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Our Brand Is Impunity: Why is the U.S. Harboring Bolivia’s Most Wanted Fugitive?

New film Our Brand is Crisis doesn’t tell us how a president who authorized the massacre of indigenous Bolivians has lived with impunity in the US for 12 years

By Emily Achtenberg – Rebel Currents – 10/29/2015

Our Brand Is Crisis, a new feature film produced by George Clooney and “inspired by true events,” tells the story of a presidential campaign in a fictional Latin American country that is besieged by social unrest.

In real life, the country is Bolivia, the year was 2002, and the candidate was Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (“Goni”), a deeply unpopular former president who was propelled to victory by the nefarious campaign strategies of prominent U.S. polling and marketing consultants Greenville Carville and Shrum. Goni, a U.S.-educated millionaire mine owner, won the election with only 22% of the popular vote.

What the film doesn’t show is what happened less than a year later. In October 2003, Goni authorized the violent repression of indigenous citizens who were protesting the privatization of Bolivia’s oil and gas reserves, and the proposed export of cheap gas to the U.S. through Chilean ports. The results were 68 dead and 400 injured, including onlookers and children. Most of the violence took place in El Alto, the indigenous city overlooking La Paz that was the epicenter of Bolivia’s “Gas War.”

The massacre sparked a popular uprising that led to Goni’s resignation, followed by a chain of events culminating in the 2005 election of Evo Morales as Bolivia’s first indigenous president. Goni and his defense minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín fled to the US, where they have lived for 12 years in comfort, relative obscurity, and with full impunity, shielded by successive Republican and Democratic administrations.

Bolivians, though, have not forgotten. This past month, in what has become an annual ritual, families, survivors, and friends of the victims marched in El Alto, together with hundreds of supporters from popular and neighborhood organizations, to commemorate the events of “Black October” and demand that the perpetrators of violence be brought to justice.

Beyond his infamous responsibility for Black October, Goni is equally despised in Bolivia for overseeing a radical neoliberal program of privatization, austerity, and deregulation at the behest of the US government and international financial institutions. While helping to reduce hyperinflation, these free-market reforms also led to rising unemployment, deepening poverty, and transnational corporate control of Bolivia’s economy.

In 2004, after a concerted campaign by the victims’ families and human rights groups, more than two-thirds of the Bolivian Congress—including many members of Goni’s own party—voted to authorize a “trial of responsibility” for the perpetrators of the Black October violence. Seventeen former military and government officials, including Goni and Sánchez Berzaín, were charged with serious human rights crimes, including homicide, torture, and “genocide in the form of a bloody massacre.” Seven have been tried and convicted in Bolivia, receiving prison sentences of 3-15 years in a landmark 2011 case. However, under Bolivian law, those who fled into exile cannot be held legally accountable unless the government succeeds in extraditing them.

The Bolivian government’s initial petition for the extradition of Goni and Sánchez Berzaín, filed in 2008, was rejected by the U.S. State Department in 2012, seemingly because some charges lacked equivalency in U.S. law. A revised request, filed in July 2014, is still pending.

The obstacles to success remain formidable, including Goni’s long-standing dual citizenship, advanced age (85), and, especially, his close ties to powerful US politicians and business tycoons. In addition to his relationship with top Democratic political operatives James Carville, Stan Greenberg, and Bob Shrum (detailed in the original Our Brand is Crisis, an excellent 2005 documentary by Rachel Boynton), Goni was advised in his 2002 campaign by Mark Feierstein, who currently serves as Obama’s Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council. Greg Craig, Goni’s former attorney, coordinated Bill Clinton’s legal defense during his impeachment trial and later became Obama’s White House Counsel.

Last April, Goni was a featured speaker in a lecture series at Mercer University’s Center for Undergraduate Research on Public Policy and Capitalism, financed by the Koch brothers. More than 300 US solidarity activists, academics, and representatives of civil society organizations protested the event in a letter to the university president, requesting that video testimonies offered by the Black October victims’ families also be aired to provide a more balanced perspective.

Underlying the conflict over extradition is the fraught political relationship between Bolivia and the US that has persisted throughout the Morales era, characterized by mutual distrust and a tendency on both sides to exploit ideological differences for domestic political gain. The two countries have not had formal diplomatic relations since 2008, when Morales expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg for suspected consorting with conservative opposition leaders who were actively seeking to destabilize his government—a suspicion subsequently borne out by Wikileaks cable revelations—and the US responded in kind.

In 2013, Morales also expelled USAID for meddling in domestic political affairs, an accusation that gained widespread traction due to the agency’s lack of transparency in funding. A few months later, the grounding of Morales’s presidential jet in Europe when the U.S. suspected that fugitive Edward Snowden might be on board substantially undermined a new “framework agreement” for bilateral relations negotiated by the parties in 2011.

Morales has repeatedly clashed with the U.S. over drug policy. In 2008, he expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), symbol of the repressive U.S. War on Drugs, to embark on a new anti-drug trafficking strategy that acknowledges Bolivia’s traditional uses of coca and enlists the powerful coca growers’ unions in regulating their own activity through social control.

Despite a recent United Nations report documenting the success of this policy, in the form of a significant reduction in Bolivia’s coca-growing acreage, the U.S. has continued to “decertify” Bolivia for “failing demonstrably” to curb illegal drug trafficking. This means that the U.S. will likely continue to deny previously-granted trade preferences for Bolivia’s manufacturing exports, an economic sanction that Bolivia deeply resents.  Recent revelations that the US has secretly indicted several top government officials and their associates as a result of a DEA drug sting have reinforced Morales’s suspicions that a vengeful DEA is working to undermine his administration.

