for Corbyn Peer from Out the Closet

Guardian Staff Come Out of Closet for Corbyn

by Jonathan Cook

June 2, 2017

Dear Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett: Congratulations on coming out of the Guardian closet and admitting that you have been a secret Jeremy Corbyn admirer all along. Your column, “I used to be a shy Corbynite but I’m over that now”, was excellent.

Interestingly, I noticed Jonathan Freedland, the paper’s senior commentator and its Corbyn-denigrator-in-chief (he has some competition!) – and your boss, I suppose – wrote an oped a couple of days ago admitting he may have misjudged Corbyn.

Maybe that was the moment you finally sparked up the courage to come clean about liking Corbyn.

I was very interested in what you had to say about why you remained silent for so long.


I had become so used to political commentators popping up every time I expressed admiration for Corbyn’s principles to call me naive or a narcissist or an Islington-dwelling champagne socialist or a loony lefty, as though we were in some pompous game of whack-a-mole, that I began to sort of believe it.

Are you talking about Freedland? But I suppose there were lots of other ideological bouncers out there in liberal-media pundit land. It must have been hard. As you say, “Stop treating us like fools!”

But I never did stop believing in the same things Corbyn does – in equality, social justice, social mobility and peace. Nor did I ever doubt that families such as my own would be much better off under a Labour government than a Tory one. Which is why I’m going to vote for him again.

Great, Rhiannon! Shame it took so long for you to pluck up the courage to speak out.

Why should anyone feel embarrassed to back an anti-austerity politician in this context? Why should anyone who cares passionately about the NHS remaining safe from being transferred into private ownership feel ashamed to support a politician who is committed to it? Why should any young person – most of whom seem to be voting for Corbyn – cringe at voting for a party that has committed itself to tackling generational injustice?

Good question. Why should anyone feel embarrassed, especially a well-paid, career-minded young journalist like yourself?

Here’s a guess. Maybe because your own paper worked relentlessly to make even leftists feel stupid for supporting Corbyn. The group-think got so bad, even at the Guardian, that Owen Jones, a friend of Corbyn’s, was too embarrassed to come out with anything more than grudging support for him in the paper’s pages. He spent his columns instead agonising over what to do about Corbyn.

Even George Monbiot, your in-house radical, sounded almost apologetic telling us recently that he supported Corbyn. No wonder you were too afraid to tell your bosses how you felt, or to pitch to them a pro-Corbyn commentary over the past two years. Safer to keep that information to yourself.

I worked at the Guardian myself for many years. I know the atmosphere in the newsroom only too well. I can imagine it was hard to contradict all those older, “wiser” heads further up the Guardian hierarchy. I wonder how many of the other young staff felt equally frightened to speak up over the past two years.

The narrative has shifted so much in the Tories’ favour, to the point where to announce you’re voting Labour feels subversive and threatening. … The frame has moved, but we still have the same brains, the same hearts, and the same guts. And my brain, my heart, and my gut are telling me that I would never forgive myself if I didn’t back Labour at this crucial time.

Yes, the narrative has shifted so much in the Tories’ favour. I suppose that was because there were no left-liberal journalists there to challenge it. If only we had a left-liberal newspaper that could support a social democratic candidate like Jeremy Corbyn for prime minister. Oh, but wait – isn’t your newspaper supposed to be left-liberal?

Anyway, well done, Rhiannon. I am glad you wrote this piece. Let’s hope, there are more like it to come. Maybe now it looks like Corbyn is in the running, and the Guardian editors have realised that they have egg on their face and that they have alienated large swaths of their readership, they will be more open to letting young journalists tell us about how they have been secretly longing to confess their passion for Corbyn and his politics.

Best wishes,


Perhaps not surprisingly, Cosslett was offended by my post. On Twitter she has accused me of sexism. That is to conflate sarcasm and sexism. Let me assure her I would have written the same post had she been a man.

But her reaction suggests that she and possibly others have missed the real aim of my article. My sarcasm may have obscured my point for some readers rather than highlighting it. So let me be clearer still.

The chief target of my post was not Cosslett but the Guardian. It was an insult to its readers to have published Cosslett’s article. Not because her views are not genuinely held or worthy of publishing. In fact, in other circumstances, my congratulations to her over the article would have been heartfelt. It is genuinely to be welcomed that she supports Corbyn, and genuinely of concern that she felt so bullied and intimidated at the Guardian for two years that she could not write of her support for Corbyn earlier.

