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Moral monstrosity: America’s for-profit Gulag system

By Nile Bowie | RT | April 23, 2013

The private prison population in the US has rocketed 17-fold over the last two decades mostly on the shoulders of the deep-pocketed prison lobby, and the business continues to thrive.

Try confining yourself to a small room in your home, like a bathroom or a closet, and spend a few hours there. One only cringes to imagine the detrimental psychological effects that kind of solitude creates for individuals who are subjected to solitary confinement for years at a time, knowing only the walls of their cell and the shades of light that creep across them. The abhorrent state of affairs at the Guantanamo facility often makes international headlines and arguably overshadows the calamity that is the US domestic prison system – where over six million people are subject to some form of correctional supervision, an amount exceeding those who toiled in the Soviet gulags during Stalin’s reign. In the United States, some fifty thousand inmates pass their days in solitary confinement. While there is undoubtedly no shortage of violent criminals in America’s jails, millions are dolled out annually by privately owned prison lobbies directly to politicians in an effort to influence harsher ‘zero tolerance’ legislation and mandatory sentencing for many non-violent offenses.

While the US faces economic stagnation and unprecedented spending cuts to programs of social uplift, business is booming for the private prison industry. Like any other business, these institutions are run for the purpose of turning a profit. State and federal prisons are contracted out to private companies who are paid a fixed amount to house each inmate per day. Their profit depends on spending the minimum amount necessary on each inmate day-to-day, allowing private-hands to pocket the remaining money. For the corrections conglomerates of America, success depends on housing the maximum numbers of inmates for the longest potential time as inexpensively as possible. Consider that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, far surpassing any other nation – for every 100,000 Americans, 743 citizens sit behind bars. The harsher sentences meted out to non-violent offenders in contrast to other industrialized nations speaks volumes of America’s enthusiastic embrace of a prison industrial complex.

The number of people imprisoned under state and federal custody increased 772% percent between 1970 and 2009, largely due to the incredible influence that private corrections corporations wield against the American legal system. The argument is that by subjecting correctional services to market pressures, efficiencies will be increased and prison facilities can be run at a lower cost due to market competition. What these privatizations produce in turn is a system that destroys families by incentivizing the mass long-term detention of non-violent criminals, a system that is increasingly difficult to deconstruct and reform due to millions paid out to state and federal policymakers. According to reports issued by advocacy group Public Campaign, the three major corrections firms –Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the GEO Group, and Cornell, have spent over $22 million lobbying Congress since 2001.

As a means of influencing policy-making at the federal level, at least $3.3 million have been given to political parties, candidates, and their political action committees, while more than $7.3 million has been given to state candidates and political parties since 2001, including $1.9 million in 2010, the highest amount in the past decade. Senators like Lindsay Graham and John McCain have received significant sums from the private prison corporations while Chuck Schumer, Chair of the Rules Committee on Immigration and Border Enforcement, received at least $64,000 from lobbyists. The prison lobby thrives off of laws that criminalize migrants and submit them to mandatory detention prior to being deported, sometimes up to 10 months or more; private firms have consistently pushed for the classification of immigration violations as felonies to justify throwing more and more immigrants behind bars. The number of illegal immigrants being incarcerated inside the United States has risen exponentially under Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency responsible for annually overseeing the imprisonment of 400,000 foreign nationals at the cost of over $1.9 billion on custody-related operations.

The private prison industry has become increasingly dependent on immigration-detention contracts, and the huge contributions of the prison lobby towards drafting Arizona’s controversial immigration law SB 1070 are all but unexpected. Arizona’s SB 1070 requires police to determine the immigration status of someone arrested or detained when there is “reasonable suspicion” that they’ve illegally entered the US, which many view as an invitation for rampant racial profiling against non-whites. While the administration of Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer is lined with former private prison lobbyists, its Department of Corrections budget has been raised by $10 million in 2012, while all other Arizona state agencies were subject to budget cuts during that fiscal year. The concept of privatizing prisons to reduce expenses comes at great cost to the inmates detained, who are subjected to living in increasingly squalid conditions in jail cells across America. In 2007, the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), a state agency that overseas juvenile corrections facilities, was sent to a West Texas juvenile prison run by GEO Group for the purpose of monitoring its quality standards.

The monitors sent by the TYC were subsequently fired for failing to report the sordid conditions they witnessed in the facility while they awarded the GEO Group with an overall compliance score of nearly 100% – it was later discovered that the TYC monitors were employed by the GEO Group. Independent auditors later visited the facility and discovered that inmates were forced to urinate or defecate in small containers due to a lack of toilets in some of the cells. The independent commission also noted in their list of reported findings that the facility racially segregated prisoners and denied inmates access to lawyers and medical treatment. The ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center have also highlighted several cases where GEO Group facility administrators turned a blind eye to brutal cases of rape and torture within their facilities, in addition to cases of its staff engaging in violence against inmates. According to the Justice Department data, nearly 210,000 prisoners are abused annually (prison personnel are found responsible half the time), while 4.5 percent of all inmates reported sexual assaults and rape.

