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US Spies Await Terrorist Attack to Change Public’s Tune About Cyber Privacy

Sputnik – 26.09.2015

As the United States seeks backdoor encryption access, it faces strong pushback in the form of public opinion. But according to some intelligence officials, that perception could change if another terrorist attack were to occur on American soil.

Faced with a public outcry over privacy concerns and the tarnished reputation of American tech companies abroad, the Obama administration has found itself in a difficult spot. Many industry leaders are calling for the president to publicly disavow the idea of a law requiring tech companies to provide backdoor encryption access.

Intelligence officials, of course, are none-too-thrilled about such a move. Insistent on the notion that encryption access is vital for national security, many are eager for a law requiring companies like Apple to cooperate.

“Overall, the benefits to privacy, civil liberties and cybersecurity gained from encryption outweigh the broader risks that would have been created by weakening encryption,” reads the latest report from the US National Security Council.

But if public opinion remains a stubborn roadblock for such legislation, some officials have indicated that a terrorist attack could change the situation.

“… The legislative environment is very hostile today,” Robert S. Litt, a lawyer for the intelligence community, said in an email obtained by the Washington Post. “[But] it could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement.”

Litt isn’t the only one.

“People are still not persuaded this is a problem,” a senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Post. “People think we have not made the case. We do not have the perfect example where you have the dead child or a terrorist act to point to, and that’s what people seem to claim you have to have.”

While the US intelligence community seems to believe that a terrorist attack would prove the need for robust encryption, it’s already been proven that mass surveillance has done little to thwart such incidents. The National Security Agency’s data collection – unveiled by whistleblower Edward Snowden – was launched after the September 11 attacks, but failed to prevent future bombings, like that which occurred during the Boston Marathon in 2013.

A White House review panel formed two years ago recommended ending the domestic spying program after findings that the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone metadata had done nothing for national security.

Even if the Obama administration decides to publicly disavow encryption legislation, there’s no guarantee that the US government wouldn’t still carry forward with decryption plans. On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that the administration was looking into four distinct ways to force tech companies into compliance.

“We’re not promoting those as the way to go,” said another official, also speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re just saying these are things that could be done.”

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | 1 Comment

Polish MPs approve ‘technical agreement’ on US anti-missile base

RT | September 25, 2015

Poland’s lower house of parliament has given the green light to the country’s president to ratify a technical agreement on establishing a US anti-missile base in Redzikowo. Under the NATO-backed plan, the facility should be operational by 2018.

A total of 422 members of the Polish Sejm voted in favor of the bill, with three MPs against and five abstaining.

The agreement in question is a part of a much-debated NATO-backed plan that was first agreed on by the US and Poland in 2008. At that time, it was claimed that the base was necessary to counter the risk of a possible missile attack from Iran or North Korea.

The document outlines technical conditions for the US anti-missile base’s operation on Polish soil, such as restrictions on the height of the buildings that can be built around the base, the use of devices emitting electromagnetic waves, and flights of military aircraft over and around the future facility.

Washington wants to expand the European anti-missile defense (AMD) by putting land- and sea-based radar and interceptors in the village of Redzikowo near the northern Polish town of Slupsk.

The same agreement to host anti-missile bases for of AMD has already been signed with Romania.

The deal stipulates that both countries will host some 24 vertical-launch SM-3 missiles each. The construction of AMD components in Poland is set to start next year and be completed by 2018.

Washington’s plans to install anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe have been one of the biggest stumbling blocks in US-Russia relations.

In 2009, a year after Warsaw and Washington signed the agreement, President Barack Obama assured that the deal would be canceled if the issue with Iran over its nuclear program was sorted out.

However, despite the agreement with Tehran, which curbed its controversial nuclear program in exchange for the easing of international sanctions, the NATO-backed Europe AMD plan is set to go forward.

“The deal with Tehran doesn’t include missiles, therefore the threat remains,” John A. Heffern, US Deputy Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, told the Polish Rzeczpospolita newspaper in July.

The Polish government has repeatedly requested that NATO establish military bases in the country, claiming that it is necessary to counter what it calls “a Russian threat.”

Since Crimea’s reunion with Russia in March 2014 and the start of the military conflict in eastern Ukraine last spring, NATO forces have significantly stepped up their military exercises along the Russian border, and frequently carried out drills in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe.

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , | 1 Comment

U.S. Special Ops Forces Deployed in 135 Nations

2015 Proves to Be Record-Breaking Year for the Military’s Secret Military

By Nick Turse | TomDispatch | September 24, 2015

You can find them in dusty, sunbaked badlands, moist tropical forests, and the salty spray of third-world littorals. Standing in judgement, buffeted by the rotor wash of a helicopter or sweltering beneath the relentless desert sun, they instruct, yell, and cajole as skinnier men playact under their watchful eyes. In many places, more than their particular brand of camouflage, better boots, and designer gear sets them apart. Their days are scented by stale sweat and gunpowder; their nights are spent in rustic locales or third-world bars.

These men — and they are mostly men — belong to an exclusive military fraternity that traces its heritage back to the birth of the nation. Typically, they’ve spent the better part of a decade as more conventional soldiers, sailors, marines, or airmen before making the cut. They’ve probably been deployed overseas four to 10 times. The officers are generally approaching their mid-thirties; the enlisted men, their late twenties. They’ve had more schooling than most in the military. They’re likely to be married with a couple of kids. And day after day, they carry out shadowy missions over much of the planet: sometimes covert raids, more often hush-hush training exercises from Chad to Uganda, Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, Albania to Romania, Bangladesh to Sri Lanka, Belize to Uruguay. They belong to the Special Operations forces (SOF), America’s most elite troops — Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs, among others — and odds are, if you throw a dart at a world map or stop a spinning globe with your index finger and don’t hit water, they’ve been there sometime in 2015.