My problem is where this article was published, not who wrote it or what they wrote. In publishing Cosslett’s article, the Guardian has shown the extent of its cynicism. One can understand what it has done if we precis Cosslett’s article:

I have had to hide my support for Corbyn for two years at the Guardian, after a reign of ideological terror there from my bosses. But now things are starting to turn around for Corbyn, I have been allowed to write something in support of the Labour leader.

That is the message implicit in Cosslett’s article, pure and simple. We can precis it yet further:

 “I have been recruited, as a young journalist, into a damage limitation exercise for my employer, the Guardian.”

Now that would be brave journalism indeed from Cosslett, and a very brave decision by the Guardian to publish it, if that was what the Guardian really intended that its readers take home from the article. But if that were the case, we should also be reading alongside Cosslett’s article a mea culpa from Kath Viner, the editor. She should have written an article about how very wrong it was for the Guardian’s editorial offices to have become such an intimidating place that young journalists like Cosslett could not express their true feelings.

It would also have required a promise from her that the Guardian was going to change its editorial practices. That it would become a more open and democratic employer, where young staff, and those on insecure contracts, would feel greater confidence to speak their minds. It would require a promise of concrete, practical reforms. But, of course, none of that has been promised, or even implied, by the Guardian.

Cosslett’s article has been offered up as a sop to its readers in the hope that they will think more kindly of the Guardian. Maybe become a supporter. Publishing Cosslett’s article was that cynical. It was an insult of staggering proportions to its readers’ intellects. In fact, it was published as an act of contempt for them.

The Guardian assumes we will not notice the veiled implications of Cosslett’s piece. That young journalists – and who can doubt Cosslett was far from alone in feeling she dare not speak out – have been silenced at the Guardian for two years by its editors. We are dealing here with a serious case of intellectual and editorial bullying – its editorial policy on Corbyn for two years has reflected the views of a tiny handful of insulated, over-paid editors, not the wider staff. The Guardian has been, as critics like me have been arguing, simply propagandising on behalf of the Westminister bubble.

That is bad enough. But it is more serious still. The Guardian editors have helped to exclude voices of support for Corbyn from the only supposedly serious left-liberal newspaper in Britain, at a time when the country stands on the precipice of an election that could dramatically shape all our futures.

Mohammad Saba'aneh: On Art and Nonviolent Resistance

Art as a Form of Nonviolent Resistance: Palestine


May 24, 2017

The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip is now 50 years old. For 50 years, Palestinians have struggled to become free of the occupation, and they used a variety of means of resistance. If we compare the struggles of Palestinian freedom to the occupation struggles in, say, Algeria, Vietnam, or even Kashmir, Palestine stands out as one of the least violent of them.

Part of the Palestinian struggle for liberation uses the term culture as resistance. Can art be used as a weapon, or art as a form of unarmed resistance? For that discussion, in our Baltimore studio today is Mohammad Sabaaneh. He is a Palestinian-born Kuwaiti. He is a painter, caricaturist and a cartoon artist. His cartoons appear in dozens of newspapers and he's a member of CRNI, Cartoon Rights International Network. Mohammad uses art as a form of unarmed resistance. Mohammad has just published a book of his cartoons titled White and Black Political Cartoons From Palestine.

Palestinian political cartoonist Mohammad Saba'aneh talks about his art and its importance to him and to the Palestinian people.

Mohammad Sabaaneh is a Palestinian political cartoonist and the author of White and Black: Political Cartoons from Palestine, which was published by Just World Books in 2017.

Just World Books was founded in 2010 by longtime global-affairs writer and researcher Helena Cobban, who is now their CEO. They publish the work of talented authors who write thought-provoking books across a variety of genres that expand and enrich the discourse in the United States and worldwide on issues of great international concern. Their emphasis is on topics connected with the Middle East and with war and peace issues more broadly.

For more about White and Black: Political Cartoons from Palestine and about Sabaaneh, visit the Just World Books website.

When You Lay Down with Dogs: Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain IPO Fleas

BC Politics & Kinder Morgan’s IPO

by Joyce Nelson - CounterPunch

June 2, 2017

Is it possible to read too much into a corporate press release? If so, CBC News (and other media outlets) may be over-estimating Kinder Morgan’s optimism with regard to the fate of its planned tar sands Trans Mountain pipeline expansion from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby B.C.