Still, with the recent U.S.-Cuba thaw setting a new standard for diplomatic pragmatism in the region, there is good reason to anticipate that U.S.-Bolivia relations will improve. As with Cuba, a primary motivating factor is likely to be the availability of new markets for U.S. businesses in Bolivia, now that, with the end of the commodities boom, the Morales government has stepped up its efforts to attract foreign capital.

Just this past week, Morales showcased investment opportunities in Bolivia’s hydrocarbons, mining, energy, manufacturing, and tourist sectors at a New York City conference, “Investing in the New Bolivia.” The event, sponsored by the London-based Financial Times (FT), drew more than 150 corporate and financial representatives from the U.S .and around the world, with 34 companies (including Seattle-based Boeing) expressing significant interest.

Despite Morales’s warnings that foreign companies must partner with the government and not meddle in domestic politics —important differences from the neoliberal Goni era— Bolivia’s new pro-business climate could go a long way towards countering the recent history of ideological and rhetorical conflict between the two countries. Even so, with Goni’s still powerful bipartisan connections, it’s hard to say whether improved economic and political relations could elevate the status of Bolivia’s extradition request on the bilateral agenda. It’s also unclear whether extradition is still a top priority for the Morales government, or has been superseded by other nationalist causes—such as Bolivia’s demand for the return of its seacoast from Chile—that have gained new political traction.

Meanwhile, a civil suit filed against Goni in 2014 by the families of Black October victims, seeking compensatory and punitive damages under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act, is progressing slowly through the US courts. Last May, Goni was forced to submit to a 6-hour deposition, an emotional experience for the families— and the first and only time he has appeared in a judicial forum to account for his crimes. The families are also pursuing claims in the Bolivian courts to allow the assets of those convicted of Black October crimes to be auctioned off and paid to them as reparations.

Here in the US, solidarity activists have launched a parody website to tell the true story of state violence and impunity that lies behind the fictionalized Our Brand is Crisis. It includes video testimonies from the families of Black October victims and survivors and a petition demanding Goni’s extradition.

Emily Achtenberg is an urban planner and the author of NACLA’s blog Rebel Currents, covering Latin American social movements and progressive governments

November 5, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Mainstream Media, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | 1 Comment

Americans oppose Obama’s plans for fighting ISIL: Poll

Press TV – November 5, 2015

Most Americans disapprove of US President Barack Obama’s approach in fighting the Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group, a new poll has found.

More than 6 in 10 people in the US reject Obama’s handling of the threat posed by the ISIL in Syria and Iraq, an Associated Press-GfK poll released on Thursday finds.

Support for his approach has dropped since Washington formed a military coalition against ISIL in late 2014. Last year, Americans were approximately even, but disapproval has risen 8 percent since January.

This is while two-thirds of the people surveyed in the poll described the threat posed by Daesh as a “very or extremely important issue.”

The poll also found that only 40 percent of Americans still approve of the president’s management of foreign policy.

Obama announced last week that 50 US special operations troops will head to northern Syria, marking the first time the US is openly sending forces into that war-torn country.

‘Afghanistan, a historic failure’

Concerns about Obama’s strategy overseas become more apparent when it comes to Afghanistan, where he has dropped his plan to pull US forces by the end of 2016. The new plan means that when he leaves office, the US will have at least 5,500 troops in Afghanistan.

The poll found that 71 percent of Americans believe history will judge the Afghanistan war as more of a failure than a success.

Roughly a third of Americans said they approve of Obama’s revamped plan in the country, while one-third opposed it.

November 5, 2015 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite, War Crimes | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Hell Week For Global Warming Alarmists: Crumbling Consensus, Inconvenient Data And Policy Rejection

By P Gosselin | No Tricks Zone | November 5, 2015

It hasn’t been a good week for the global warming alarmists. Three events have rocked the movement and caused alarmists to go into a state of alarm.

Putin calls global warming “a fraud”

The first event Russian President Vladimir Putin, who used to play along with the issue, has come out and called global warming science “a fraud,” one that is “designed to restrain industrial development.” According to the New York Times, Putin’s skepticism is based on Russian scientists having done “very, very extensive work trying to understand all sides of the climate debate” and that it is “clear that the climate is a complicated system” and that “the evidence presented for the need to ‘fight’ global warming was rather unfounded.”

NASA satellite measurements refute preposterous PIK models

The second event is described at the Swiss online daily Tagesanzeiger which presents a vivid example as to why people like Putin don’t believe the wild climate alarmism: There’s a huge chasm between the scary model projections coming from “leading” climate institutes and the real observations themselves.

The Swiss daily begins by writing that the Germany-based Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) projects that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could “rapidly disintegrate” and cause sea levels to rise 3 meters, all based on “their own model simulations,” which incorporate “feedback effects.” The Tagesanzeiger writes, however, that the PIK was unable to provide “a reason for the loss of stability in West Antarctica.” The Swiss online daily in effect presents a PIK theory that is fraught with assumptions, and is ultra-lean on recorded data.

To illustrate that there is a total lack of consensus with respect to Antarctica, the Tagesanzeiger brings up the latest NASA study by Zwally et al, citing Breitbart : “Antarctica is not shrinking – it is growing,” and writes that the NASA study “completely contradicts” the PIK model projections. The Tagesanzeiger continues:

A satellite survey by NASA tells a different story. It contradicts a number of other studies, which are mostly based on rough estimations and assumptions.”

Poland refuses to ratify Kyoto treaty in Paris

The third set of bad news to come out over the past week is that Poland’s new president, Andrzej Duda, refuses to extend the UN Kyoto Treaty until 2020 and that this “blocks the ratification process” just a month before the UN climate summit in Paris (COP21). Duda is requesting “a more detailed analysis of the climate matter,” writing in a statement:

Binding Poland to an international agreement that will affect Poland’s economy and the therein connected social costs should require a detailed analysis of the legal and economic impacts. These impacts have not been sufficiently explained.”

Greenpeace Poland called Duda’s announcement a “bad sign” which threatens to stall Europe’s movement on emissions limitation.