The Wide World of Special Ops

This year, U.S. Special Operations forces have already deployed to 135 nations, according to Ken McGraw, a spokesman for Special Operations Command (SOCOM). That’s roughly 70% of the countries on the planet. Every day, in fact, America’s most elite troops are carrying out missions in 80 to 90 nations, practicing night raids or sometimes conducting them for real, engaging in sniper training or sometimes actually gunning down enemies from afar. As part of a global engagement strategy of endless hush-hush operations conducted on every continent but Antarctica, they have now eclipsed the number and range of special ops missions undertaken at the height of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the waning days of the Bush administration, Special Operations forces (SOF) were reportedly deployed in only about 60 nations around the world. By 2010, according to the Washington Post, that number had swelled to 75. Three years later, it had jumped to 134 nations, “slipping” to 133 last year, before reaching a new record of 135 this summer. This 80% increase over the last five years is indicative of SOCOM’s exponential expansion which first shifted into high gear following the 9/11 attacks.

Special Operations Command’s funding, for example, has more than tripled from about $3 billion in 2001 to nearly $10 billion in 2014 “constant dollars,” according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). And this doesn’t include funding from the various service branches, which SOCOM estimates at around another $8 billion annually, or other undisclosed sums that the GAO was unable to track. The average number of Special Operations forces deployed overseas has nearly tripled during these same years, while SOCOM more than doubled its personnel from about 33,000 in 2001 to nearly 70,000 now.

Each day, according to SOCOM commander General Joseph Votel, approximately 11,000 special operators are deployed or stationed outside the United States with many more on standby, ready to respond in the event of an overseas crisis. “I think a lot of our resources are focused in Iraq and in the Middle East, in Syria for right now. That’s really where our head has been,” Votel told the Aspen Security Forum in July.  Still, he insisted his troops were not “doing anything on the ground in Syria” — even if they had carried out a night raid there a couple of months before and it was later revealed that they are involved in a covert campaign of drone strikes in that country.

“I think we are increasing our focus on Eastern Europe at this time,” he added. “At the same time we continue to provide some level of support on South America for Colombia and the other interests that we have down there. And then of course we’re engaged out in the Pacific with a lot of our partners, reassuring them and working those relationships and maintaining our presence out there.”

In reality, the average percentage of Special Operations forces deployed to the Greater Middle East has decreased in recent years. Back in 2006, 85% of special operators were deployed in support of Central Command or CENTCOM, the geographic combatant command (GCC) that oversees operations in the region. By last year, that number had dropped to 69%, according to GAO figures.  Over that same span, Northern Command — devoted to homeland defense — held steady at 1%, European Command (EUCOM) doubled its percentage, from 3% to 6%, Pacific Command (PACOM) increased from 7% to 10%, and Southern Command, which overseas Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, inched up from 3% to 4%. The largest increase, however, was in a region conspicuously absent from Votel’s rundown of special ops deployments. In 2006, just 1% of the special operators deployed abroad were sent to Africa Command’s area of operations.  Last year, it was 10%.

Globetrotting is SOCOM’s stock in trade and, not coincidentally, it’s divided into a collection of planet-girding “sub-unified commands”: the self-explanatory SOCAFRICA; SOCEUR, the European contingent; SOCCENT, the sub-unified command of CENTCOM; SOCKOR, which is devoted strictly to Korea; SOCPAC, which covers the rest of the Asia-Pacific region; SOCSOUTH, which conducts missions in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean; SOCNORTH, which is devoted to “homeland defense”; and the ever-itinerant Joint Special Operations Command or JSOC, a clandestine sub-command (formerly headed by Votel) made up of personnel from each service branch, including SEALs, Air Force special tactics airmen, and the Army’s Delta Force that specializes in tracking and killing suspected terrorists.

The elite of the elite in the special ops community, JSOC takes on covert, clandestine, and low-visibility operations in the hottest of hot spots. Some covert ops that have come to light in recent years include a host of Delta Force missions: among them, an operation in May in which members of the elite force killed an Islamic State commander known as Abu Sayyaf during a night raid in Syria; the 2014 release of long-time Taliban prisoner Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl; the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, a suspect in 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya; and the 2013 abduction of Anas al-Libi, an al-Qaeda militant, off a street in that same country.  Similarly, Navy SEALs have, among other operations, carried out successful hostage rescue missions in Afghanistan and Somalia in 2012; a disastrous one in Yemen in 2014; a 2013 kidnap raid in Somalia that went awry; and — that same year — a failed evacuation mission in South Sudan in which three SEALs were wounded when their aircraft was hit by small arms fire.

SOCOM’s SOF Alphabet Soup

Most deployments have, however, been training missions designed to tutor proxies and forge stronger ties with allies. “Special Operations forces provide individual-level training, unit-level training, and formal classroom training,” explains SOCOM’s Ken McGraw. “Individual training can be in subjects like basic rifle marksmanship, land navigation, airborne operations, and first aid. They provide unit-level training in subjects like small unit tactics, counterterrorism operations and maritime operations. SOF can also provide formal classroom training in subjects like the military decision-making process or staff planning.”

From 2012 to 2014, for instance, Special Operations forces carried out 500 Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) missions in as many as 67 countries each year. JCETs are officially devoted to training U.S. forces, but they nonetheless serve as a key facet of SOCOM’s global engagement strategy. The missions “foster key military partnerships with foreign militaries, enhance partner-nations’ capability to provide for their own defense, and build interoperability between U.S. SOF and partner-nation forces,” according to SOCOM’s McGraw.