It’s not possible to conceive how such institutionalized repression can be rolled back when the Obama administration shows only complicity with the status quo – a staggering $18 billion was spent by his administration on immigration enforcement, including detention, more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. Under Obama’s watch, today’s private prison population is over 17 times larger than the figure two decades earlier. Accordingly, Obama’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, has condemned the recently passed state laws in Colorado and Washington that legalize the possession of marijuana in small amounts. The Obama administration is bent on keeping in place the current federal legislation, where a first-time offender caught with marijuana can be thrown in prison for a year. It’s easy to see why common-sense decriminalization is stifled – an annual report released by the CCA in 2010 reiterates the importance of keeping in place harsh sentencing standards, “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”

Such is the nature of a perverted brand of capitalism, and today’s model bares little difference to the first private prisons introduced following the abolition of slavery in the late 1800s, where expansive prison farms replaced slave plantations where predominately African-American inmates were made to pick cotton and construct railroads in states such as Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. Today, African-Americans make up 40% of the prison population and are incarcerated seven times more often than whites, despite the fact that African-Americans make up only 12% of the population. Inmates are barred from voting in elections after their release and are denied educational and job opportunities. The disproportionate levels of black people in prisons is undeniably linked to law enforcement’s targeting of intercity black communities through anti-drug stipulations that command maximum sentencing for possession of minute amounts of rock cocaine, a substance that floods poor black neighborhoods.

Perhaps these social ills are byproducts of a system that places predatory profits before human dignity. Compounding the illogic is that state spending on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education over the past two decades. Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s most famous political prisoner, has spent over three decades on death row; he was convicted in 1981 for the murder of a white police officer, while forensic experts say critical evidence vindicating Jamal was withheld from the trial. In an interview with RT, Jamal relates his youth activism with the Black Panthers party against political imprisonment in contrast to the present day situation, “We could not perceive back then of what it would become… you can literally talk about millions of people incarcerated by the prisoner-industrial complex today: men, women and children. And that level of mass incarceration, really mass repression, has to have an immense impact in effect on the other communities, not just among families, but in a social and communal consciousness way, and in inculcation of fear among generations.” The fear and immortality the system perpetuates shows no sign of abating. Being one of the few growth industries the United States has left, one can only imagine how many people will be living in cages in the decades to come.

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Moral monstrosity: America’s for-profit Gulag system

Lebanon: Preparing the Ground for Total War

By Ibrahim al-Amin | Al-Akhbar | April 23, 2013

Hezbollah has never been shy about declaring its support for the Syrian regime. Since the launch of a Western and Arab campaign against the Resistance in 2005 – which only intensified after the July 2006 war – the party has never been reluctant in repeatedly confirming its close affinity to Damascus.

When the crisis in Syria erupted, Hezbollah sought to distinguish between what it saw as legitimate demands by the Syrian people for reforms that would end one-party rule and attempts by foreign power to seize the opportunity to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

For a year or so after the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, the party did not deem it necessary to intervene in the conflict, until military operations came close to areas of concern to Hezbollah on many levels.

Gradually, its role in Syria grew until the party became responsible for protecting a large number of Lebanese living in Syria – in addition to some Syrians, as well – who are under threat of being expelled from their lands by armed opposition groups backed by foreign powers.

Another area of concern for Hezbollah was the increasing role Israeli intelligence, backed by the West, began to play in the conflict, particularly in targeting people and places of concern to the Resistance.

The party did not stop at simply protecting its supporters in order to prevent their displacement, but took a further step of giving them the wherewithal to defend themselves from any attacks. It did this openly before the eyes of the public and in coordination with the regime, losing several of its fighters in the process.

The days will come when the details of Hezbollah’s role in Syria will be revealed, exaggerating the party’s involvement to such an extent as to suggest that it was the key factor in saving the regime, or to frame its largely defensive military activities as a crusade against the Sunnis of Syria.

Many of Hezbollah’s supporters in Lebanon and the Arab world are certainly not comfortable with its involvement in Syria, prompting party leaders to come up with convincing explanations to justify their actions. But if it is willing to give so much life and blood for the sake of the resistance, losing some of its popularity in defending what it considers to be a key ally in the struggle is not such a terrible sacrifice.

On the other side, those very same parties that threw themselves into the Syrian crisis from day one, supporting the armed opposition, do not let a day pass without attacking Hezbollah for fighting in Syria, while at the same time keeping quiet about the ugliest crimes being committed by the armed groups.

They raise empty slogans about Syria’s national unity despite the fact that 1.5 million Syrians from the country’s various minorities have been displaced at the hands of jihadi groups, who by all accounts have become the dominant current among the opposition forces.

With every denunciation of the Resistance for its role in Syria, the ground is slowly being prepared for war against the party under the banner of solidarity with the Syrian revolutionaries.

This is as Lebanon’s new guardian, Saudi Arabia, is doing its best to impose a government similar to that of Fouad Siniora in 2005, which spared no effort to undermine the Resistance even in the midst of the Israeli assault in 2006 and its aftermath.

This is yet another sign that there are preparations underway for a total war in the region. It could erupt due to a miscalculation by a particular side or as a result of a bloody explosion somewhere. And all we can do in this situation is sit and wait.

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Karuturi: a litany of problems

GRAIN | April 22, 2013

Karuturi Global Limited, a publicly registered holding company headquartered in Bangalore, India, may be under fire from the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) for tax evasion, but the complaints against it go further than that. The agribusiness firm, whose farm operations also straddle Ethiopia and India, has been dodging bullets about labour law violations, human rights abuses and environmental issues. Even the World Bank Group is no longer considering the company’s request for risk insurance for its investments in Ethiopia. This background note summarises the various problems that Karuturi has come to be known for among social justice movements around the world.