Asia moves ahead with coal power plant expansion

Also the news tell us that many, especially poorer, developing countries aren’t taking PIK climate science seriously at all. The London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation here writes that “in Asia alone this year power companies are building more than 500 coal-fired plants, with at least a thousand more on planning boards.”

November 5, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Malthusian Ideology, Science and Pseudo-Science | 2 Comments

47 Americans Died This Year After Taser Shocks; Many Police Shun Guidelines

The Crime Report | November 5, 2015

While deadly police shootings in the U.S. have gained international attention this year, 47 lesser-known people have lost their lives after law enforcement officers deployed a Taser, says The Counted, an ongoing investigation by The Guardian documenting fatalities after police encounters. All but three of those who died were unarmed; 40 percent of them were black. In at least 53 percent of such cases, the suspect was displaying signs of intoxication before his or her death. Many died after shocks administered seemingly in violation of national guidelines, by officers belonging to a police department with lax rules on how these less-lethal weapons should be used.

As Tasers became an increasingly prevalent part of police officers’ arsenals around the world, the U.S. Justice Department funded the Police Executive Research Forum to revise guidelines on their use in 2011. These rules are designed to encourage officers to know Tasers “should not be seen as an all-purpose weapon that takes the place of de-escalation techniques” – and to acknowledge the lethal potential of electronic control weapons (ECW) deployed for more than three standard shock cycles of five seconds each. “When Tasers were first introduced, it was thought they really could be used without causing any harm,” said PERF’s Chuck Wexler. “Subsequently, in our research and work, we realised that extended use of ECWs could cause injuries and death. That is why we stipulate restrictions on their use.”

November 5, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , | Leave a comment

‘No armed combatants, no fighting’: MSF issues Afghan hospital bombing report


RT | November 5, 2015

A Médecins Sans Frontières investigation into the Afghan hospital bombing by US forces has found that there were no armed combatants or weapons within the compound, and no fighting in the direct vicinity of the hospital at the time of the airstrikes.

In its report released on Thursday, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF/Doctors Without Borders) addressed the “relentless and brutal aerial attack by US forces” which took place in Kunduz on October 3 and killed at least 30 people, including MSF staff.

“The MSF rules in the hospital were implemented and respected, including the ‘no weapon’ policy and MSF was in full control of the hospital at the time of the airstrikes,” the organization stated.

The document also said there were “no armed combatants within the hospital compound and there was no fighting from or in the direct vicinity” of the trauma center at the time of the strikes.

The hospital was “fully functioning” at the time of the airstrikes, with 105 patients admitted and surgeries taking place, according to the findings of the investigation.

In addition, MSF said the “agreement to respect the neutrality of our medical facility based on the applicable sections of International Humanitarian Law was fully in place and agreed with all parties to the conflict prior to the attack.”

Despite that neutrality, the hospital was still the target of a US airstrike, leading MSF to ask how such an attack was allowed to happen.

“The question remains as to whether our hospital lost its protected status in the eyes of the military forces engaged in this attack – and if so, why,” MSF said in its statement.

Presenting the report, MSF general director Christopher Stokes said: “From what we are seeing now, this action is illegal in the laws of war. There are still many unanswered questions, including who took the final decision, who gave the targeting instructions for the hospital.”

The MSF statement described the tragic situation at the hospital.

“Patients burned in their beds, medical staff were decapitated and lost limbs, and others were shot by the circling AC-130 gunship while fleeing the burning building. At least 30 MSF staff and patients were killed,” it states.

MSF says its demand is simple: “A functioning hospital caring for patients, such as the one in Kunduz, cannot simply lose its protection and be attacked; wounded combatants are patients and must be free from attack and treated without discrimination; medical staff should never be punished or attacked for providing treatment to wounded combatants.”

Following the aerial attack, the Pentagon initially attempted to shift responsibility onto Afghan security forces, claiming they had requested the airstrikes.

However, the commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, later admitted the attack was a “US decision made within the US chain of command.” He went on to say that Washington would “never intentionally target a protected medical facility.”

Read more:

‘US strike on Afghan hospital no mistake’ – Doctors Without Borders

US tank enters MSF hospital in Afghanistan’s Kunduz, ‘destroys potential evidence’ – reports

November 5, 2015 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel seeks 60 percent increase in US military aid: US officials

Press TV – November 5, 2015

Israel is seeking a large increase in annual military assistance from the United States and has held preliminary talks with the Obama administration on a 10-year financial package that would provide up to $50 billion, American congressional sources say.

During unofficial talks in recent weeks, Israel has asked the US to increase its annual military assistance by 60 percent to an average of $5 billion a year over the 2018-2028 period, the congressional aides said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Under the existing agreement that was signed in 2007 and expires in 2017, annual military aid to Israel grew to about $3 billion a year. That deal was negotiated during the George W. Bush administration.

Israel says that it wants more money to counter threats that will arise as a result of the recent Iran nuclear agreement, which the Zionist regime has fiercely opposed.

US officials said that negotiations on the new aid package deal were still in the early stages and the proposal has not yet been formally presented to Congress, which must approve the funding.

“First they have to negotiate with the White House,” one senior congressional aide said of the Israeli regime.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Washington next week and hold talks with President Barack Obama on the aid package. Netanyahu and Obama are expected to reach an agreement on the aid deal’s broad outlines.
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 30, 2013.

Obama had reportedly agreed in principle with Netanyahu in a previous meeting to increase the aid package to between $4.2 billion and $4.5 billion.

The money is separate from the nearly $500 million in annual US funding for Israel’s missile system programs in recent years. It is also on top of the US warfighting material held in Israel, which is valued at $1.2 billion.

US annual aid to Israel has held steady despite cuts to a wide range of domestic and military programs in the United States, including reducing the size of the US Army to its lowest level since before World War Two.