And JCETs are just a fraction of the story.  SOCOM carries out many other multinational overseas training operations.   According to data from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), for example, Special Operations forces conducted 75 training exercises in 30 countries in 2014. The numbers were projected to jump to 98 exercises in 34 countries by the end of this year.

“SOCOM places a premium on international partnerships and building their capacity.  Today, SOCOM has persistent partnerships with about 60 countries through our Special Operations Forces Liaison Elements and Joint Planning and Advisory Teams,” said SOCOM’s Votel at a conference earlier this year, drawing attention to two of the many types of shadowy Special Ops entities that operate overseas.  These SOFLEs and JPATs belong to a mind-bending alphabet soup of special ops entities operating around the globe, a jumble of opaque acronyms and stilted abbreviations masking a secret world of clandestine efforts often conducted in the shadows in impoverished lands ruled by problematic regimes.  The proliferation of this bewildering SOCOM shorthand — SOJTFs and CJSOTFs, SOCCEs and SOLEs — mirrors the relentless expansion of the command, with its signature brand of military speak or milspeak proving as indecipherable to most Americans as its missions are secret from them.

Around the world, you can find Special Operations Joint Task Forces (SOJTFs), Combined Joint Special Operations Task Forces (CJSOTFs), and Joint Special Operations Task Forces (JSOTFs), Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs), as well as Special Operations Command and Control Elements (SOCCEs) and Special Operations Liaison Elements (SOLEs).  And that list doesn’t even include Special Operations Command Forward (SOC FWD) elements — small teams which, according to the military, “shape and coordinate special operations forces security cooperation and engagement in support of theater special operations command, geographic combatant command, and country team goals and objectives.”

Special Operations Command will not divulge the locations or even a simple count of its SOC FWDs for “security reasons.”  When asked how releasing only the number could imperil security, SOCOM’s Ken McGraw was typically opaque.  “The information is classified,” he responded. “I am not the classification authority for that information so I do not know the specifics of why the information is classified.”  Open source data suggests, however, that they are clustered in favored black ops stomping grounds, including SOC FWD Pakistan, SOC FWD Yemen, and SOC FWD Lebanon, as well as SOC FWD East Africa, SOC FWD Central Africa, and SOC FWD West Africa.

What’s clear is that SOCOM prefers to operate in the shadows while its personnel and missions expand globally to little notice or attention. “The key thing that SOCOM brings to the table is that we are — we think of ourselves — as a global force. We support the geographic combatant commanders, but we are not bound by the artificial boundaries that normally define the regional areas in which they operate. So what we try to do is we try to operate across those boundaries,” SOCOM’s Votel told the Aspen Security Forum.

In one particular blurring of boundaries, Special Operations liaison officers (SOLOs) are embedded in at least 14 key U.S. embassies to assist in advising the special forces of various allied nations. Already operating in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Poland, Peru, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, the SOLO program is poised, according to Votel, to expand to 40 countries by 2019. The command, and especially JSOC, has also forged close ties with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency, among other outfits, through the use of liaison officers and Special Operations Support Teams (SOSTs).

“In today’s environment, our effectiveness is directly tied to our ability to operate with domestic and international partners. We, as a joint force, must continue to institutionalize interoperability, integration, and interdependence between conventional forces and special operations forces through doctrine, training, and operational deployments,” Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee this spring. “From working with indigenous forces and local governments to improve local security, to high-risk counterterrorism operations — SOF are in vital roles performing essential tasks.”

SOCOM will not name the 135 countries in which America’s most elite forces were deployed this year, let alone disclose the nature of those operations.  Most were, undoubtedly, training efforts.  Documents obtained from the Pentagon via the Freedom of Information Act outlining Joint Combined Exchange Training in 2013 offer an indication of what Special Operations forces do on a daily basis and also what skills are deemed necessary for their real-world missions: combat marksmanship, patrolling, weapons training, small unit tactics, special operations in urban terrain, close quarters combat, advanced marksmanship, sniper employment, long-range shooting, deliberate attack, and heavy weapons employment, in addition to combat casualty care, human rights awareness, land navigation, and mission planning, among others.

From Joint Special Operations Task Force-Juniper Shield, which operates in Africa’s Trans-Sahara region, and Special Operations Command and Control Element-Horn of Africa, to Army Special Operations Forces Liaison Element-Korea and Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula, the global growth of SOF missions has been breathtaking. SEALs or Green Berets, Delta Force operators or Air Commandos, they are constantly taking on what Votel likes to call the “nation’s most complex, demanding, and high-risk challenges.”

These forces carry out operations almost entirely unknown to the American taxpayers who fund them, operations conducted far from the scrutiny of the media or meaningful outside oversight of any kind. Everyday, in around 80 or more countries that Special Operations Command will not name, they undertake missions the command refuses to talk about. They exist in a secret world of obtuse acronyms and shadowy efforts, of mystery missions kept secret from the American public, not to mention most of the citizens of the 135 nations where they’ve been deployed this year.

This summer, when Votel commented that more special ops troops are deployed to more locations and are conducting more operations than at the height of the Afghan and Iraq wars, he drew attention to two conflicts in which those forces played major roles that have not turned out well for the United States.  Consider that symbolic of what the bulking up of his command has meant in these years.