Tax evasion

Every year around US$ 1000 billion disappears without a trace from developing countries, ending up in tax havens or rich countries. The main part of this is driven by multinational companies seeking to evade tax where they operate.

The sum that leaves developing countries each year as unreported financial outflows, referred to as illicit capital flight, amounts to ten times the annual global aid flows, and twice the debt service developing countries pay each year. During 2000-2008 Africa was the region with the largest real growth of illicit capital flight, amounting to 21.9 % per year.

This money, if properly registered and taxed in the country of origin, could of course contribute to fulfilling human rights like the right to education and health care, and make a major difference in the fight to combat poverty. Due to just two forms of illicit capital flight used by corporations (‘mispricing’ and ‘false invoicing’), developing countries are losing three times the amount that is missing to achieve the UN millennium development goals (like universal education, stopping the spread of HIV, and halving extreme poverty) in tax revenues every year.

(For all facts on tax evasion above and more info on mispricing please see “Bringing the billions back: how Africa and Europe can end illicit capital flight” by Fröberg and Waris, 2011)

In 2012, the Kenya Revenue Authority developed a team of transfer pricing experts to audit accounts of companies in order to assess whether there was transfer mispricing and tax evasion taking place. Some transnational companies that export from Kenya are notoriously adept at it. However, the government has had difficulty tracing these firms’ operations due to lack of capacity and to date all audits and assessments, apart from one against Unilever, have been settled outside of public view.

On the 4th of April 2013 Karuturi filed a notice of appeal against the decision of the tax tribunal for taxes due to the Kenyan government and the Kenyan people. According to ICRA, an Indian credit rating research agency, in an October 2012 analysis commissioned by Karuturi as well as Karuturi’s 2012 annual report, Karuturi has been facing a number of potential threats to its financial viability, namely:

  • An INR 57.8 crore (= KES 975 million / USD 10.7 million / EUR 8 million) dispute from the Kenya Revenue Authority over transfer pricing
  • An INR 83.5 crore (= KES 1.4 billion / USD 15 million / EUR 11.5 million) claim on unpaid income taxes from the Indian authorities
  • A risk of default on a USD 54.7 million (= KES 4.8 billion / EUR 40.3 million) foreign currency convertible bond due for redemption on 19 Oct 2012 which was since restructured

The overall tax claims come to USD 26 million, which is about one-quarter of the multinational’s global turnover in fiscal year 2012 (USD 106 million) while the amount for Kenya amounts to almost 1 per cent of Kenya’s total annual tax collection.

Money of this magnitude could be used as additional income for development or to replace some current taxes that target the poor like value added tax or even to delay the enactment of additional taxes like the one on maize flour due to be activated in Kenya in 2015.

Land grabs

Since 1996, Karuturi’s core business has been floriculture, producing 580 million roses per year from 289 hectares of land the company leases in Kenya (154 hectares), Ethiopia (125 hectares) and India (10 hectares). In 2012, the group commanded no less than 9% of the cut rose market in Europe. Since the 2007/2008 global food crisis, Karuturi began expanding from floriculture into food production. Its plan is to set up farming operations on over one million hectares, mainly in eastern and southern Africa, to produce primarily maize, rice, sugarcane and palm oil for international markets.

The hub of this expansion is Ethiopia. In 2009, Karuturi acquired 10,700 ha of land in Bako for maize, rice and vegetable production. In 2010, it got an additional 300,000 hectares for expansion in Gambela. The company aims to farm a total of 750,000 ha in Ethiopia. This land is leased from the government at bargain prices, but local communities consider it their own.

As a result, many conflicts have emerged around compensation, displacement and the relocation of villagers and herders who suddenly found themselves fenced off of their lands by the Indian company.

In 2011, Karuturi announced it was expanding further by pursuing a US$500 million investment for 370,000 ha in Tanzania, including an initial 1,000 ha in the country’s fertile Rufiji Basin. That same year, the company announced that it was in discussions with government officials in the Republic of Congo for a farm project in a special economic zone in Oyo-Ollombo, 400 km north of Brazzaville. In addition, it has been planning fruit and vegetable farms in Sudan, Mozambique and Ghana, and, says CEO Ramakrishna Karuturi, “in Senegal, we have made an exploratory probe and in Sierra Leone we have made initial contacts.” All of these countries are rife with land grabs right now.

Labour issues & disputes

According to a 2012 report published by the London Business School, 5% of Karuturi’s workforce in Ethiopia is composed of foreigners. Karuturi has been bringing in staff and consultants from abroad, including India, to run management, irrigation & drainage operations, and logistics because they said they could not find the experience locally. Same for manual labourers. Karuturi hires Ethiopians as unskilled labour but for skilled labour it says it faces problems. At the end of 2011, Karuturi got into a dispute with the Ethiopian government because they brought in several hundred Indian farmers to work on their farms in Gambela, which the Ethiopian authorities said contravened Ethiopian law and for which they would not give the permits. Karuturi reportedly also expects to rely on Indian farmers to handle its work on oil palm.

According to media and labour organisation organisation reports, workers on Karuturi farms in both Kenya and Ethiopia have been complaining about, and initiating labour actions against, various conditions, especially related to wages and safety.

In November 2012, Karuturi reportedly began laying off about 900 of its 3,500 seasonal workers in Naivasha, Kenya, due to financial problems. The number was later reduced to 600. In December 2012, 1,000 Karuturi workers went on strike to demand action from management on unpaid salaries and poor working conditions.