On May 31, CBC News reported:

“Kinder Morgan is signing contracts with construction companies and plans to start building its new $7.4 billion pipeline in September.
At the same time, a new NDP-Green party partnership could form government in B.C. and start acting on election campaign promises to kill the project.
Both the company and the politicians made announcements on Tuesday making it clear they are not backing down in this fight.
‘This is an exciting day,’ said Ian Anderson, the head of Kinder Morgan Canada, in a news release announcing that the company had completed its Initial Public Offering [IPO] and had made the final investment decision on the project. No matter that the shares fell as the market opened and no mention of the possible change in government.” [1]

CBC News predicted that there “could be quite the clash this summer,” with “a battle of the wills between a big energy company with billions of dollars on the line versus an upstart political duo that make take a slim hold on power and have something to prove.” [2]

But Bloomberg reported that “Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. shares fell seven percent in its trading debut Tuesday,” which according to Bloomberg data was “on pace for the worst first day of trading” for a sizable Canadian IPO since 2009. [3]

Indeed, the more we know about this IPO, the weaker (and weirder) it looks.


Despite long-standing public opposition to the project, the federal Trudeau government approved Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project in November 2016, with the B.C. government of Christy Clark approving it in January 2017.

After gaining these approvals, Houston, Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc. (the biggest U.S. pipeline company) initially considered financing the project by selling a 50 per cent stake through a joint venture. It hired Toronto Dominion Bank as an adviser to help arrange financing, with a Kinder Morgan spokesman telling Thomson Reuters in February,

“We’re confident in the interest from the investment community and we’re continuing to move forward with all aspects of planning in order to begin construction in September 2017.” [4]

But the investment community, including private equity firms, did not express much interest in Trans Mountain – likely because of the 19 lawsuits already filed against it – so Kinder Morgan tried to interest several Canadian public pension funds in investing in the project, thereby raising the ire of many Canadians across the country.

By mid-May Kinder Morgan decided (as Seeking Alpha put it) “to IPO the company’s Canadian assets,” spinning off Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. as a newly formed company with 30% of its shares (102.9 million) to be offered on the open markets. [5]

Initially, the shares were to be offered in a price range of $19 -$22, but then the Kinder Morgan parent cut the IPO offer price to $17 per share, reportedly to get the offering off the ground. Meanwhile, outfits like The Motley Fool were warning investors that “Kinder Morgan Canada’s IPO is a dog with fleas,” and “under no circumstances should you buy any shares in this IPO” because of the company’s debt and the “political nature” of this investment. [6]

First Nations Opposition

First Nations in B.C. also stepped up their opposition to the project by issuing a warning to investors about financial risk. A legal brief prepared by the coastal Tsleil-Waututh Nation and the West Coast Environmental Law Association argued in advance of the IPO that court challenges create “significant uncertainty” around the Trans Mountain pipeline. The legal brief was sent to major banks, brokerage houses and institutional investors in the U.S. [7]

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation had previously met with Kinder Morgan’s largest institutional shareholders (representing over $15 billion in shares) and including: Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, CitiBank, TIAA-CREF, Miller Howard, Vanguard, State Street and Fidelity. [8]

In May the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion also launched a divestment campaign against 17 banks that fund tar sands pipeline, including CIBC, BMO, Scotiatbank, TD Bank and RBC. [9]

If before such actions investors had been unaware of the controversy surrounding Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion project, which would triple the amount of diluted bitumen (dilbit) shipped from Alberta to B.C. tidewater, they certainly got informed by these actions.

Meanwhile, Kinder Morgan and its advisers designed a unique IPO that has not received much attention.

The Bundling

As far as I can determine, only one source detailed what else was included in the IPO, while most simply focused on Trans Mountain as the “major asset” in the offering.

Seeking Alpha noted on May 12,

“Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) just announced its plans to IPO basically all its Canadian assets including the Trans Mountain pipeline system (including related terminals assets), the Puget Sound pipeline [serving the U.S. Pacific Northwest], the Jet Fuel pipeline system [serving Vancouver International Airport], the Canadian portion of the Cochin pipeline system [from Alberta to Windsor, Ontario], the Vancouver Wharves Terminal and the North 40 Terminal, as well as three jointly controlled investments: the Edmonton Rail Terminal, the Alberta Crude Terminal and the Base Line Terminal.” [10]

While most of the media attention was on Trans Mountain as the primary component of the IPO, the reality was somewhat different. As Dean Orrico (Chief Investment Officer with Middlefield Capital) told Business News Network about the IPO, “We all know it’s been off to a very rocky start all because of Trans Mountain, and the deal got repriced, as we all know, in the last few days,” he said.