“Ultimately, the best indicator of our success will be the success of the [geographic combatant commands],” says the special ops chief, but with U.S. setbacks in Africa Command’s area of operations from Mali and Nigeria to Burkina Faso and Cameroon; in Central Command’s bailiwick from Iraq and Afghanistan to Yemen and Syria; in the PACOM region vis-à-vis China; and perhaps even in the EUCOM area of operations due to Russia, it’s far from clear what successes can be attributed to the ever-expanding secret operations of America’s secret military.  The special ops commander seems resigned to the very real limitations of what his secretive but much-ballyhooed, highly-trained, well-funded, heavily-armed operators can do.

“We can buy space, we can buy time,” says Votel, stressing that SOCOM can “play a very, very key role” in countering “violent extremism,” but only up to a point — and that point seems to fall strikingly short of anything resembling victory or even significant foreign policy success. “Ultimately, you know, problems like we see in Iraq and Syria,” he says, “aren’t going to be resolved by us.”

Nick Turse is the author of Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa.

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Militarism, War Crimes | , , , , | 2 Comments

How the anti-war movement can stop the UK government bombing Syria

The stakes are high, but with enough pressure from below, David Cameron’s plan to bomb Syria can be defeated.


By Chris Nineham | Stop the War Coalition | September 24, 2015

WE HAVE the biggest opportunity since the start of the Iraq war to make a real change in foreign policy. The aggressive, interventionist policy that has done so much damage is now at the heart of a great contest in British society.

Jeremy Corbyn is facing a massive onslaught from all sections of the establishment. No one can envy him this experience, and the prime question is how we defend him from these attacks and build support for the policies that got him elected as Labour party leader with such a huge majority.

When the right wing is this hysterical, the establishment this panicked, and the media this vitriolic, you know there is just a chance something good might be in reach.

In the next few weeks and months there are going to be a series of stand-offs around foreign policy issues, including almost certainly a vote in parliament on bombing Syria, the outcome of the Iraq war inquiry report, and of course the madness of renewing Trident.

Few mainstream commentators have the wherewithal to understand Corbyn’s victory. They first speculated about left-wing entryism, then they focussed on his ‘style’, now they’ve decided to ignore the scale of his mandate.

Of course Jeremy is different, he wears jumpers and shockingly he tends to say what he thinks. But whatever the media would like to think, his success is not about the way he does what he does, it is about the issues he has brought to the forefront of British politics.

The real nightmare for the establishment is that millions of people agree with him about austerity, about war, and about the shocking state of official politics.

What alarms the mainstream is the energy and enthusiasm generated by his campaign to become leader of the Labour party, much of it due to the protest movements that he has supported so tirelessly over decades, including crucially the anti-war movement.

A return to protest

But if the Corbyn surge was powered partly at least by the movements, we have to make sure that what he has achieved in turn reinvigorates protest.

We know that Corbyn can’t do it alone. And we know too that there are a lot of people around him who — to put it politely — don’t agree with him. Within days of his leadership victory, there were very public briefings against him by a serving UK army general, two of his cabinet ‘colleagues’, including the shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, and Sadiq Khan, Labour’s newly selected candidate for London mayor.

Quite simply, Jeremy Corbyn is going to need all the help he can get.

It is clear also, that despite the disasters of the last fourteen years, the British political establishment is desperate to maintain its role as chief cheerleader for US military interventionism. And having scented rebellion against Corbyn among Labour MPs, they have a new confidence about winning a vote to bomb Syria, and at the same time damaging the party’s anti-war leader.

A plan of action: stopping the bombing of Syria

The main task must be to extend the enthusiasm and energy generated by his campaigning over the past months into every local community, workplace and college.

The more people are actively engaged in the campaign to stop the drive to war in Syria, and in the anti-austerity movement, the more we will be defending Jeremy Corbyn under such relentless attack.

How can we do this?

For the anti-war movement, we need to get onto the streets in every area and onto campuses with leaflets, petitions, posters, badges, etc, drawing people into an ever-widening network of activists for peace.

We need to re-invigorate local anti-war groups and start new groups where none exist. While organising locally, the untimate focus will be on parliament and the need to break the consensus that always takes Britain into disastrous wars on the coat tails of the United States.

In 2013, mass pressure on MPs, coupled with the memory of Tony Blair’s catastrophic war on Iraq, delivered an unprecedented defeat for the government, as David Cameron tried to bounce parliament into supporting the bombing of Syria’s Assad regime.

Now Cameron hope that by switching the target to ISIS, he can reverse that defeat and take the UK into yet another pointless war that will serve no purpose, other than to create more death and chaos, and drive more refugees to flee the war zone.

We need to implement immediately a comprehensive lobbying of MPs:

  • Use the online lobby tool to contact MPs
  • Send letters to MPs’ constituency offices
  • Get letters in local newspapers
  • Organise group visits to MPs’ regular surgeries to deliver petitions collected locally

There needs to be a particular focus on MPs who have vowed publicly to defy Jeremy Corbyn, so they understand the scale of the opposition to waging war in Syria.

Everyone who opposes Cameron’s drive to more war in Syria should add their name to the online petition, here

War and the refugee crisis

The links between the refugee crisis and the wars our government so enthusiastically backs need to be underlined continually in our campaigning.

It is scandalous that David Cameron thinks promising to take twenty thousand refugees over five years is an adequate response to the migration or 60 million people fleeing war, conflict and poverty.

It is also outrageous that he wants to respond to people fleeing war-torn countries by intensifying the bombing of Syria — one of the main causes of the crisis.

The most effective thing that the West could do to end this misery is to de-escalate, stop arming regional dictators and aggressors and encourage a negotiated settlement in Syria. We need to develop and promote these arguments everywhere.