Earlier, in June 2010, Workers Rights Watch, a Kenyan association, carried out focus group discussions with Karuturi flower farm workers in Naivasha and registered a mixed scorecard of positive and negative opinions about the company.

Regarding Karuturi’s Ethiopian farms, various media and research reports have exposed complaints of poor wages. For example, a solid report commissioned by the International Land Coalition shows that Karuturi pays Ethiopian farm labourers at its Bako farm ETB 10 per day (US$ 0.50) which compares with about ETB 20 per day (US$ 1.00) for labourers on commercial sesame farms in the country. Night guards for the company are said to be paid ETB 300 per month (US$ 15) if they own a gun and ETB 200 (US$ 10) per month if they do not.

Human rights violations

According to a powerful 2012 report by Human Rights Watch, the Ethiopian government is forcibly relocating thousands of indigenous people in western Gambela to new villages lacking adequate food, farmland, healthcare, and educational facilities to make way for large scale agricultural projects of foreign investors, including Karuturi. The report said, based on interviews with community representatives, that crops of local Anuak communities were cleared without consent for the Karuturi operations and that residents of Ilea, a village of over 1,000 people within Karuturi’s lease area, were told by the Ethiopian government that they would be moved in 2012 as part of its “villagisation programme”. In response, CEO Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi denied any connection between his company’s activities and the government’s villagisation programme. In conversation with the Wall Street Journal’s unit in India, he described the Human Rights Watch report as “hogwash” and “a completely jaundiced western vision”, and even denied that the villagisation programme exists.

Loss of livelihoods

Karuturi’s 10,700 ha Bechera Agricultural Development Project in the Bako Plains of Ethiopia has deprived several local communities of their communal grazing areas and access to water for their livestock, thus severely affecting their livelihoods. This comes from a study commissioned by the International Land Coalition, based on detailed discussions with local communities, local authorities and Karuturi employees. The study documents how the lands were provided to Karuturi without the consent of the local communities and without compensation. It reveals that Karuturi is refusing to implement even the most minimal measures recommended by local authorities to address some of the impacts from its operations. For example building a livestock corridor through its fields so that locals could access water sources for their animals, or allowing them to graze their animals on crop residues.

Environmental & health concerns

Karuturi operates one of the largest flower farms in the Lake Naivasha Basin in Kenya, the country’s second largest freshwater lake. The flower farms are blamed for causing a drop in the lake’s water level, for polluting the lake with pesticides and chemical fertiliser runoff and for affecting the lake’s biodiversity. Workers at Karuturi’s flower farms in Naivasha who spoke with Muungano wa Wanavijiji, a local partner organisations of Forum Syd, in February 2013 said that the dilapidated condition of the Karuturi operations and poor protective clothing puts them at risk to exposure from chemicals. They say the company does not seem to care about their concerns.

For its farm in Gambela, Ethiopia, Karuturi has developed an irrigation system with 50km of canals, 50km of drainage, and 40km of dykes, to pump a reported 22,000 litres of water per second from the Baro River, a crucial source of water for people dependent on the White Nile. Karuturi’s smaller 10,700 ha farm in Bako also generates significant issues related to access to water and water quality for the local communities. Although environmental impact assessments are usually required for irrigation projects in Ethiopia, Karuturi reportedly did not undertake any such assessment prior to constructing its farming complex in Bako.

Investor confidence

Karuturi and its shareholders have been waiting since at least May 2011 for the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) to approve the company’s long pending bid for political risk insurance for its Ethiopian operations. According to Sai Karuturi, as of 2012 the application had still not been approved due to Karuturi’s plans to produce palm oil — a sensitive issue for which the Bank would require the Ethiopian government to put in place environmental protocols. Karuturi explained that he was therefore advised by MIGA to omit palm oil from the application for now and so he did. If MIGA protection fails to materialise, the company told investors that its fallback option would be to seek support from India’s Export Credit Guarantee Agency. On 29 January 2013, MIGA informed GRAIN, flatly, that Karuturi’s application “is no longer under consideration”.

In March 2013, Bloomberg reported that Karuturi was seeking “hundreds of millions” of fresh investment dollars from an unnamed sovereign wealth fund after yet another unnamed development bank refused it a loan.

In April 2013, the Indian paper Business Today reported that Karuturi was thinking of taking the company private.

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Comments Off on Karuturi: a litany of problems

US officials now buckle on hyped up claims of toxic mail targeting Obama

Press TV – April 23, 2013

Following last week’s hyped up media reports on the arrest of a Mississippi man for mailing poisonous letters to US President Barack Obama, a senator and a judge, the FBI has announced that it has not found any poison-making materials at his home.

“There was no apparent ricin, castor beans or any material there that could be used for the manufacturing, like a blender or something,” FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) Agent Brandon Grant testified Friday at a preliminary hearing at a federal court in Oxford, Mississippi, according to local press reports on Monday and Tuesday.

Paul Kevin Curtis was arrested and charged last Wednesday on suspicion of mailing three letters tainted with ricin, a fatal biological poison, to Obama, Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker and a state judge just a day after the deadly Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, prompting growing fears across the US that the country may be under another major attack, reminiscent of the September 11, 2001 incidents in New York and Virginia that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Meanwhile, Curtis’ attorney, Christi McCoy, has insisted that “There is absolutely not a shred of evidence to link this poor guy” to an attempted poisoning.