“For Kinder Morgan Canada, Trans Mountain is only a portion of it: there’s really a business there, a very valuable business. Based on the repricing [to $17 per share], you’re basically getting Trans Mountain for free.” [11]

Noting the controversy about Trans Mountain, Orrico explained that “value-focused foreign investors may sort through the noise and take a flyer on the IPO due to the other assets bundled into the offering. It tells them, this is a project, not necessarily a sector, but this is a project that is at risk and this company is going to be at risk,” he said.

“But value investors, and there’s a lot of foreign value investors, should look at this and say ‘This is still a pretty good opportunity’ given the fact that you’re not paying for Trans Mountain.” [12]

So the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion was apparently not even considered a major asset in the new company’s IPO. As far as investors were concerned, any interest would be in the other (non-controversial) assets.

In fact, the Financial Post stated that the IPO “could also be seen as an indication that Houston-based Kinder Morgan is reducing its exposure to the pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., while recouping hundreds of millions invested so far to obtain regulatory approvals.” [13]

Indeed, on the day the IPO was offered (May 30), the Financial Post quoted Canoe Financial portfolio manager Rafi Tahmazian:

“In addition to the political uncertainty, Tahmazian said Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc.’s plan to use the proceeds of the IPO of its Canadian division to pay down the parent company’s debt was not well received by the market. ‘The thing did not pitch well,’ he said.” [14]

So if the Kinder Morgan parent is using the IPO for “reducing its exposure” to the pipeline and for paying down its own debt, then it’s difficult to see the company as being committed to Trans Mountain.

Canoe’s Rafi Tahmazian told CBC News that “between two and three dollars of Kinder Morgan Canada’s share price is associated with the value of the Trans Mountain expansion,” which seems remarkably low.

“This is a company that has clearly calculated a budget of what they are willing to spend and potentially lose,” said Tahmazian. “That has all been calculated in their capital budget to the dollar, so there’s a certain degree of spending they will do to move this forward, but at some point they’re going to have to decide if this drags on too long.” [15]

After the IPO was concluded, the Financial Post reported:

“The IPO, underwritten and co-led by TD Securities and RBC Capital Markets, raised $1.75 billion but shares fell as investors fretted over the fate of the newly-minted company’s flagship project.” [16] 

But just how “flagship” is this pipeline project, if IPO investors were basically investing in everything but Trans Mountain (i.e., getting it for free)?

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) has yet to disclose whether or not it purchased any shares in the IPO. As of March 31, 2017, the CPPIB holds 1,714,000 shares in the Kinder Morgan parent, worth C$50 million.

[1] Kyle Bakx & Tracy Johnson, “What B.C. can and cannot do to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline,” CBC News, May 31, 2017.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Natalie Obiko Pearson, Bloomberg & Scott Debeau, Bloomberg, Calgary Herald, “Kinder Morgan Canada shares fall in debut as pipeline foes align,” Calgary Herald, May 30, 2017.
[4] Thomson Reuters, “Kinder Morgan reported in talks on $6.8B Trans Mountain pipeline financing,” CBC News, February 17, 2017.
[5] “Kinder Morgan Pulls A Rabbit Out Of Its Hat,” Seeking Alpha, May 12, 2017.
[6] Will Ashworth, “Don’t Be Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Patsy,” The Motley Fool Canada, May 25, 2017.
[7] Shawn McCarthy and Jeff Lewis, “Trans Mountain faces new risk from NDP, Greens,” The Globe and Mail, May 30, 2017.
[8] “Kinder Morgan a ‘Risky Investment’ Warns First Nation ahead of Tuesday IPO,” Press Release from Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust, Vancouver (Coast Salish Territory), May 29, 2017.
[9] Ian Bickis, “Trans Mountain IPO comes at awkward time for energy giant Kinder Morgan,” The Canadian Press, May 21, 2017.
[10] “Kinder Morgan Pulls A Rabbit Out Of Its Hat,” op. cit.
[11] Ian Vandaelle, “Ground shifts under $7.4B Trans Mountain pipeline amid NDP-Green alliance in B.C.,” Business News Network, May 30, 2017.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Claudia Cattaneo, “A minority government in British Columbia means political risk just skyrocketed for resource projects,” Financial Post, May 26, 2017.
[14] Geoffrey Morgan, “’It got done but it wasn’t pretty’: Kinder Morgan Canada shares slide on debut amid ‘really ugly storm’ in B.C. politics,” Financial Post, May 30, 2017.
[15] Bakx & Johnson, op. cit.
[16] Geoffrey Morgan, op. cit.
Joyce Nelson’s sixth book, Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism, can be ordered at: She can be reached through
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