Isis is clearly a horrible organisation whose presence makes our arguments harder. We have to tackle the debate head on by having the most high profile possible public meetings and forums we can in each area.

A plan of action: the anti-austerity movement

Stop the War has always contrasted the vast government expenditure on the military and weapons of mass destruction, and the draconian austerity cuts to public and welfare services. Billions are spent on the UK war machine at the same time that brutal cuts in benefits are driving some desperate victims to suicide.

The protests at the Conservative Party conference from 3 October will help shape the political landscape over the next months. Tens of thousands will be protesting there, not just on the opening day – 4 October – but for the whole week. The anti-war message needs to be heard loud and clear by the movement, by the media and by the politicians.

Time is tight — the flashpoints are imminent, and we need to act now.

Within a few days of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour leader over 120 new members joined Stop the War Coalition, an indication that the movements that underpinned his victory are recognised as central to defending him.

The stakes are high. With enough pressure from below, David Cameron’s government’s plan to bomb Syria can be defeated for a second time, which would be a long term humiliation for the warmongers.

We also need a big campaign and protest over the scandalous delay in publishing the Iraq war inquiry report, blocked it appears by those — like Tony Blair and Jack Straw — likely to be criticised by Chilcot. With Jeremy Corbyn declaring that Tony Blair should be held to account for alleged war crimes, there is a real prospect that Blair could be driven out of public life once and for all.

Next year parliament will vote on the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons system, at a projected cost of over £100billion. The Campaign for Nuclear disarmament is already mounting a concerted campaign to get MPs to vote against. A huge protest movement before parliament votes will intensify that pressure.

The moment a vote on bombing Syria is announced, Stop the War will call a protest, but the success, the scale, and the impact of that protest depends on what we all do in the next few weeks. Its up to us.

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Peace in Sight: Historic Agreement between Colombia and the FARC

By Miguel Salazar | Council on Hemispheric Affairs | September 24, 2015

On Wednesday, September 23, 2015, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño pledged to end the country’s internal conflict by March 26, 2016.

Ever since La Violencia—Colombia’s infamous civil war lasting from 1948 to 1958—the polarization of the country’s political parties and ideological factions has led to an escalation of a deep-seated violence throughout Colombia. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) was initially formed as an armed peasant movement in 1964 that demanded comprehensive land and social reforms. Since then, the government and right-wing paramilitaries have waged a violent conflict against the FARC in rural Colombia that has resulted in a total of 220,000 deaths and over 5.7 million displacements.[i]

Negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government have been ongoing since 2012, but Wednesday marked President Santos’ first appearance at the peace talks, and the beginning of a more visible role as a major force for concluding the peace accord. The two sides have agreed to create special tribunals to try former FARC combatants as well as government troops and rightist paramilitaries. Those found guilty of human rights violations will be required to pay reparations to their victims and will face a maximum sentence of eight years under special conditions, if they voluntarily opt to cooperate with the judicial process.[ii] Combatants who do not cooperate and are convicted could face much longer sentences. Those who sign the peace deal, accept responsibility, face charges and pay reparations will be safe from extradition if they are wanted by the United States on drug trafficking charges.[iii]

Pressured into the peace talks by the Colombian public, Bogotá has spent billions of dollars on efforts to combat the FARC (the 2015 budget for armed forces and police is $12.2 billion),[iv] while the United States has contributed over $9 billion for military operations since the birth of Plan Colombia in 2000.[v] Meanwhile, the FARC have suffered from sharply diminishing membership numbers (16,000 in 2001 to 7,000 in 2013) over the past decade and a half.[vi]

However, this momentous agreement comes with historical antecedents. The FARC recently demanded an inclusion of right-wing paramilitary groups in the current peace talks.[vii] These were agreed to by President Santos on Wednesday.[viii] Previous administrations have attempted to implement comprehensive demobilization and reinsertion programs with guerrilla groups but have failed due to the exclusion of paramilitary forces. In Colombia’s last peace agreement, the Betancur administration (1982-1986) legalized guerrilla members that accepted the amnesty as political actors in 1985, and the FARC subsequently demobilized and established the Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica, UP), their political party. However, over 3,000 UP members paid dearly for this tactical mistake; having put down their weapons and rejoined civic life, they were later assassinated by paramilitary elements.[ix]

This changed with the election of President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), who refused to negotiate with the FARC and instead opted for supporting talks with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC), the largest paramilitary group in the country,[x] which has subsequently splintered off into several small criminal gangs.[xi] Since the demobilization of the AUC under Uribe, however, Colombian diplomats had not engaged in peace talks with the FARC until 2012.

COHA is cautiously optimistic about the shift in character of the Colombian government that has allowed for the promise of peace. However, insufficient funding, an inadequate monitoring of demobilized combatants, and a lack of consultation with host communities in the past have impeded Colombia from successfully maintaining peace. Although it has yet to be seen whether these agreements will prove to be successful in the long-term, President Santos’s government and the FARC are to be lauded for having taken a crucial step toward sustainable peace in Colombia.

[i] “World Report 2015: Colombia.” Human Rights Watch. 2015. Web.

[ii] Acosta, Nelson, and Daniel Trotta. “Colombia, FARC Rebels Vow to End 50-year War within Six Months.” Reuters. September 23, 2015. Web.

[iii] Lander, Rose. “Colombia Govt, FARC Agree to Maximum Prison Sentences for War Crimes.” Colombia Reports. September 23, 2015. Web.