“That’s the truth!” McCoy said. “He is the perfect scapegoat, the perfect patsy, and it’s really sad because at first everybody’s like, you know, he’s kind of crazy, maybe he did it. But as the searches continued, there’s just nothing on this guy. Nothing on his computers, in his car, in his house.”

US authorities first insisted that the letters tested positive for containing the deadly bio agent but then announced that more accurate examination of the mailings must be conducted at specialized FBI laboratories to confirm earlier tests.

This is while the FBI announced on Wednesday that is was still waiting for a “final word on whether the letters to Obama and Wicker definitely contained ricin.”

“The initial tests can be inaccurate,” a Washington Post report emphasized on Thursday, adding that in 2004 a letter sent to a top US senator was initially believed to contain ricin but additional tests proved it was harmless.

The letters sent to Obama and Wicker were reportedly similar in content and the origin of their postmark, Memphis, Tennessee. They read, “To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.” Both of them were signed, “I am KC and I approve this message.”

According to local reports last Thursday, at least five other senators were reportedly forced into an emergency mode for receiving “suspicious” packages at their offices in Washington or their home states, “prompting evacuations of their staff and lock downs of many more.”

Furthermore, US police ordered thousand of congressional staffers and aides not to leave their offices after a bag was reportedly sighted at the entrance way of a Senate office building, as a bomb squad raced towards the Capitol Hill. Two hours later, however, the package, as well as two letters delivered to the officers of two senators was cleared as not harmful.

Curtis, according to US press reports, held a “morbid” theory that the American government was involved in an organ-selling conspiracy after observing body parts in the freezer of the hospital where he used to work in 1999.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the US confronted a series of alleged ‘anthrax attacks’ that were never formally solved. A former Army scientist, Steven Hatfill, was falsely and publicly implicated and later exonerated by way of several lawsuit settlements. Officials later focused on Army microbiologist Bruce Ivins, who killed himself in 2008, though the case against him was also met with doubts.

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Comments Off on US officials now buckle on hyped up claims of toxic mail targeting Obama

A Contender for Dumbest Statement Ever by Amnesty USA?

Amnesty USA called on the Venezuelan government to eliminate post-election violence. The small matter that the violence has been directed at government supporters was comically evaded.

Showing off its command of the obvious, Amnesty USA stated:

“Violent incidents around Venezuela following last Sunday’s presidential elections are only likely to increase unless the authorities carry out prompt, effective investigations and bring those responsible to justice”

That recent deaths strongly implicate opposition supporters should have been impossible to miss, even for Amnesty USA, given statements put out by Henrique Capriles, the candidate who lost the presidential election to Maduro. Reuters reported that Capriles said:

“To all my followers … this is a peaceful quarrel. Whoever is involved in violence is not part of this project, is not with me,…. It is doing me harm.”

Capriles cancelled a march on the National Electoral Council (CNE) alleging that the government would “infiltrate” it with violent saboteurs.

HRW put out a similarly fatuous statement condemning Maduro for saying he would forbid the opposition march that Capriles ended up cancelling.

When it suits them, the human rights industry pretends that governments the USA dislikes are omnipotent – that they exert complete control of opponents and supporters alike and can “guarantee” security for all without the slightest infringement of civil liberties. Weeks prior to the US perpetrated coup in Haiti in 2004, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, put out statements demanding that Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was just about to be kidnaped by US troops, guarantee the security of his opponents – including people financing terrorists to overthrow him.

Amnesty USA refuses to make obvious demands of its own government – demands like “disclose who you are funding and working with”, “stop trying to overthrow democratically elected governments”. That would actually be useful to promoting human rights rather than US backed coups. That is expecting too much of Amnesty when it cannot even recognize Bradley Manning as a Prisoner of Conscience, or acknowledge that Saudi armed rebels in Syria will inevitably commit atrocities.

Stupidity is not actually the problem as Chris Hedges made clear when he resigned from PEN after Suzanne Nossel, recently head of Amnesty USA, was appointed to run that group:

Nossel’s relentless championing of preemptive war—which under international law is illegal—as a State Department official along with her callous disregard for Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians and her refusal as a government official to denounce the use of torture and use of extra-judicial killings, makes her utterly unfit to lead any human rights organization, especially one that has global concerns.

It should not be up to Chris Hedges alone to denounce the “hijacking of human rights organizations to promote imperial projects”.

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Contender for Dumbest Statement Ever by Amnesty USA?

Flynt Leverett: U.S. Is Engaged in A Dirty War against Iran

Iran Review | April 21, 2013

Interview with Flynt Leverett by Kourosh Ziabari

If you regularly follow the headlines on the American and European radio stations, TV channels or newspapers, you come to believe that Iran’s nuclear program is the world’s most important, unsolvable and complicated problem. It’s been more than a decade that they have been incessantly talking of an Iranian threat that has endangered world peace and security. At the same time, they turn a blind eye to Israel’s nuclear arsenal and the fact that Israel is the sole possessor of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The claim that Iran is trying to produce atomic weapons has laid the groundwork for the U.S. and its allies to impose harsh economic sanctions on Iran and damage Iran’s economy and trouble the daily lives of the ordinary Iranian people.

To study the different aspects of the sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and the European Union, Iran Review has conducted a series of interviews with world-renowned political scientists, lawyers, journalists and authors and asked them some questions on the humanitarian and legal impacts of the sanctions, their compatibility with international law and the human right standards, etc.