The US government is pressured to serve Israel’s interests due to the influence of the powerful Zionist lobby in the United States. The pro-Israel pressure groups actively work to steer US foreign policy in favor of Israel.

November 5, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Militarism, Wars for Israel | , , , , | 3 Comments

Israel steals slain Palestinians’ organs

Palestine Information Center – November 5, 2015

RAMALLAH – The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Riyad Mansour said that Israel is harvesting the organs of Palestinians killed during the ongoing Jerusalem Intifada.

Riyad Mansour said in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday that the bodies of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces are “returned with missing corneas and other organs, further confirming past reports about organ harvesting by the occupying power.”

“A medical examination conducted on bodies of Palestinians returned after they were killed by the occupying power found that they were missing organs,” Mansour wrote in the letter.

The issue of organ theft by Israel was first brought to the fore in a report published by Sweden’s most highly-circulated daily Aftonbladet in 2009.

The New York Times has also reported in 2014 that “transplant brokers in Israel have pocketed enormous sums of money.” Based on the report “Israelis have played a ‘disproportionate role’ in organ trafficking since 2000.”

According to the latest figures by the Palestinian Health Ministry, at least 74 Palestinians were shot and killed at the hands of Israeli forces since the beginning of October.

The bodies of the Palestinian victims are most often held in Israeli custody for long periods of time before they are returned to relatives.

November 5, 2015 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | 3 Comments

Deutsche Bank to pay $258mn in settlement

Press TV – November 4, 2015

Deutsche Bank will pay $258 million and fire six employees to resolve investigations by state and federal banking regulators into its dealings with countries like Iran and Syria in violation of United States sanctions laws.

Deutsche Bank, a German banking giant that has a big presence on Wall Street, will pay $200 million to the New York State Department of Financial Services and another $58 million to the Federal Reserve. It also agreed to appoint an independent monitor, the New York Times has reported.

It is the latest in a string of settlements over sanctions violations as regulators take aim at banks for doing business with blacklisted countries. Still, a criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney and the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan are continuing, people briefed on the matter said.

In a statement, Deutsche Bank said: “We are pleased to have reached a resolution with the New York Department of Financial Services and the Federal Reserve. The conduct ceased several years ago, and since then we have terminated all business with parties from the countries involved.”

The activity under investigation occurred from 1999 to 2006, according to regulators. Deutsche Bank handled 27,200 dollar-clearing transactions valued at over $10.86 billion, for customers in Iran, Libya, Syria, Myanmar and Sudan.

Regulators said bank employees developed ways to hide the nature of the transactions from internal controls intended to flag problematic payments.

Several of the employees involved in the conduct have already left Deutsche Bank, regulators said Wednesday, but an additional six will be fired and three others will be banned from duties involving Deutsche Bank’s American operations.

Investigations and settlements of cases involving violations of United States sanctions are nearing their end just as Washington is easing its stance toward some foreign countries like Iran and Cuba.

November 5, 2015 Posted by | Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

West Secretly Elated Over Downed Russian Airliner

By Ulson Gunnar – New Eastern Outlook – 05.11.2015

A Russian airliner bound for St. Petersburg crashed while flying over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all on board. With the peninsula seeing fierce fighting recently as the presence of foreign-backed terrorist organizations has grown, immediate suspicion was raised regarding a potential terror attack involving either a bomb brought on board or a missile fired from below.

As Russia carries out its investigation of the disaster, the rest of the objective world waits for answers. For others, they have already begun drawing up narratives to use the disaster to serve their purposes. One such individual is John Bradley, a frequent contributor for The Economist, The Forward, Newsweek, The New Republic, The Daily Telegraph, Prospect, and The Independent.

 He has also lectured at the Washington-based policy think-tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and for over 2 years, was given almost unlimited access across Saudi Arabia while writing his establishment-lauded book, “Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis.”

 His most recent work is an unsavory op-ed for the UK Spectator titled, “The Russian plane crash could undermine Putin’s Syria strategy.” In it, Bradley conveniently answers the most important question that will be asked if investigators determine the plane’s destruction was an act of terrorism, “cui bono?”

Bradley describes not only how the disaster helps further undermine Egypt, (a nation struggling to balance between placating Western interests and averting a “Libya-style” collapse within its own borders) but also how the incident would undermine Russia’s efforts in Syria.

Bradley states:

It now seems fairly likely that an explosion brought down the Russian passenger airline over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula over the weekend. One Metrojet official has already suggested that the ‘only explainable cause is physical impact on the aircraft’ and they have ruled out technical failure or human error. If the ongoing investigation proves that to be the case, it will obviously have an immediate and catastrophic impact on Egypt’s already decimated tourism industry.

 Regarding Russia in particular, he states:

But it would also be the most unwelcome news possible for Vladimir Putin, who sold military intervention in Syria to the Russian people as a way of making them safer. In turn, opponents of Russian intervention – the US, Turkey and the Gulf Arab despots – would be privately elated. For does this not prove their argument that Russian intervention only complicates the situation on the ground while increasing the threat of terror attacks?

But should the downed airliner turn out to be the victim of terrorism, not only would “the US, Turkey and the Gulf Arab despots” be “privately elated,” it also appears that ISIS would have provided them a much needed card to play during future negotiations regarding the conflict in Syria. After noting that ISIS took credit for the downed airliner as it was closing in on a motorway used to resupply Syrian forces operating in Aleppo, Bradley explains:

All [at the negotiations], of course, realise that it is only worth negotiating from a position of strength. The anti-Assad allies will be hoping that Putin now fears a new Afghanistan, and will therefore be more flexible on the question of Assad’s departure. They will also be determined to ramp up support for the so-called ‘moderate rebels’, especially given that Washington has recently sent in Special Forces to ‘advise’ them (or, in other words, act as human shields against Russian bombs).