[iv] Muñoz, Sara Schaefer. “Colombia Unlikely to Cut Defense Budget If FARC Deal Is Reached, Officials Say.” The Wall Street Journal. January 20, 2015. Web.

[v] Arsenault, Chris. “Did Colombia’s War on Drugs Succeed?” Al Jazeera. May 22, 2014. Web.

[vi] Renwick, Danielle, and Stephanie Hanson. “FARC, ELN: Colombia’s Left-Wing Guerrillas.” Council on Foreign Relations. December 1, 2014. Web.

[vii] Alsema, Adriaan. “The FARC’s Biggest Fear: Colombia’s Paramilitary Groups.” Colombia Reports. July 10, 2015. Web.

[viii] Acosta, Nelson, and Daniel Trotta. “Colombia, FARC Rebels Vow to End 50-year War within Six Months.” Reuters. September 23, 2015. Web.

[ix] Laplante, Lisa J, and Kimberly Theidon. “Transitional Justice in Times of Conflict: Colombia’s Ley De Justicia Y Paz.” Michigan Journal of International Law 28, no. 49 (2006): 59-61.

[x] Ibid: 61-62.

[xi] McDermott, Jeremy. “The BACRIM and Their Position in Colombia’s Underworld.” InSight Crime. May 2, 2014. Web.

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Militarism, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Argentina to Investigate Former Dictatorship’s Economic Ties

teleSUR | September 24, 2015

Argentina’s Parliament approved Wednesday by a wide majority the launch of an investigation into economic complicity by civilians during the country’s last military dictatorship.

The aim of the investigation is to determine how businesses and people participated in the crimes committed by the dictatorship, which disappeared thousands of people.

The bill passed with 170 votes against 14. The main party opposing the bill so far has been the Republican Proposal party (PRO), who’s presidential hopeful Mauricio Macri – currently the Mayor of Buenos Aires – is the leading opposition candidate, trailing behind the government party’s candidate Daniel Scioli.

The bill will now have to be approved by the Senate, which is largely dominated by the governing Front for Victory, which backs the proposal.

Once approved, a Congressional Commission of Truth, Memory, Justice, Reparation and Strengthening of Democratic Institutions will be created, which will have judicial powers to investigate and charge individuals.

According to the text of the bill, the investigations will target people who cooperated with or who benefited from their ties to the dictatorship.

The lawmakers that voted against the bill did not provide any explanation for their decision.

Apart from determining individual responsibilities, the Congressional commission would have to publish a report at the end of its investigations which would explain the economic consequences of the dictatorship and how State-sponsored terrorism helped particular businesses.

PRO’s negative vote could be linked to its repercussions on Argentina’s two main newspapers, El Clarin and La Nacion. Both have been repeatedly singled out for their ties to the military dictatorship, with which they created a paper-import company Papel Prensa S.A.

Through their joint venture with the dictatorship, the newspapers would have obtained preferential prices on paper fees and would have manipulated the market to drive competitors out.

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Timeless or most popular | , , | Leave a comment

Once again, Israeli forces prevent Palestinians’ freedom of religion

International Solidarity Movement | September 25, 2015

Hebron, occupied Palestine – Today, Israeli forces stopped, searched and harassed Palestinians on their way to Ibrahimi mosque and in the vicinity on the second day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha for Friday prayers in Al-Khalil (Hebron).

Crowds of worshippers were flocking to the mosque around noon. Before being allowed into the mosque they have to pass through metal detectors manned with Israeli forces. Even though the majority of the people passed from the Palestinian market and through a checkpoint already, only a few meters afterwards they are forced to pass through yet another checkpoint. Small children, boys and girls clung to the hands of their parents when passing through the checkpoint.

In total, 27 young adults were stopped and ID-checked on their way to Friday prayer, and forced to leave their ID with the Israeli forces before being allowed to enter into the mosque. Another two were detained for about fifteen minutes before finally being allowed to pass. All IDs had to be collected at the end of the prayer from the same soldier, delaying Palestinians on their way back home for yet another five to ten minutes during which soldiers where trying to find the right ID for each person.

Five teenagers were bluntly refused access to the mosque, denying them their right to exercise their religion. Whereas three of the boys left, two of them after being yelled at and pushed by an Israeli soldiers; two other teenagers were forced to perform their Friday prayer outside the mosque in the street.

One man, just passing on the street next to the checkpoint, talking to a friend entering to the mosque, was confronted by soldiers. One soldier ran towards him from the checkpoint, demanding him to stop and questioning him about the content of his bag. The man was forced to immediately open his bag, containing meat for lunch with his family, all while soldiers were shouting at him. They then forced him to pull up his shirt and trousers. Bystanders were watching anxiously, as only three days ago, the murder of 18-year old Hadeel Saleh Hashlamoun at another checkpoint in Al-Khalil shocked the community.

During the Jewish holidays this past month, many restrictions have been imposed on Palestinians living close to the Ibrahimi mosque. On several days, the checkpoint leading to the mosque was kept completely closed the whole day, denying entry to Palestinians and preventing them from free movement. With the Jewish holiday of Sukkot starting this Sunday, many more restrictions on Palestinian movement are expected.

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Arming Drones With Lasers to Increase Danger of Human Rights Abuses

Sputnik – 25.09.2015

WASHINGTON – Proposals to attach a high-energy laser on the Avenger, or Predator-C, drone will give the US armed forces and its contractors a cost-effective weapon to carry out widespread assassinations and intimidate domestic critics, experts told Sputnik.

“Arming drones with lasers is likely to increase the use of drones for harassment of individuals and populations in attacks that cause burning and terror but fall short of killing,” Coordinator Nick Mottern told Sputnik on Thursday. “Woundings are likely to increase, and assassinations may well increase.”