Today’s interviewee is Prof. Flynt Leverett, a prominent Iran expert. Leverett is a professor of international affairs and law at Pennsylvania State University and co-author of “Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Prof. Leverett has written on Iran’s nuclear program extensively and is regularly interviewed by international media. What follows is the text of the interview.

Q: The United States claims that by imposing sanctions on Iran, it intends to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but the sanctions have recently targeted the ordinary citizens and consumer goods and medicine. Why have the sanctions swiftly diverted from the issue of disarmament and are directed toward the daily life of the ordinary Iranian citizens?

A: This is the inevitable logic of sanctions. American and other Western officials declare that the targets of their sanctions policies are governments, not people. In reality, though, the point of sanctions is to make ordinary people in targeted countries miserable.

In the Western logic of sanctions, if enough ordinary people are made sufficiently miserable, then they will rise up and either force their governments to change policies that Washington views negatively or else force these governments from power. There is no other strategic rationale for sanctions.

Q: While the process of passing on Iran’s nuclear dossier to the Security Council was illegal, do the resolutions issued on this basis have a legal warranty?

A: A number of prominent international legal scholars have advanced a powerful argument, with which I agree, that the Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to stop enriching uranium are legally invalid. Article 25 of the UN Charter establishes a strong presumption that UN member states should comply with Security Council resolutions. But the same article also limits member states’ obligation in this regard to Security Council decisions “in accordance with the present charter.” Likewise, Article 24 of the Charter holds that, in discharging its duties, “the Security Council shall act in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations.” (Those purposes and principles are presented in Articles 1 and 2 of the Charter.)

The Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment demand, in effect, that the Islamic Republic surrender what the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty recognizes as signatories’ “inalienable right” to the peaceful use of nuclear technologies—including uranium enrichment. By adopting these resolutions, the Council was acting neither “in accordance with the [UN] Charter” nor “in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations.” And that renders these resolutions invalid.

Q: Don’t you think that focusing the sanctions on basic staples and goods, especially medicines, is tantamount to a continued and systematic violation of the human rights?

A: The U.S. government claims that the sanctions are not focused on items like food and medicine—that there is an explicit exemption for food and medicine in the sanctions policy. But, as the question implies, this is, to say the least, hypocritical. Formally, there is an exemption in the sanctions for food and medicine. But, in practice, as long as banking sanctions deter Western and many other international banks from processing transactions with Iranian counter-parties—even for “permitted” items like medicines—the effect is to bar the export of medicines to Iran, with predictably tragic consequences.

This is both inhumane and illegal, on multiple levels. Besides the horrible impact of U.S.-instigated sanctions on ordinary Iranians, U.S. sanctions policy is a gross violation of international economic law. Most of the sanctions that are having such terrible effects on ordinary Iranians are not unilateral U.S. sanctions—which the Islamic Republic has been dealing with for decades—or multilateral sanctions authorized by the UN Security Council. Most of the sanctions that are creating real difficulties and hardships for Iranians are so-called “secondary” sanctions, whereby Washington threatens third-country entities doing perfectly lawful business with the Islamic Republic with punishment in the United States. In recent years, Congress has been regularly expanding and intensifying Iran-related secondary sanctions through laws that President Obama immediately signs and obediently implements.

Secondary sanctions clearly violate American commitments under the World Trade Organization (WTO), which allows members to cut trade with states they deem national security threats but not to sanction other members over lawful business conducted with third countries. If challenged on the issue in the WTO’s Dispute Resolution Mechanism, Washington would surely lose. That’s why U.S. administrations have been reluctant to impose secondary sanctions on non-U.S. entities transacting with Iran, and have done so pretty rarely. What Washington relies on is that, in many cases, the legal and reputational risks posed by the threat of U.S. secondary sanctions reduce the willingness of companies and banks in many countries to transact with Iran, with negative consequences for Iran’s economy and for many ordinary Iranians. It is the approach of a bully who does not believe he is constrained by the same laws that apply to others.

Q: It’s said that the sanctions that target ordinary civilians are a kind of collective punishment, and collective punishment is a crime according to the Nuremberg Tribunals. The Western states claim that they care for human rights, but they are behaving in such a hypocritical manner and punish the Iranian citizens for a crime they have not committed. What’s your viewpoint on that?

A: As a matter of policy, the United States is not and never has been interested in human rights in any sort of universal or objective way. The United States is only interested in the selective, instrumental exploitation of human rights concerns to undermine governments it does not like. As Washington has co-opted, and corrupted, the human rights agenda in this way, it has also undermined its credibility to address human rights in Iran or anywhere else. Moreover, as the question implies, America’s professed concern for human rights in Iran is especially hypocritical so long as the United States continues what I would call its “dirty war” against the Islamic Republic—including economic warfare targeting civilians (through sanctions), cyber-attacks, and support for groups doing things inside Iran that, in other places, Washington condemns as “terrorism.”

Q: It seems that the sanctions are not simply aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program but the main objective of the sanctions is seemingly to create social unrest in Iran which can finally lead to a regime change. So, what’s the message which the sanctions impart? Diplomacy or conspiracy?

A: Since the Iranian revolution, no American administration—not even that of Barack Hussein Obama—has been prepared to accept the Islamic Republic as a legitimate and enduring political entity, representing legitimate national interests. Every administration has seen the Islamic Republic as fragile and vulnerable to internal subversion, and has sought in various ways to encourage such subversion. Of course, it has not worked, but this outlook continues to dominate mainstream foreign policy discussions in the United States about Iran.