Bradley sums up his op-ed by almost celebrating the fact that those who assumed Russia’s entry into the Syrian conflict would spell its quick conclusion were “sadly mistaken.”

Should it turn out that terrorists brought down the Russian airliner, it certainly would fulfill Bradley’s summary regarding “cui bono?” Bradley himself admits that US special forces are simply serving as “human shields” for Western backed militants against Russian strikes. These same militants have in recent days, been coordinating with ISIS openly in the advances mentioned by Bradley along the Syrian motorway. It is clear that ISIS is not a third team competing in this regional conflict, but rather a member of the very team that has been reaping the most benefits from its existence, “the US, Turkey and the Gulf Arab despots.”

November 5, 2015 Posted by | War Crimes | , , , , , | 1 Comment

MSF Slams Obama’s Silence on Kunduz Hospital Bombing

Sputnik – 05.11.2015

Last month, US airstrikes bombarded a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. In one of the deadliest civilian casualty incidents in the history of the Afghan conflict. Thirty were killed, all being medical staff and patients, and another 37 were wounded.

The tragedy elicited an international outcry. But despite almost universal condemnation, no Western nations have stepped forward to hold the United States accountable for its actions.

obama-jail_240x172“The silence is embarrassing,” MSF executive director Joanne Liu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We have seen an erosion over the years of international humanitarian law. Enough is enough. We cannot keep going like this.”

In the days after the bombing, Doctors Without Borders appealed to 76 nations, requesting support for an impartial international investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident.

“Yet today, as we mourn the killing of our staff and patients, none of the 76 countries have stepped forward to show their support for an independent investigation by the Humanitarian Commission,” MSF-USA executive director Jason Cone said during a commemoration event on Tuesday.

“No state has been willing to stand up for the Geneva Conventions and the laws of war.”

While President Obama has publicly apologized to Liu, the United States is still refusing to give consent to an independent investigation.

“That is why we again call on President Barack Obama to give his consent for the United States to participate in an independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission,” Cone said on Tuesday.

“Consenting to such an investigation would send a powerful signal of the US government’s commitment to and respect for international humanitarian law and the rules of war.”

MSF has also started an online petition requesting White House consent. It has so far garnered over 430,000 signatures.

“For me the key message is about the safeguarding of the humanitarian medical space in war zones,” Liu said. “No one expects to be bombed when they are in a hospital. Every human being can understand that.”

November 5, 2015 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite, War Crimes | , , , | 1 Comment

America’s Chalabi Legacy of Lies

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | November 4, 2015

Government officials who pushed the Iraq War in 2002-2003 are fond of claiming that they were simply deceived by “bad intelligence,” but the process was not that simple. In reality, there was a mutually reinforcing scheme to flood the U.S. intelligence community with false data and then to pressure the analysts not to show professional skepticism.

In other words, in the capital of the most powerful nation on earth, a system had evolved that was immune to the normal rules of evidence and respect for reality. Propaganda had become the name of the game, a dangerous process that remains in force to this day.

Regarding the Iraq War case, one of the principal culprits fueling this disinformation machine was Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi, who died on Nov. 3 at the age of 71 from a heart attack. Chalabi, head of the U.S./neocon-backed Iraqi National Congress (INC), not only pumped intentionally false data into this process but later congratulated his organization as “heroes in error” for rationalizing the invasion of Iraq.

The INC’s principal tactic was to deluge the U.S. intelligence community – and the mainstream media – with “defectors” who provided lurid accounts of the Iraqi government hiding WMD caches and concealing its ties to Al Qaeda terrorists. Because of the welcoming climate for these lies – which were trumpeted by neoconservatives and other influential Washington operatives – there was little or no pushback.

Only after the U.S. invasion and the failure to discover the alleged WMD stockpiles did the U.S. intelligence community reconstruct how the INC’s deceptions had worked. As the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee belatedly discovered, some “defectors” had been coached by the INC, which was fabricating a casus belli against Iraq.

In 2006, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a little-noticed study on the role of phony “defectors.” The report revealed not only specific cases of coached Iraqi “defectors” lying to intelligence analysts but a stunning failure of the U.S. political/media system to challenge the lies. The intimidated U.S. intelligence process often worked like a reverse filter, letting the dross of disinformation pass through.

The Iraqi “defectors” and their stories also played into a sophisticated propaganda campaign by neocon pundits and pro-war officials who acted as intellectual shock troops to bully the few U.S. voices of skepticism. With President George W. Bush eager for war with Iraq – and Democrats in Congress fearful of being labeled “soft on terror” – the enforced “group think” led the United States to invade Iraq on March 19, 2003.

According to the Senate report, the official U.S. relationship with these Iraqi exiles dated back to 1991 after President George H.W. Bush had routed Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait and wanted to help Hussein’s domestic opponents.

Start of a Complicated Friendship

In May 1991, the CIA approached Ahmed Chalabi, a secular Shiite who had not lived in Iraq since 1956. Chalabi was far from a perfect opposition candidate, however. Beyond his long isolation from his homeland, Chalabi was a fugitive from bank fraud charges in Jordan. Still, in June 1992, the Iraqi exiles held an organizational meeting in Vienna, Austria, out of which came the Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi emerged as the group’s chairman and most visible spokesman.

But Chalabi soon began rubbing CIA officers the wrong way. They complained about the quality of his information, the excessive size of his security detail, his lobbying of Congress, and his resistance to working as a team player. For his part, the smooth-talking Chalabi bristled at the idea that he was a U.S. intelligence asset, preferring to see himself as an independent political leader. Nevertheless, he and his organization were not averse to accepting American money.

With U.S. financial backing, the INC waged a propaganda campaign against Hussein and arranged for “a steady stream of low-ranking walk-ins” to provide intelligence about the Iraqi military, the Senate Intelligence Committee report said.