Mottern warned that laser drones would offer military forces and their private contractors a cheaper and more convenient means of conducting assassinations on a broad scale.

“Laser attacks may be less expensive in dollar terms than missile attacks, which also may bring an increase in injury and killing,” he said. “Casualties of all kinds are likely to increase. The advantage is only to weapons makers.”

Upstate Drone Action activist Ed Kinane told Sputnik that arming drones with lasers would make an already reprehensible weapon even more contemptible.

“Weaponized drones are vile; arming them with lasers is even viler,” he told Sputnik. “Corporations, like General Atomics, trying to develop such high-tech killing devices, should have their charters revoked; their executive officers and chief engineers should be prosecuted for being the intellectual authors of assassination and terrorism.”

Kinane argued that US Department of Defense officials working with mercenary contractors were likewise criminals and should be indicted.

“Like nuclear weapons, weaponized drones are instruments of terror, but also of diplomatic blackmail,” the activist warned, “Leaders of nations, when negotiating with the US, can’t help but know that they are doing so with a gun at their heads.”

Kinane warned that drones armed with lasers were weapons designed not for defense, but for global hegemony and that they would eventually be used to threaten and coerce American citizens too.

“Soon the people of the US will come under threat … from such high-tech weapon development,” he predicted. “These weapons may primarily be used to defend, not the nation, but the status quo power structure of the nation.”

Kinane also predicted that the new weapons would be used to intimidate and threaten domestic critics of US policies.

“They will surely be used domestically to intimidate and quell dissent, making a shambles of the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and petitioning the government for the redress of grievances,” he stated.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) the San Diego-based company that makes the Predator and Reaper drones, is undertaking a privately funded study to integrate a 150-kilowatt solid-state laser onto its Avenger (née Predator-C) drone.

If the company succeeds, a drone with a high-energy laser will be a reality at some point in 2017, company executives told DefenseOne.

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , , | Leave a comment

Nablus police chief, 3-year-old daughter injured by Israeli fire


Three-year-old Maram Abed al-Latif al-Qaddumi was shot in the head by Israeli forces with a rubber bullet in the occupied West Bank town of Kafr Qaddum.
(MaanImages/Murad Ishteiwi)
Ma’an – September 25, 2015

NABLUS – The chief of police in the Nablus district and his three-year-old daughter were injured after being shot by Israeli forces with rubber-coated bullets on Friday during a raid in the village of Kafr Qaddum in Qalqiliya.

A Fatah leader in Kafr Qaddum, Murad Ishteiwi, told Ma’an that Israeli forces directly shot at three-year-old Maram Abed al-Latif al-Qaddumi, injuring her with a rubber-coated steel bullet in the head while she was standing on a balcony in her home.

Isheiwi added that when her father, Colonel Abd al-Latif al-Qaddumi, attempted to aid her and take her to the hospital in his car, Israeli forces opened fire, injuring him in the head.

They were both taken to the Rafidia Governmental Hospital in Nablus where their injuries were reported as moderate. Both are currently in a stable condition.

Ishteiwi said that Israeli forces had raided the area and set up several ambushes inside of the town in an attempt to prevent the weekly Kafr Qaddum march.

An Israeli army spokesperson didn’t have any immediate information but told Ma’an they were looking into the incident.

On Sept. 11, Israeli military forces raided the house of al-Qaddumi, and turned his home into a military outpost after evicting his wife and children.

Days earlier, Israeli forces held al-Qaddumi for more than an hour near the entrance of Hijja village west of Nablus.

Last week Israeli forces shot and injured a 14-year-old with live fire in Kafr Qaddum during a demonstration.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that there was a “riot” in Kafr Qaddum, where protesters threw rocks and rolled burning tires at Israeli forces, who opened fire “using .22 caliber rounds towards the extremities of the main instigator and a hit was confirmed.”

A weekly average of 39 Palestinians have been injured by Israeli forces since the start of 2015. The majority of injuries sustained by Palestinians occur during unarmed demonstrations.

Rights organizations have argued that methods of crowd control used by Israeli forces often result in excessive, and sometimes fatal, use of force.

Residents of Kafr Qaddum carry out weekly demonstrations in protest of the now 13-year closure of the main street out of the village, which leads to nearby Nablus — the area’s economic hub.

Kafr Qaddum has also lost large swathes of its land to Israeli settlements, outposts and the separation wall, all illegal under international law.

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. Doublespeak on Palestine

By Robert Fantina | CounterPunch | September 25, 2015

As Palestinians continue to endure unspeakable suffering at the hands of Israelis, there are some old bromides that are constantly being hurled at an unsuspecting public by elected U.S. officials, in order to justify U.S. financing of that suffering. Let us look at just a few:

Israel has the right to defend itself. This writer cannot count the number of times this ridiculous statement has been made. Can we all just take a minute to investigate it? Israel, we are told, has the right to use the most advanced weaponry available on the planet, some of it banned by international law, to ‘defend’ itself against an occupied, rock-throwing population. Yes, occasionally Palestinians are able to smuggle in enough supplies to make ‘rockets’ that author Norman Finkelstein, son of Holocaust survivors and an outspoken critic of Israel, refers to as ‘enhanced fireworks’. In the minds of the Israeli-lobby-controlled U.S. government, those fireworks are sufficient to justify the carpet-bombing of homes, mosques, hospitals and schools. Need we mention, again, that bombing these sites is a violation of international law? Oh, and let’s not forget that the U.S. finances it all.

President Obama, in 2008, made this amazing statement: “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.” If someone, heavily armed, was stopping his daughters on their way to school every morning to search their backpacks, would he do everything in his power to stop that? If the First Lady was constantly spat upon when going to the local store, would he stop that? If one or both of his daughters were at risk of being shot at point-blank range and left dying in the street, would there be any limits to his efforts to stop that? Or if representatives of a foreign nation showed up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with bulldozers and began razing the White House, claiming that it was sitting on land that God promised to them, would he stop it? If his daughters were arrested for throwing stones at someone who had bulldozed their house, would he prevent that? This writer would love to hear Mr. Obama say this: ‘If somebody was brutally oppressing my loved ones, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. I would expect Palestinians to do the same thing.”

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It isn’t surprising to hear U.S. politicians say this, since most of them have only the vaguest concept of what ‘democracy’ means, never having experienced it, but hearing about it once or twice in some high school civics class. It seems that, in their view, if a nation holds elections, it is a democracy. Never mind that there are separate laws for Africans and Arabs living within Israel’s borders. Forget about the fact that Palestinian men, women and children can be arrested and held indefinitely, without charge or contact with legal representation, or even family members. Don’t bother even considering the fact that, in the Israel-occupied West Bank, there are separate, and far inferior, roads for Palestinians, and that they are not allowed to drive on, or even cross over, the superior Israeli roads. But hey! They have elections! Therefore, Israel is a democracy!

Israel is the U.S.’s only friend in the Middle East. This one is almost too much for this writer to bear; it is all he can to do keep from screaming every time he hears it. Israel continually slaps the U.S. in the face, refusing to halt illegal settlement activity; demanding that the U.S. protect it from United Nations criticism; committing the kinds of human rights abuses that cause the U.S. to bomb other nations, all the while receiving $10 million dollars a day from the U.S. This doesn’t sound like friendship; it sounds like services bought and paid for by the various Israeli lobbies.

What, one wonders, does the U.S. get from this one-sided ‘friendship’? Other nations in the Middle East despise the U.S., at least partly because of its financing of the oppression of the Palestinians (constantly bombing them doesn’t help much, either). Perhaps, just perhaps, the U.S. might have some real allies in the Middle East if it stopped funding ongoing genocide.

What, one further wonders, is in store for Israel after a new U.S. president is inaugurated in January of 2017? Mr. Obama is said to detest Israeli Prime Murderer Benjamin Netanyahu, yet he jumps through whatever hoops the Prime Murderer puts in front of him, like an obedient dog performing at a circus. All of the major party candidates seeking the U.S. presidency fawn all over Mr. Netanyahu as if he were some international hero, and not a mass murderer.

Although the struggle of the Palestinian people has lasted since 1948, let us look at the death toll for them, and the Israelis, just in the current millennium. Approximately 1,200 Israelis have died in this conflict (this writer does not call it a war; it is genocide, pure and simple), including about 130 children. In that same time period, at least 9,150 Palestinians have been killed, and this number includes over 1,500 children.

So one might ask Mr. Obama how he feels about Israel preventing the firing of ineffective rockets by the use of mass murder. What would he say to the parents of those 1,500 children, slaughtered in their homes or schools, with bombs he provided?

The U.S. was one of the last nations in the world to condemn South African apartheid; never a leader in the fight for freedom, or in assisting oppressed people to gain their basic human rights, the U.S. will again follow in Palestine. Israel will either implode from the weight of its own internal and external oppression, or will find itself so ostracized by the world community that even the mighty U.S. can’t save it from itself. In time, the people of Palestine will experience the freedom that the U.S. pays cheap lip service to, but does not practice. They will live on their ancestral lands, despite all the opposition from the United States. The day of their liberation cannot come soon enough, but it is coming.

Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 2 Comments

US must release files proving innocence of former Guantanamo detainee, say lawyers

Reprieve | September 25, 2015

Lawyers at human rights NGO Reprieve yesterday filed an emergency motion demanding the US government release information which could exonerate a former Guantanamo detainee facing the possibility of charges in Morocco.

Younous Chekkouri, 47, was transferred to his native Morocco last week. He has been detained ever since and the prosecution in Morocco announced on Wednesday that he is now facing the possibility of charges of ‘attempting to disrupt the internal security of the country.’

It is believed that these charges are based on allegations made years ago by the US – almost every one of which was dropped during Younous’ habeas corpus proceedings in federal court. Yet almost all the files from the case remain held under seal by a Washington D.C. court. Without the files being released, Younous’ lawyers will not be able to defend him against the possible Moroccan charges.

Reprieve first began asking the U.S. government to release the files in 2009, and in 2011 presented a “priority list” of thirteen documents. In the nearly four years since, the government has released only one of the requested files. In the rules governing Guantanamo proceedings, the US is obliged to produce public versions of all filings. The emergency motion filed yesterday demands that the government make available all remaining information by October 1st.

The US government cleared Younous for release from Guantanamo in 2010, a process involving unanimous agreement by six US federal agencies – including the CIA, FBI, and Departments of State and Defense – that he poses no threat to the US or anyone else.

Cori Crider, attorney for Younous and a director at human rights NGO Reprieve, said: “The Americans’ spurious allegations against Younous have already collapsed once when examined in US federal court and it is entirely unfair for him to face any further charges. Yet Younous is now living a Groundhog Day from hell where he may face yet more years of wrongful imprisonment because the US has failed to release information that I could use, this time in a Moroccan court, to prove his innocence yet again. So we are now forced to fight tooth and nail for information that should have been released years ago.”

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism | , , , | Leave a comment