U.S. sanctions policy toward Iran needs to be seen in this context. The proposition that sanctions are somehow intended to promote a diplomatic “solution” is, to put it bluntly, dishonest. Consider the way that the sanctions have been drawn up. Even just a few years ago, most of them were imposed by executive orders, which are more or less at the discretion of the White House. Now, though, most of the sanctions have been written into law, which greatly reduces the President’s ability to pull back on them as part of a negotiating process, or to lift them even if Iran acceded to all U.S. demands on the nuclear issue.

Regarding this point, look at the language in current U.S. law on sanctions. Even if the Islamic Republic allowed the U.S. government to come in, dismantle every centrifuge in Iran, and take them back to the United States—like Qadhafi did in Libya—there would still be no legal basis for the President to lift sanctions. The law says that, in order for sanctions to be lifted, the President would also have to certify to Congress that Iran had stopped all dealings with resistance movements like Hizbullah and Hamas, which the United States persists in calling terrorist organizations, and that the Islamic Republic had effectively turned itself into a secular liberal “Republic of Iran” to meet U.S. standards on “human rights.”

That’s not a serious approach to diplomacy. The argument that sanctions are somehow meant to encourage a diplomatic outcome is detached from reality.

Q: Along with the expansion of sanctions, the resistance of the Iranian nation has increased, as well. Why haven’t the sanctions had the effects the West desires, whether in the political or social level?

A: There is no case in history in which sanctions have prompted a target population to rise up, overthrow their government, and replace it with a government prepared to adopt policies sought by the sanctioning power. That has literally never happened. Even in Iraq, where for twelve years the United States led the way in imposing sanctions so severe they killed more than a million Iraqis (half of them children), the population did not rise up to overthrow Saddam Hussein. That took a massive U.S. invasion—and even then, the United States did not get a “pro-American” government in Baghdad.

Beyond this history, the Islamic Republic, as I have come to understand it, is the product of a revolution that had, as one of its highest priorities, the restoration of Iran’s effective sovereignty and independence after a century and a half of domination by Western powers.

Q: The experts say that something around 15-20% of the current price of the oil is a result of the EU’s oil embargo against Iran. How much has the oil embargo influenced the EU’s economy in the current critical juncture?

A: In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when some European elites had serious ambitions for the European Union to emerge as an independent force in international affairs, capable of balancing the United States, European nations pursued an at least somewhat independent policy toward Iran. However, with the collapse of the EU’s constitutional project in the mid 2000s, European elites calculated that the next-best way for Europe to have influence in the Middle East is by helping the United States pursue its hegemonic ambitions in the region.

To understand what I am talking about, just look at the extraordinary shift in the Middle East policies of France and Germany. Both of those countries were absolutely right in anticipating what a strategic and moral disaster America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq would be, and in refusing to go along with the United States in this ill-conceived campaign. But within just a few years of having been right on Iraq—and having been proved right by events on the ground there—the French and German governments aligned themselves almost completely with Washington’s Middle East policies.

As a result of this shift, Europe has, over the last few years, almost completely subordinated its Iran policy to that of the United States—even though, as the question implies, this imposes additional costs on European economies at a time when those economies are already under significant strain. A few EU countries, like Sweden, continue trying, on the margins, to keep some element of rationality in European discussions on Iran, but they are fighting a losing battle.

Q: Currently a number of countries implement the sanctions for different reasons, but several others don’t, so the sanctions have practically turned into an economic opportunity for those countries which haven’t put into effect the sanctions because those countries that adopt the sanctions have deprived themselves of robust and profitable trade with Iran. Are the sanctions capable of curtailing or stopping Iran’s foreign trade?

A: I agree with the premise of the question. Those countries which comply with illegal U.S. secondary sanctions and limit their trade with the Islamic Republic are ultimately hurting themselves more than they may hurt Iran. Sanctions may distort Iran’s foreign trade to some degree, but they cannot stop it.

Q: Complementing the sanctions with valid threats of military strike and intelligence operations are among the most important advice given by Israel to Europe and the United States. How successful have these countries been in sabotaging Iran’s security?

A: They have not been successful at all. I hope that my country will not engage in overt military aggression against the Islamic Republic. If, however, the United States is so foolish as to launch another war in the Middle East, to disarm yet another Middle Eastern state of weapons of mass destruction it does not have, I believe that the blowback to U.S. interests in the region will be disastrous for America’s strategic position. The United States will be the big loser in such a war.

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | Comments Off on Flynt Leverett: U.S. Is Engaged in A Dirty War against Iran

US bullying stance on North Korea, Iran reveals Washington’s aggression

By Finian Cunningham | Press TV | April 20, 2013

First Iran, now it’s North Korea. The US global minstrel show of pseudo-handshakes and offers of talks just keeps on rolling, despite the laughable see-through fraudulence.

Remember earlier this year, American Vice President Joe Biden startled the international media with an offer of “direct talks” with Iran to resolve the “nuclear dispute.”

The real reason for why that apparent offer was startling was because it amounted to such transparent nonsense. The barefaced ability to lie by Washington knows no shame. Biden’s overture for talks with Iran was made at the same time that the US tightens illegal sanctions afflicting Iranian civilians, while continuing to threaten the Islamic Republic with war, along with its Israeli surrogate, and as Washington steps up diplomatic and material support for proxy terrorist groups, such as the MKO (Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization), operating within Iran.

Washington’s fatuous rhetoric and posturing is an insult to people’s intelligence. Yet it continues to declaim such asinine verbiage. The latest star-turn in its absurd diplomacy is the “offer” of “dialogue” extended to North Korea by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

After weeks of rising war tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Kerry again appeared to give a startling gesture of goodwill. On a recent trip to East Asia, the top US diplomat said: “The United States remains open to authentic and credible negotiations on denuclearization, but the burden is on Pyongyang [the capital of North Korea].”

Kerry urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to “return to the negotiating table.” Is [this] the same table that US President Barack Obama continually warns us that no options are off [it]?

The latest US offer of talks came as a surprise because Washington does not have any diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). US policy has long been one of isolating the Northern state through crippling sanctions and, through military exercises with US-backed South Korea, piling pressure on the government in Pyongyang to surrender its nuclear capability.

Fortunately, as with Iran, North Korea is not buying this risible American charade. The government in Pyongyang responded tersely to dismiss the offer made by the US.

“Dialogue cannot coexist with war,” was how the DPRK official news agency, KCNA, aptly put it. That is the essential truth and correct assessment of the US position, not only towards North Korea, but also towards Iran.

Iran, by the way, does not have nuclear weapons. North Korea is believed to have nuclear weapons capability, but it is doubtful that the country has the missile means of delivery. Nevertheless, the US and its Western allies, including the media, insist on demonizing Iran and North Korea as having sinister “nuclear ambitions” without providing a shred of proof.

The US has the temerity to assert that “the burden is on Pyongyang” in the same way that it arrogantly insists that Tehran must “show good faith” about its legally entitled nuclear program.

This astounding US arrogance turns reality on its head. Just who is the real aggressor? Don’t expect to find an answer in the Western corporate media whose goldfish-bowl memory and art of deception are designed to augment this reality-inversion.

After dismissing the US “offer” of talks, North Korea has since issued its own demands for any negotiations to take place. These conditions are perfectly logical, reasonable and just. They also point up the real reasons for why the Korean Peninsula is continually wracked by the threat of nuclear war.

North Korea wants: 1) Recently imposed United Nations sanctions to be revoked. These sanctions were imposed at the behest of Washington over the DPRK’s launch of a space satellite in December. The US maligned that launch by falsely labeling it a “ballistic missile test.” The provocative and unjustified sanctions spurred North Korea to conduct an underground nuclear weapon test on 12 February. Since North Korea withdrew its membership of the Non-Proliferation Treaty last decade, there is no legal constraint on it to conduct such a test. And given the level of continual threat towards North Korea from the US, the former is well justified in developing military defenses, including nuclear weapons.

Condition 2) for North Korea to entertain talks with the US and its Southern ally is for these latter states to immediately halt all threats of war that are implicit in the perennial war maneuvers on and off the Korean Peninsula. These so-called “war games” carried out by the US and South Korea often simulate invasion of North Korea. That is an outrageous, criminal de facto act of war. And yet it is committed every year, and sometimes several times a year.

Condition 3) is for the US to withdraw its nuclear weapons capability from the Korean Peninsula. Bear in mind that it was the US that first instated nuclear weapons on the Peninsula during the Korean War (1950-53). While the US did technically remove nuclear missiles some years back from South Korean soil, it effectively can reintroduce weapons of mass destruction at any moment and it retains North Korea within its target sites. The recent build-up of US nuclear-capable submarines and Aegis-class destroyers in the South and East China Seas, and the simulated bombing raids by B-2, B-52 and F-22 warplanes, all represent clear and present danger of nuclear annihilation to the DPRK. Note too that Washington has been busily integrating a hemispheric missile system between South Korea, Japan and the Pacific West Coast of the US. This missile system targets North Korea, as well as China and Russia.

Finally, what North Korea wants probably above all else as a guarantee for meaningful negotiations, is for the US to end the Korean War with a proper peace treaty. Since the war ended in 1953, the cessation of hostilities was only marked by an armistice, which in effect is a ceasefire. In other words, the US is technically still at war with North Korea and can at any moment resume bombing of that country. During the Korean War, the US dropped more explosives and napalm on the Northern population than it did in the whole of the Pacific War with imperial Japan. Up to a third of the Northern [Korean] population – some 3 million people – were annihilated by American bombs. Given that experience of genocide, is it any wonder that North Korea remains deeply wary of the US and its allies, especially with the ever-present threat of more war looming.

For the past 60 years, the DPRK has been demanding this basic entitlement of a full peace treaty, including a non-aggression pact. For 60 years, every US President has refused to countenance any such

It is a shame that Russia and China have signed up to the recent round of US-led sanctions against North Korea. Moscow and Beijing appear to have bought into the upside-down worldview that the US and its Western media are peddling. Rather than adding to pressure on North Korea, Russian and Chinese leaders need to go back and refresh their memories on the history of aggression and genocide in East Asia and the Pacific. Then they would rightly redirect the pressure on the true aggressor – Washington.

Peace in East Asia, as in the Middle East, depends on a unilateral withdrawal of American militarism, aggression and its self-styled right to inflict nuclear war on others. The burden is not on North Korea or Iran. Far from it, the burden is where it has always been – on the USA.

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | Comments Off on US bullying stance on North Korea, Iran reveals Washington’s aggression