The INC’s mix of duties – propaganda and intelligence – would create concerns within the CIA as would the issue of Chalabi’s “coziness” with the Shiite government of Iran. The CIA concluded that Chalabi was double-dealing both sides when he falsely informed Iran that the United States wanted Iran’s help in conducting anti-Hussein operations.

“Chalabi passed a fabricated message from the White House to” an Iranian intelligence officer in northern Iraq, the CIA reported. According to one CIA representative, Chalabi used National Security Council stationery for the fabricated letter, a charge that Chalabi denied.

In December 1996, Clinton administration officials decided to terminate the CIA’s relationship with the INC and Chalabi. “There was a breakdown in trust and we never wanted to have anything to do with him anymore,” CIA Director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

However, in 1998, with the congressional passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, the INC was again one of the exile organizations that qualified for U.S. funding. Starting in March 2000, the State Department agreed to grant an INC foundation almost $33 million for several programs, including more propaganda operations and collection of information about alleged war crimes committed by Hussein’s regime.

By March 2001, with George W. Bush in office and already focusing on Iraq, the INC was given greater leeway to pursue its projects, including an Information Collection Program. The INC’s blurred responsibilities on intelligence gathering and propaganda dissemination raised fresh concerns within the State Department. But Bush’s National Security Council intervened against State’s attempts to cut off funding.

The NSC shifted the INC operation to the control of the Defense Department, where neoconservatives wielded more influence. To little avail, CIA officials warned their counterparts at the Defense Intelligence Agency about suspicions that “the INC was penetrated by Iranian and possibly other intelligence services, and that the INC had its own agenda,” the Senate report said.

“You’ve got a real bucket full of worms with the INC and we hope you’re taking the appropriate steps,” the CIA told the DIA.

Media Hype

But the CIA’s warnings did little to stanch the flow of INC propaganda into America’s politics and media. Besides flooding the U.S. intelligence community with waves of propaganda, the INC funneled a steady stream of “defectors” to U.S. news outlets eager for anti-Hussein scoops.

The “defectors” also made the rounds of Congress where members saw a political advantage in citing the INC’s propaganda as a way to talk tough about the Middle East. In turn, conservative and neoconservative think tanks honed their reputations in Washington by staying at the cutting edge of the negative news about Hussein, with “human rights” groups ready to pile on, too, against the Iraqi dictator.

The INC’s information program served the institutional needs and biases of Official Washington. Saddam Hussein was a despised figure anyway, with no influential constituency that would challenge even the most outlandish accusations against him.

When Iraqi government officials were allowed onto American news programs, it was an opportunity for the interviewers to show their tough side, pounding the Iraqis with hostile questions and smirking at the Iraqi denials about WMDs and ties to Al Qaeda.

The rare journalist who tried to be evenhanded would have his or her professionalism questioned. An intelligence analyst who challenged the consensus view that Iraq possessed WMDs could expect to suffer career repercussions. So, it was a win-win for “investigative journalists,” macho pundits, members of Congress – and George W. Bush. A war fever was sweeping the United States and the INC was doing all it could to spread the infection.

Again and again, the INC’s “defectors” supplied primary or secondary intelligence on two key points, Iraq’s supposed rebuilding of its unconventional weapons and its alleged training of non-Iraqi terrorists. Sometimes, these “defectors” would even enter the cloistered world of U.S. intelligence with entrées provided by former U.S. government officials.

For instance, ex-CIA Director James Woolsey referred at least a couple of these Iraqi sources to the Defense Intelligence Agency. Woolsey, who was affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and other neocon think tanks, had been one of the Reagan administration’s favorite Democrats in the 1980s because he supported a hawkish foreign policy. After Bill Clinton won the White House, Woolsey parlayed his close ties to the neocons into an appointment as CIA director.

In early 1993, Clinton’s foreign policy adviser Samuel “Sandy” Berger explained to one well-placed Democratic official that Woolsey was given the CIA job because the Clinton team felt it owed a favor to the neoconservative New Republic, which had lent Clinton some cachet with the insider crowd of Washington.

Amid that more relaxed post-Cold War mood, the Clinton team viewed the CIA directorship as a kind of a patronage plum that could be handed out as a favor to campaign supporters. But new international challenges soon emerged and Woolsey proved to be an ineffective leader of the intelligence community. After two years, he was replaced.

As the 1990s wore on, the spurned Woolsey grew closer to Washington’s fast-growing neocon movement, which was openly hostile to President Clinton for his perceived softness in asserting U.S. military power, especially against Arab regimes in the Middle East.

On Jan. 26, 1998, the neocon Project for the New American Century sent a letter to Clinton urging the ouster of Saddam Hussein by force if necessary. Woolsey was one of the 18 signers. By early 2001, he also had grown close to the INC, having been hired as co-counsel to represent eight Iraqis, including INC members, who had been detained on immigration charges.

In other words, Woolsey was well-positioned to serve as a conduit for INC “defectors” trying to get their stories to U.S. officials and to the American public.

The ‘Sources’

DIA officials told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Woolsey introduced them to the first in a long line of INC “defectors” who then told the DIA about Hussein’s WMD and his supposed relationship with Islamic terrorists. For his part, Woolsey said he didn’t recall making that referral.

The debriefings of “Source One” – as he was called in the Senate Intelligence Committee report – generated more than 250 intelligence reports. Two of the reports described alleged terrorist training sites in Iraq, where Afghan, Pakistani and Palestinian nationals were allegedly taught military skills at the Salman Pak base, 20 miles south of Baghdad.

“Many Iraqis believe that Saddam Hussein had made an agreement with Usama bin Ladin in order to support his terrorist movement against the U.S.,” Source One claimed, according to the Senate report.

After the 9/11 attacks, information from Source One and other INC-connected “defectors” began surfacing in U.S. press accounts, not only in the right-wing news media, but many mainstream publications and news shows.

In an Oct. 12, 2001, column entitled “What About Iraq?” Washington Post chief foreign correspondent Jim Hoagland cited “accumulating evidence of Iraq’s role in sponsoring the development on its soil of weapons and techniques for international terrorism,” including training at Salman Pak. Hoagland’s sources included Iraqi army “defector” Sabah Khalifa Khodada and another unnamed Iraqi ex-intelligence officer in Turkey. Hoagland also criticized the CIA for not taking seriously a possible Iraqi link to 9/11.

Hoagland’s column was followed by a Page One article in The New York Times, which was headlined “Defectors Cite Iraqi Training for Terrorism.” It relied on Khodada, the second source in Turkey (who was later identified as Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, a former senior officer in Iraq’s intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat), and a lower-ranking member of Mukhabarat.

This story described 40 to 50 Islamic militants getting training at Salman Pak at any one time, including lessons on how to hijack an airplane without weapons. There were also claims about a German scientist working on biological weapons.

In a Columbia Journalism Review retrospective on press coverage of U.S. intelligence on Iraq, writer Douglas McCollam asked Times correspondent Chris Hedges about the Times article, which he had written in coordination with a PBS Frontline documentary called “Gunning for Saddam,” with correspondent Lowell Bergman.

Explaining the difficulty of checking out defector accounts when they meshed with the interests of the U.S. government, Hedges said, “We tried to vet the defectors and we didn’t get anything out of Washington that said, ‘these guys are full of shit.’”

For his part, Bergman told CJR’s McCollam, “The people involved appeared credible and we had no way of getting into Iraq ourselves.”

The journalistic competition to break anti-Hussein scoops was building, too. Based in Paris, Hedges said he would get periodic calls from Times editors asking that he check out defector stories originating from Chalabi’s operation.

“I thought he was unreliable and corrupt, but just because someone is a sleazebag doesn’t mean he might not know something or that everything he says is wrong,” Hedges said. Hedges described Chalabi as having an “endless stable” of ready sources who could fill in American reporters on any number of Iraq-related topics.

The Salman Pak story would be one of many products from the INC’s propaganda mill that would prove influential in the run-up to the Iraq War but would be knocked down later by U.S. intelligence agencies.

According to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s post-mortem, the DIA stated in June 2006 that it found “no credible reports that non-Iraqis were trained to conduct or support transnational terrorist operations at Salman Pak after 1991.”

Explaining the origins for the bogus tales, the DIA concluded that Operation Desert Storm had brought attention to the training base at Salman Pak, so “fabricators and unestablished sources who reported hearsay or third-hand information created a large volume of human intelligence reporting. This type of reporting surged after September 2001.”

Going with the Flow

However, in the prelude to the Iraq War, U.S. intelligence agencies found it hard to resist the INC’s “defectors” when that would have meant bucking the White House and going against Washington’s conventional wisdom. Rather than take those career chances, many intelligence analysts found it easier to go with the flow.

Referring to the INC’s “Source One,” a U.S. intelligence memorandum in July 2002 hailed the information as “highly credible and includes reports on a wide range of subjects including conventional weapons facilities, denial and deception; communications security; suspected terrorist training locations; illicit trade and smuggling; Saddam’s palaces; the Iraqi prison system; and Iraqi petrochemical plants.”

Only analysts in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research were skeptical because they felt Source One was making unfounded assumptions, especially about possible nuclear research sites.

After the invasion of Iraq, U.S. intelligence finally began to recognize the holes in Source One’s stories and spot examples of analysts extrapolating faulty conclusions from his limited first-hand knowledge.

“In early February 2004, in order to resolve … credibility issues with Source One, Intelligence Community elements brought Source One to Iraq,” the Senate Intelligence Committee report said. “When taken to the location Source One had described as the suspect [nuclear] facility, he was unable to identify it.

“According to one intelligence assessment, the ‘subject appeared stunned upon hearing that he was standing on the spot that he reported as the location of the facility, insisted that he had never been to that spot, and wanted to check a map’ …

“Intelligence Community officers confirmed that they were standing on the location he was identifying. … During questioning, Source One acknowledged contact with the INC’s Washington Director [name redacted], but denied that the Washington Director directed Source One to provide any false information. ”

The U.S. intelligence community had mixed reactions to other Iraqi “walk-ins” arranged by the INC. Some were caught in outright deceptions, such as “Source Two” who talked about Iraq supposedly building mobile biological weapons labs.

After catching Source Two in contradictions, the CIA issued a “fabrication notice” in May 2002, deeming him “a fabricator/provocateur” and asserting that he had “been coached by the Iraqi National Congress prior to his meeting with western intelligence services.”

However, the DIA never repudiated the specific reports that had been based on Source Two’s debriefings. So, Source Two continued to be cited in five CIA intelligence assessments and the pivotal National Intelligence Estimate in October 2002, “as corroborating other source reporting about a mobile biological weapons program,” the Senate Intelligence Committee report said.

Source Two was one of four human sources referred to by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his United Nations speech on Feb. 5, 2003. When asked how a “fabricator” could have been used for such an important speech, a CIA analyst who worked on Powell’s speech said, “we lost the thread of concern … as time progressed I don’t think we remembered.”

A CIA supervisor added, “Clearly we had it at one point, we understood, we had concerns about the source, but over time it started getting used again and there really was a loss of corporate awareness that we had a problem with the source.”

Flooding Defectors

Part of the challenge facing U.S. intelligence agencies was the sheer volume of “defectors” shepherded into debriefing rooms by the INC and the appeal of their information to U.S. policymakers.

“Source Five,” for instance, claimed that Osama bin Laden had traveled to Baghdad for direct meetings with Saddam Hussein. “Source Six” claimed that the Iraqi population was “excited” about the prospects of a U.S. invasion to topple Hussein. Plus, the source said Iraqis recognized the need for post-invasion U.S. control.

By early February 2003, as the final invasion plans were underway, U.S. intelligence agencies had progressed up to “Source Eighteen,” who came to epitomize what some analysts still suspected – that the INC was coaching the sources.

As the CIA tried to set up a debriefing of Source Eighteen, another Iraqi exile passed on word to the agency that an INC representative had told Source Eighteen to “deliver the act of a lifetime.” CIA analysts weren’t sure what to make of that piece of news – since Iraqi exiles frequently badmouthed each other – but the value of the warning soon became clear.

U.S. intelligence officers debriefed Source Eighteen the next day and discovered that “Source Eighteen was supposed to have a nuclear engineering background, but was unable to discuss advanced mathematics or physics and described types of ‘nuclear’ reactors that do not exist,” according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report.

“Source Eighteen used the bathroom frequently, particularly when he appeared to be flustered by a line of questioning, suddenly remembering a new piece of information upon his return. During one such incident, Source Eighteen appeared to be reviewing notes,” the report said.

Not surprisingly, the CIA and DIA case officers concluded that Source Eighteen was a fabricator. But the sludge of INC-connected misinformation and disinformation continued to ooze through the U.S. intelligence community and to foul the American intelligence product – in part because there was little pressure from above demanding strict quality controls.

Curve Ball

Other Iraqi exile sources – not directly connected to the INC – also supplied dubious information, including a source for a foreign intelligence agency who earned the code name “Curve Ball.” He contributed important details about Iraq’s alleged mobile facilities for producing agents for biological warfare.

Tyler Drumheller, former chief of the CIA’s European Division, said his office had issued repeated warnings about Curve Ball’s accounts. “Everyone in the chain of command knew exactly what was happening,” Drumheller said. [Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2005]

Despite those objections and the lack of direct U.S. contact with Curve Ball, he earned a rating as “credible” or “very credible,” and his information became a core element of the Bush administration’s case for invading Iraq. Drawings of Curve Ball’s imaginary bio-weapons labs were a central feature of Secretary of State Powell’s presentation to the U.N.

Even after the invasion, U.S. officials continued to promote these claims, portraying the discovery of a couple of trailers used for inflating artillery balloons as “the strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program.” [CIA-DIA report, “Iraqi Mobile Biological Warfare Agent Production Plants,” May 16, 2003]

Finally, on May 26, 2004, a CIA assessment of Curve Ball said “investigations since the war in Iraq and debriefings of the key source indicate he lied about his access to a mobile BW production product.”

The U.S. intelligence community also learned that Curve Ball “had a close relative who had worked for the INC since 1992,” but the CIA could never resolve the question of whether the INC was involved in coaching Curve Ball. One CIA analyst said she doubted a direct INC role because the INC pattern was to “shop their good sources around town, but they weren’t known for sneaking people out of countries into some asylum system.”

Delayed Report

In September 2006, four years after the Bush administration seriously began fanning the flames for war against Iraq, a majority of Senate Intelligence Committee members overrode the objections of the panel’s senior Republicans and issued a report on the INC’s contribution to the U.S. intelligence failures.

The report concluded that the INC fed false information to the intelligence community to convince Washington that Iraq was flouting prohibitions on WMD production. The panel also found that the falsehoods had been “widely distributed in intelligence products prior to the war” and did influence some American perceptions of the WMD threat in Iraq.

But INC disinformation was not solely to blame for the bogus intelligence that permeated the pre-war debate. In Washington, there had been a breakdown of the normal checks and balances that American democracy has traditionally relied on for challenging and eliminating the corrosive effects of false data.

By 2002, that self-correcting mechanism – a skeptical press, congressional oversight, and tough-minded analysts – had collapsed. With very few exceptions, prominent journalists refused to put their careers at risk; intelligence professionals played along with the powers that be; Democratic leaders succumbed to the political pressure to toe the President’s line; and Republicans marched in lockstep with Bush on his way to war.

Because of this systematic failure, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded four years later that nearly every key assessment of the U.S. intelligence community as expressed in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq’s WMD was wrong:

“Postwar findings do not support the [NIE] judgment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program; … do not support the [NIE] assessment that Iraq’s acquisition of high-strength aluminum tubes was intended for an Iraqi nuclear program; … do not support the [NIE] assessment that Iraq was ‘vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake’ from Africa; … do not support the [NIE] assessment that ‘Iraq has biological weapons’ and that ‘all key aspects of Iraq’s offensive biological weapons program are larger and more advanced than before the Gulf war’; … do not support the [NIE] assessment that Iraq possessed, or ever developed, mobile facilities for producing biological warfare agents; … do not support the [NIE] assessments that Iraq ‘has chemical weapons’ or ‘is expanding its chemical industry to support chemical weapons production’; … do not support the [NIE] assessments that Iraq had a developmental program for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle ‘probably intended to deliver biological agents’ or that an effort to procure U.S. mapping software ‘strongly suggests that Iraq is investigating the use of these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.’”

Today, you can see a similar process as the Obama administration relies on “strategic communications” – a mix of psy-ops, propaganda and P.R. – to advance its strategic goals of “regime change” in Syria, maintenance of an anti-Russian regime in Ukraine, and escalation of hostilities with Russia.

When pivotal events occur – like the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus, the Feb. 20, 2014 sniper shootings in Kiev, or the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine – the propaganda machine clicks back into gear and the incidents are used to smear U.S. “adversaries” and strengthen U.S. “friends.”

Thus, truth has become the routine casualty of “info-war.” The American people are serially deceived in the name of “national security” and manipulated toward more conflict and military spending. Over the years, this process surely put a crooked smile on the face of Ahmed Chalabi, who proved himself one of its masters.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

November 5, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment