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In Aleppo Once: Old Allies Reunite in Syria to Foment Future War
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 24 September 2012 13:05

The anguished Othello -- fatally fouled in the puppeteer's strings -- pointed to his death-dealing work on behalf of empire in the Syrian city of Aleppo as one of the crowning achievements of his life. Indeed, he re-enacted this bloody imperial service -- against Muslim infidels -- in taking his own life: "And say besides, that in Aleppo once,/Where a malignant and turban'd Turk/Beat a Venetian and traduced the state/I took by the throat the circumcised dog,/And smote him thus."

One hears a great deal of talk about the civil war in Syria, most of it thickly greased with hot globs of propaganda from interested parties on all sides. But there are very few unfiltered reports from the ground by writers with the knowledge and experience to move among the fighters and actually understand what they are seeing and hearing.

The Guardian's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is one of those rarities. Many of us recall his remarkable reportage in Iraq, where he ranged back and forth between insurgents and invaders at the height of the carnage, giving us some the clearest pictures of what was really happening behind the smoke of the "surge."

In Monday's Guardian, Abdul-Ahad explores the tense relations on the rebel side between the Free Syria Army troops backed by the West, and the foreign 'jihadis' now flooding into the country. As one of the fighters -- a veteran Iraqi insurgent -- notes, the United States is once more on the same side with its old jihadi allies. And once more, we are seeing the old template playing out once more, as the Washington-led West empowers radical extremists to achieve short-term geopolitical ends -- oblivious, as always, to the long-term effects of unleashing violent forces you cannot possibly control.

Abdul-Ahad's extensive report, from the frontlines in Aleppo, should be read in full, but here are few extracts:

Abu Omar gave an order in Arabic, which was translated into a babble of different languages – Chechen, Tajik, Turkish, French, Saudi dialect, Urdu – and the men retreated in orderly single file, picking their way between piles of smouldering rubbish and twisted plastic bottles toward a house behind the front line where other fighters had gathered.

…Hundreds of international fighters have flocked to Syria to join the war against Bashar al-Assad's government. Some are fresh-faced idealists driven by a romantic notion of revolution or a hatred for the Assads. Others are jihadi veterans of Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. … The Syrians refer to the internationals collectively as the "Turkish brothers".

…The men were also secretive, especially when dealing with the Free Syria Army. When the Syrians asked them where they were from, a blond French-speaker said they were Moroccans, the Chechens said they were Turks and the Tajiks said they were Afghans.

..Abu Salam, a rugged Iraqi with a black keffiyeh wrapped around his head, said he had fought the Americans in Falluja when he was a young man. Later he joined al-Qaida in Iraq and spent many years fighting in different cities before moving to Syria to evade arrest. These days he was a commander of the one of the muhajiroun [foreign fighter] units. I found him watching a heated debate between the Syrian commanders about how to defend the buckling frontline.

…One Syrian, breathing hard, said that he had fired three times at the tank and the RPG didn't go off. "Don't say it didn't go off," Abu Salam admonished him. "Say you don't know how to fire it. We used to shoot these same RPGs at the Americans and destroy Abrams tanks. What's a T72 to an Abrams?"

…He seemed nonchalant about the prospect of defeat. "It is obvious the Syrian army is winning this battle, but we don't tell [the rebels] this. We don't want to destroy their morale. We say we should hold here for as long as Allah will give us strength and maybe he will make one of these foreign powers come to help Syrians."

The irony was not lost on Abu Salam how the jihadis and the Americans – bitter enemies of the past decade – had found themselves fighting on the same side again.

A few days later, in Bab al Hawa, Abdul-Ahad gets a hint of what is likely in store if the shaky rebel alliance of secularists and sectarians (the latter often sharply at odds with each other) overthrows the Damascus regime: more war.

At the border post of Bab al Hawa some days later, a confrontation was brewing between the jihadis and Syrian rebels.

Fighters from the Farouq brigade – one of the best-equipped and most disciplined units in the FSA – were sleeping on the grass in the shadow of a big concrete arch. The fighters wore military uniforms and green T-shirts emblazoned with insignia of the brigade – an achievement in the disarray of the revolution. They had many tanks and armoured vehicles captured from the Syrian army parked around the border post, under cover.

Nearby, a group of 20 jihadis had gathered in a circle around a burly Egyptian with a chest-long silver beard. "You are in confrontation with two apostate armies," the Egyptian told the men, referring to the Syrian army and Free Syrian Army. "When you have finished with one army you will start with the next."

The standoff between the two groups came to a grisly conclusion, Abdul-Ahad reports:

I spoke to the regional commander of the Farouq brigade, a muscular young lieutenant from the southern province of Dara'a called Abdulah Abu Zaid. "I will not allow the spread of Takfiri [the act of accusing other Muslims of apostasy] ideology," he told me in his military compound a few kilometres from the border post. "Not now, not later. The Islam we had during the regime was disfigured Islam and what they are bringing us is also disfigured. The Islam we need is a civil Islam and not the takfiri Islam."

The jihadis, he said, had looted and stolen from the local people and demanded protection money from local businesses in order not to steal their merchandise. "I managed to stop them," he said, "and I won't let them spread here." Later that day he issued an ultimatum to their commander, a Syrian called Abu Mohamad al Abssi, to leave the area with his foreign jihadis or he would be killed.

I met Abu Mohamad, a monosyllabic doctor, the next day. He emphasized that he had been struggling against the regime since 1992 while the Free Syria Army were defected officers who until recently served the regime. The Arab spring was, he said, a result of Islamic fervor. "We will never leave our positions here," he said in a quiet voice. "God willing, we will win."

A few days later, Abu Mohamad's body was found in a ditch. He had been kidnapped and killed.

As always, while our well-wadded Western interventionists sit safely in glitzy TV studios or cozy Congressional offices and cry havoc, it is others who are devoured by the dogs of war. A hydra-headed, multisided conflict has been unleashed in Syria, and our warmongers are seeking frenziedly at every turn to worsen it.

Their concern for the "Syrian people" -- whose plight they have happily ignored for decades -- is only skin deep; it never surfaced until a chance arose to, in their minds, give a hot-foot to their grand enemy du jour, Iran. (Just as Jimmy Carter midwifed the global jihadi movement more than 30 years ago in order to hobble the Soviets in Afghanistan.) Unfortunately for the Syrians, it is their skin, and that of their children, which will be seared as these cycles of violence, exacerbated at every turn by war profiteers and the cozy imperial cowards -- who, unlike Othello, never fight in the front lines or take responsibility for their crimes -- go on and on.

NOTE: Another excellent source for direct reports and cogent insights on the Syrian war is, of course, As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab," who wields a double-edged analytical sword on the depredations of all parties involved in the worsening, widening conflict.

 
Tool Kit: No Choice Proffered in Election's Poisoned Chalice
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 24 September 2012 09:22

Rob Urie looks behind the giddy "gotcha" reaction to Mitt Romney's comments on the "47 percent" of shiftless plebians he wants to abandon. Obama partisans have seized on the leaked remarks as glaring evidence of the "real choice" in this election: between a callous, clueless tool of the brutal financial elite and a genuine man of the people, fighting the good fight for all the people.

But as Urie points out, despite this exciting new narrative in the campaign, there is actually more than one tool in the elite's election toolbox:

It was Spring of 2010, less than a year after the official end of the last recession but still deep in the throes of the Great Recession, that Barack Obama’s ‘deficit commission’ met for the first time. With close to twenty-five million people unemployed or underemployed and the number living in extreme poverty rising quickly, Mr. Obama’s central economic concern was cutting government spending. ‘Entitlements,’ rather than bankers, militarists and tax cheats, were bankrupting the country. And the co-Chairs of the commission he appointed had the solution: cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and corporate taxes and reduce government regulation of business.

With the faux surprise and opportunistic rants that met Mitt Romney’s 47% ‘dependent / victims’ comments, who noticed that none in his audience challenged them? And who among those who have read similar statements from Barack Obama’s ‘deficit’ commission believes that Mr. Obama’s big-money supporters are of different mindsets than Mr. Romney’s?

...The self-satisfied declamations against Mr. Romney’s comments by Democrats and their supporters depend on near complete ignorance of Mr. Obama’s actual policies while in office. Who in Mr. Romney’s audience, including Mr. Romney, benefited from the unconditional bank bailouts that Obama Generals Geithner, Summers and Bernanke orchestrated? Who among them stand to benefit from Mr. Obama’s top-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement that seals the power of international capital over labor and environmental regulations? And who among them stand to benefit from Mr. Obama’s build-out of the domestic infrastructure of surveillance, policing and the legal framework needed to crush rebellion? As Mitt Romney is in the process of demonstrating, it is clearly Barack Obama who is the more effective tool for promoting ruling class interests. ...

Mitt Romney’s public persona is exactly as he is—a deeply clueless aristocrat born to wealth and power whose political interests lie exclusively with those of his class (and race). And his views, as with those of his class, are based on his experience of the world. That many of the rest of us, including Barack Obama, have lived experience quite different from Mr. Romney’s provides us with perspectives different from his. And therein lies the rub—who can better sell the agenda of the ruling class: a conspicuously clueless aristocrat who wears his self-interest on his sleeve or a skilled technocrat who can speak the language of ‘the people’ while serving these same interests?

...Democrats and their supporters seem to want to continue their role of recent decades as constructive functionaries in a system designed to facilitate and perpetuate the fortunes of an economic elite, a ruling class, which has found ever more effective ways of siphoning off the wealth created by working people and nature while increasing their domination and control over our lives. The results are the largest and most oppressive prison system in the world, the greatest concentration of wealth in the fewest hands in human history, the largest and most deadly military in human history, used to promote the fortunes of the ruling class, and environmental catastrophe.

...Mitt Romney’s views, and those of his class, are emblematic of the extreme class division that comes with extreme income and wealth division. ... But his actual policies would look as much like Barack Obama’s as Barack Obama’s do like George W. Bush’s. Defenders of Mr. Obama’s signature achievement, his scheme to force people to buy health insurance from private insurers that have no intention of willfully paying claims, have Mitt Romney to thank for it—it was his plan. And how would Barack Obama’s unconditional and ongoing bailouts of corrupt bankers have gone over if Wall Street McMoneybags Romney had engineered them? The real choice isn’t what either party is claiming it is. The real choice is between the existing political economy and one that at least stands a chance of working. And neither party is offering that choice.

No: what they are offering is yet another draught from the poisoned chalice, filled with the rancid bipartisan brew of war, ruin, injustice and fear.

 
Fat of the Land: Empire's Empty Offer
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 18 September 2012 23:55

Here's a short disquisition on the blandishments offered to us by the high and mighty:

Fat of the Land by Chris Floyd

Well, here's the whip
We've raised it high
Do what we say
And don't you ask why
Now there's the trough
It's full of meat
You can have all you want
If you just keep us sweet

Do you get it now?
Are you down with the plan?
Just stay in line
And we'll feed you the fat of the land

Here comes old Tiger
The smiling beast
With Boy Wonder
Holding his leash
They've got some business
With what you own
Just pay what they ask
And they'll leave you alone

We know your number
We read your mail
From outer space
We can follow your trail
But don't you worry
Don't you fret
Our social networks
Ain't hurt nobody yet

Sorry about your house
But it's got to go
Someone must pay
For all the debts that we owe
But you don't need it
It's too big for you
And I know an old lady
With some room in her shoe

Is that your mother?
She looks real sick
Better call the ER
Get her there quick
They got a doctor
He don't cost much
Just an arm and a leg
But he'll throw in the crutch

You love your freedom
We love it too
That's why we took it
So we can guard it for you
We'll keep it safe
Locked in the vault
Every Fourth of July
You can take it for a walk

Do you get it now?
Are you down with the plan?
Just stay in line
And we'll feed you the fat of the land

© 2012 by Chris Floyd

 
The Howling: Embassy Riots Pale Next to State Terror Tempest
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 15 September 2012 17:09

Sparked by a deliberate provocation put together by Christian extremists, riots by groups of Islamic extremists are spreading across the world -- a convenient symbiosis for both groups, as they use each other's actions to "justify" their hysterically constricted worldviews.

There is an added layer to the reaction in the Muslim countries, as the extremists there can draw on the seething resentments built up by the depredations and atrocities inflicted indiscriminately on Muslims by the Western powers in recent decades, particularly since the launch of Terror War.

But of course these depredations and atrocities are the work of yet another group of sectarian extremists gripped by a hysterically constricted worldview: the Western power elites, who are maniacal adherents to the Dominationist cult. This bizarre but very powerful sect holds that American domination of the world, militarily and economically, is part of the divinely ordained structure of the universe. Those who adhere to Dominationist dogma and obey the dictates of the sect's high priests in Washington are rewarded; but unbelievers, heretics and apostates are to be cast out, cursed, attacked and, when possible, destroyed.

In the last 11 years alone, state-backed Dominationist terrorists have killed far more innocent people than their counterparts among the scattered clumps of Islamic extremists around the world. More than a million people have been killed as a result of the Dominationist terrorist attack on Iraq, for example. Hundreds of innocent people in Pakistan have been murdered by the drones fired by Dominationist terrorists. Dozens are dying monthly in violent Dominationist attacks in Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines and elsewhere.

The senseless violence of the Dominationist sect is well-attested. The sect's leaders brag openly about their use of violence; indeed, in the constant factional jockeying for power within the sect (a characteristic of all religious and ideological cults, of course), would-be leaders vie to paint themselves as the one most willing to inflict massive death and destruction on all those who dare challenge the Dominationist faith. All would-be leaders trumpet their willingness -- their eagerness -- to eschew mere man-made laws as they do "whatever it takes" to defend the faith and advance Dominationist supremacy over the earth. Torture, kidnapping, assassination and mass destruction are all considered divinely justified by the Dominationist extremists -- and by the millions of people who actively support the factions within the sect.

In fact, the Dominationist extremists have far more support in their native lands than the riot-provoking Islamic extremists have in theirs. Muslims overwhelmingly reject violence, even in response to the relentless, murderous provocations of the Dominationists -- as anyone who actually lives among large numbers of Muslims (as I do) knows perfectly well. Nor are the vast majority of Muslims taken by cheap tricks like the video posted by extremist Christians. As Ghaith Abdul-Ahad notes in an excellent analysis in the Guardian, "only a few thousand" Muslims -- out of 1.6 billion -- have taken part in the protests, which, he points out, are being exploited by fundamentalist Salafi sects that have been marginalized by the Arab Spring revolutions and are now trying to claw into positions of power. 

We might also note that the Dominationists have made common cause with violent Salafis time and time again over years -- e.g., in Afghanistan during the Soviet period, in Iraq during the "surge," and today in Syria. The symbiosis of violent extremists -- Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Dominationist and others -- is also a well-attested fact of history -- and of human nature. Because at bottom, all of them share one fundamental, overriding principle, the common core of their faith (whatever its outward flourishes might be): the holiness of violence, the enforced assertion and/or imposition of their worldview by the repression or destruction of others.

As I said, it is very rare to find a Muslim who actually holds such a view, or who supports any group that does. But you will find millions and millions of people in the West who believe that the Dominationist extremists are completely justified -- even divinely justified -- in their terrorist actions. In fact, we will soon see more than 100 million Americans go to the polls to vote for one of these state-terrorist factions who openly support torture, war and murder in the name of their primitive faith ... and have history's biggest war machine to back them up.

That's a bit more scary to me than a few thousand marginalized, powerless people taking the bait of foreign provocateurs and local manipulators in a spate of riots. These outbursts are reprehensible, of course -- another deadly ratcheting up in the endless, symbiotic cycle of Terror War violence that will do no one any good (except for the extremist elites, on all sides, who feast on blood and ruin). But set against the massively supported, millions-killing terrorism of the Dominationists, the riots are like a whisper in the howling of a storm.

 
Great Expectations: Benghazi-Style Blowback an Integral Part of Terror War System
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 13 September 2012 11:58

As protests against the Mohammed-bashing film now spread to Yemen -- where the Peace Laureate is drone-bombing the hell out of the populace on a regular basis -- Simon Tisdall has more on the bitter blowback of the Laureate's much-lauded regime change in Libya. First, Tisdall notes that despite the effusion of shock and horror emanating from Washington over the attack on its diplomats, the American government had in fact anticipated the possibility of such an incident:

The assassination in Benghazi of the American ambassador to Libya is an appalling act – and one foreseen by his employers. On 27 August, the state department warned US citizens against all but essential travel to Libya, painting a picture of a country beset by increasing instability and fraught with danger.

"The incidence of violent crime, especially carjacking and robbery, has become a serious problem… Political violence, including car bombings in Tripoli and assassinations of military officers and alleged former regime officials in Benghazi, has increased. Inter-militia conflict can erupt at any time or any place in the country," the state department said.
This is in marked contrast to the vague and gauzy notion of a plucky young democracy that was the general image of the new Libya advanced by our political and media classes. As always, those on the inside -- such as the late ambassador -- were given the real picture, while the rabble are palmed off with soundbites and fairy tales.

Tisdall goes on:

Any number of other Libyan armed groups might have had a hand in the killings. But in truth, responsibility may also be traced back, directly or indirectly, to those in London, Paris, Brussels and Washington who launched last year's Nato intervention in Libya with insouciant disregard for the consequences. It was clear then, or should have been, that toppling Muammar Gaddafi was the easy bit. Preventing an Iraq-style implosion, or some form of Afghan anarchy, would be much harder.

Yet this is exactly what Stevens's death may presage. Once again, the western powers have started a fire they cannot extinguish. A year after David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy jointly travelled to Libya to lay claim to a liberator's bogus laurels, the Libyan revolution they fanned and fuelled is in danger of degenerating into a chaotic, violent free-for-all.

Do not be misled by the fig leaf of this summer's national assembly polls. Post-Gaddafi Libya lacks viable national political leadership, a constitution, functioning institutions, and most importantly, security. Nationwide parliamentary elections are still a year away. The east-west divide is as problematic as ever. Political factions fight over the bones of the former regime, symbolised by the forthcoming trials of Gaddafi's son, Saif, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi.

Effective central control, meanwhile, is largely absent. And into this vacuum have stepped armed groups – whether politically, religiously or financially inspired matters little – all claiming sectional suzerainty over the multitude of fractured fiefdoms that was, until Nato barged in, a unified state.

Research published in June by the Small Arms Survey suggested that the emergence and influence of armed groups challenging national government and army was accelerating rapidly. The survey identified four distinct types including experienced revolutionary brigades accounting for up to 85% of all weapons not controlled by the state and myriad militias – loosely defined as armed gangs, criminal networks and religious extremists bent on exploiting post-revolution weakness.

…In Misrata, for example, in addition to about 30,000 small arms, revolutionary brigades "control more than 820 tanks, dozens of heavy artillery pieces, and more than 2,300 vehicles equipped with machine-guns and anti-aircraft weapons." Misrata, scene of some of the worst fighting last year, has become a state within a state.

And as always, one finds the hand of America's great ally, Saudi Arabia, stirring the rancid stew of sectarian strife:

In its weakened condition, politically and economically, Libya appears especially vulnerable to extremist ideology and foreign influence. In an echo of Taliban depredations, the Salafists who besieged the Benghazi consulate have also been involved in a wave of attacks on historic Sufi mosques and libraries and attempts to intimidate female university students who eschew the hijab.

In this they are reportedly encouraged by a Saudi-based scholar, Sheik Mohamed Al-Madkhalee, who issued a fatwa praising the desecration of Sufi graves and urging Libyan Salafists to do more to clear the country of the taint of Sufi worship.

No group in the world has done more to spread violent, retrograde extremism than the Saudi royals (whose regime is far more repressive than that of the Persian devils in Tehran or the Hitler du jour in Damascus) -- yet at every turn they are courted, coddled, and lavished with billions of dollars in military hardware from the ostensible defenders of freedom in Washington.

The Saudis have had plenty of help in fomenting fundamentalism, of course. Empowering extremists has long been a favorite tactic of our freedom-loving Western elites. These wise leaders have spent  spent 50 years destroying every vestige of secular civic space in the Middle East, every vestige of secular opposition to their favoured dictators, puppets and feudal lords in the region.

In most countries, such as Iran and Palestine, they actively, assiduously promoted extremist fundamentalist groups and parties, to ensure that no secular forces would emerge to challenge their clients and cronies. It was in Iran that this strategy first bit them firmly in the ass: the obscurant fundamentalists whom the CIA had used to help overthrow the secular democratic government in 1953 and install the Shah, a Washington toady, in time grew into a powerful opposition force in its own right. For decades, Western intelligence helped the Shah brutally repress all secular opposition; thus when the revolution finally came and the Shah was gone, these secular forces were too weak to stand against the fundamentalists, who hijacked the revolt and proclaimed their Islamic Republic.

At the same time, the secular government in Afghanistan -- irredeemably evil, of course, because it was associated with dirty commies -- was overthrown by a gaggle of violent religious extremists armed and bankrolled by the West, the Saudis and the Pakistanis. We all know what the result of that gambit -- we just observed one of its most notorious fruits on September 11.

The same process has played out again and again. In Iraq, a secular government opposed by the West has given way to a sectarian regime riven with religious war. In Egypt, where, again, secular opposition was throttled to help keep Washington's favoured dictators in power, religious extremists thrived, as secular "civic society" became increasingly identified in the public mind with the corruption and brutality of the ruling clique. (I saw a similar process first hand in Russia during the 1990s, when the concept of "democracy" became identified with the mass suffering, brutal poverty, ruin, chaos, corruption and violence inflicted in its name by the new post-Soviet elites.) In Libya, the West's desire to overthrow their unreliable ally Gadafy -- and grab better oil deals than he was willing to give -- has empowered the range of violent, well-armed religious fanatics described by Tisdall.

In Syria, the  process is playing out once more, as violent religious extremists -- including al Qaeda -- are being armed and aided by Western elites and their Saudi allies to destroy yet another secular government. If this new regime change campaign is successful, we will be seeing many more incidents like the attack in Libya -- and, yet again, a far more unstable, violent world.

But I noted in a piece written in early 2010, this horrific outcome is a goal not a glitch; it is the necessary grease for the wheels of the Terror War system:

Let me say -- or rather, reiterate -- up front that it is my personal view that the form of vigorous activism known as non-violence is the only way, or the best way, that we can hope to even begin to address the inherent and intractable conflicts of human existence in a genuinely effective profound, sustainable and humane manner. That is the ideal I strive toward.

Of course, I also recognize that being what I am -- a white man of Christian heritage living safely and comfortably under the penumbra of empire -- it is easy for me to espouse this ideal. No drone fired in the distant black sky is going to kill my children tonight as they sleep warmly in their beds. No raiding party of assassins is going to tear down the door of my parents' house tonight and shoot them at the dinner table. No one with a grudge against me -- or simply in need of quick cash -- is going to sell me into the captivity of a worldwide gulag. I'm not going to be caught in the crossfire of marauding mercenaries on my way to work. I'm not going to wake tomorrow in a refugee camp, my home and livelihood abandoned in the wake of a ravaging "counterterrorism" operation. No foreign soldier is going to shoot me, or abuse me, or humiliate me, or simply refuse to let me pass down the street in my own city. I'm not going to be stopped, "profiled," or regarded with suspicion or hatred simply because of my skin color or the cultural or religious etymology of my name.

If I lived under the boot heel of such forces, I don't how I would react, how firmly I could hold to my ideal. I don't know if I would have the strength of mind and will, or the fortitude and wisdom it would take to resist our primal pull to violence -- especially if I grew up in a culture that exalted certain forms of violence as cardinal virtues. (Of course, as an American, I did grow up in such a culture -- and so has almost every other human being in history. To take the non-violent way is to appear -- and yes, often feel -- unnatural, deracinated, alien.)

Nonetheless, despite all these caveats and complexities, the ideal abides. I decry, denounce and mourn for the use of violence. Each act of violence -- however understandable it might be in context -- is a vast, ruinous defeat for our common humanity.

And of course many acts of violence are not "understandable" in any context, save that of our bestial desire to dominate others in one form or another. Here the defeat is even greater, its reverberations deeper, wider, longer-lasting: a degradation and degeneration that further brutalizes both the dispenser and victim of violence -- especially the former, and especially when the dispensing culture comes to countenance an ever-widening array of violent acts as worthy, necessary, laudable, even honorable.

Each such act perpetuates the cycle of violence, the horrific dynamic of blowback: a self-perpetuating feedback loop that uses itself to engender more violence, in new and expanding forms. We are living today in the midst of a particularly virulent form of this dynamic, the so-called "War on Terror," which I think has been designed -- more or less deliberately so, although the obscene ignorance and arrogance of the powerful have also played their fateful part in unwittingly exacerbating these evils -- to rage on without chronological end, without geographical, limits, and without any moral, social, legal or financial restraints. In his book X Films (reviewed here), Alex Cox uses an apt term borrowed from systems analysis -- POSIWID: The Purpose of a System is What It Does.

The Terror War is not an event, or a campaign, or even a crusade; it is a system. Its purpose is not to eliminate "terrorism" (however this infinitely elastic term is defined) but to perpetuate itself, to do what it does: make war. This system can be immensely rewarding, in many different ways, for those who operate or assist it, whether in government, media, academia, or business. This too is a self-sustaining dynamic, a feedback loop that gives money, power and attention to those who serve the system; this elevated position then allows them to accrue even more money, power and attention, until in the end -- as we can plainly see today -- any alternative voices and viewpoints are relegated to the margins. They are "unserious." They are unimportant. They are not allowed to penetrate or alter the operations of the system.

And as we noted here yesterday, there's lots more of this coming our way -- whatever the outcome of the presidential race.

 
Bred in the Bone: Another Round in the Cycle of Violence
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 22:59

Reading about the deadly attacks in Libya by religious extremists armed and empowered by the United States in the recent regime change operation there, I was reminded of something from a piece I wrote long ago, the day after 9/11: 

"Murder is fertile: it breeds more death, like a spider laden with a thousand eggs."

One thing for certain: no matter which of the candidates now exploiting the latest incident for partisan gain wins in November (and oh what bitter comedy there is in watching the progressosphere sternly denounce Mitt Romney for "politicizing national security" by attacking President "I Killed Bin Laden So Vote for Me" Obama), this hideous dynamic -- continually refueled by Washington's Terror War system -- will keep breeding its horrors.

 
Immune System: The Violent Afterlife of Atrocity in Iraq
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Wednesday, 05 September 2012 12:42

When he was lambasted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu last week for the murderous debacle of the US-UK war of aggression in Iraq, Tony Blair pointed to the appalling human rights violations of the Saddam regime as one of his "justifications" for helping George W. Bush engineer the murder of a million innocent people.

Of course, as we noted here earlier, Blair never evinced such concerns about, say, the extremist religious tyrants in Saudi Arabia (whom he protected by personally quashing a judicial case involving mammoth corruption in a UK-Saudi arms deal), or his later paymasters in Kazakhstan, or even his once-and-former hug-buddy Moamar Gadafy in Libya.

But putting aside this sinister hypocrisy for a moment, it might be instructive for those concerned about appalling human rights violations by the government of Iraq to take a look at the regime that the Anglo-American invaders built on the mound of corpses they left behind. And what would they find? Why, appalling human rights violations by the government of Iraq. As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab," points us to this article by Halfa Zangana in the Guardian:

Three women were among the 21 people executed within one day in Iraq, last Monday. It was followed, two days later, by the reported execution of five more people. The number of people executed since the start of this year is now at least 96 and they are not the only ones. … There is also news of another 196 people on death row. According to Iraqi officials, they have all been convicted on charges "related to terrorism," but there is little information about their names, what crimes they committed or whether they have access to lawyers or not.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have previously documented the prevalence of unfair trials and torture in detention in Iraq. Confessions under torture are often the only evidence against a person who has been arrested following a secret informant's report. Parading the accused with their tortured, empty looks on Al Iraqiya, the official TV channel, is the norm. It took a court in Baghdad only 15 minutes to sentence Ramze Shihab Ahmed, a dual Iraqi-UK national, to 15 years' imprisonment after being found guilty of "funding terrorist groups".

Amnesty has obtained and examined court documents and said it believes the trial proceedings were "grossly unfair". Ahmed was held in a secret prison near Baghdad, during which time his whereabouts were completely unknown to his family. During this period Ahmed alleges he was tortured – with electric shocks to his genitals and suffocation by plastic bags – into making a false "confession" to terrorist offences.

So what kind of human rights are observed in the "new Iraq"? Hardly any. The list of abuses is long and the tip of the iceberg is waves of arbitrary arrests (over 1,000 monthly), torture and executions. All are barely noticed by the world media and the US and British official silence is rather convenient to cover up the crimes and chaos they created. …

The Nouri al-Maliki government in Iraq with its human rights outfits is following the same path [as Saddam]. … People who for years before the invasion of 2003 were highlighting human rights abuses as a reason to invoke war as a prelude to democracy and transparency are now either totally silent or actively covering up the current abuses, despite glaring evidence from international human rights organisations.

The so-called "war on terror" reformulated many aspects of world politics and state accountability has become the first victim of that war. It has acquired variable meanings with highly selective application. Therefore, some governments have "enjoyed" immunity, no matter how brutally they have behaved against their own or other people. The Iraqi regime is one of them.

Whoever would have thought that a regime implanted by a war of aggression -- which the Nuremberg Tribunal described as "the supreme international crime, only different from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of all the others" -- would end up violently oppressing, torturing and killing its own people? As we noted here three years ago, after yet another report of abuses in Baghdad:

As the Iraqis used to say just after the American invasion in 2003: "The pupil is gone; the master has come." Now new pupils are passing on the master's lessons. And those who dare speak out against the fruits of this sinister education find themselves in the cross-hairs of the client government -- and of those who do its dirty work "on the dark side, if you will." It is, as our eloquent president has said of the million-killing act of aggression in Iraq, "an extraordinary achievement."

 
Shunning Evil: Tutu Sets Example in Call for Blair and Bush Indictments
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 03 September 2012 03:54

(UPDATED BELOW)

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu refused to attend a conference last week for a very good reason – he did not want to be publicly associated with a war criminal.

 

That war criminal was Tony Blair, who had been paid his usual whopping fee ($238,000 in this case) to deliver his usual sanctimonious blather at a South African conference on “leadership.” Tutu – who was speaking for no fee – withdrew from the meeting when he heard Blair was coming, the Guardian reports.

 

This was a rare – very rare – example of behavior which should be ubiquitous: shunning mass murderers. Blair, like George W. Bush (and Bill Clinton, he whose minions openly accepted responsibility for the killing of 500,000 Iraqi children in the US-UK sanctions regime that devastated Iraq before the US and UK finally launched their outright war of aggression in 2003), swans around the world collecting accolades – and mucho dinero – from the great and good and the high and mighty (and their simpering media sycophants), untroubled by his instrumental role in the Hitlerian invasion and its aftermath, which has left – according to measurement tools used by Blair’s own government – more than a million innocent people dead.

 

But Tutu did more than a simple shunning. He went on to pen a column in The Observer openly calling for Blair and Bush to be put on trial for war crimes. His indictment (quoted here in the Guardian) is damning:

 

Tutu, a Nobel peace prize winner and hero of the anti-apartheid movement, accuses the former British and US leaders of lying about weapons of mass destruction and says the invasion left the world more destabilised and divided "than any other conflict in history."


… But it is Tutu's call for Blair and Bush to face justice in The Hague that is most startling. Claiming that different standards appear to be set for prosecuting African leaders and western ones, he says the death toll during and after the Iraq conflict is sufficient on its own for Blair and Bush to be tried at the ICC.

"On these grounds, alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague," he says.

In his article, the archbishop argues that as well as the death toll, there has been a heavy moral cost to civilisation, with no gain. "Even greater costs have been exacted beyond the killing fields, in the hardened hearts and minds of members of the human family across the world.

"Has the potential for terrorist attacks decreased? To what extent have we succeeded in bringing the so-called Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds closer together, in sowing the seeds of understanding and hope?" Blair and Bush, he says, set an appalling example. "If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth?" he asks.

"If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?"

Blair attempted to reply to this withering blast, with his best ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ shtick, but he only compounded his moral nullity with his defense. He offered, as usual, the facts that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who violently oppressed his people – a situation that has long obtained in many countries around the world (including many of Tony’s pals in the Middle East and Central Asia, who pay him so handsomely for his ‘counsel’). And of course, this oppression had nothing to do with the repeatedly stated “reasons” for the attack offered by Bush and Blair: that Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat of attack on Britain and America.

The knowing falsity of these pre-war charges has been confirmed in a multitude of quarters, but Blair, with the irreality of the genuine psychopath, now claims the opposite, saying “the old canard that we lied about the intelligence is completely wrong as every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown.” The fact is that every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown the complete opposite: that high officials throughout both governments were well aware of the weakness and falsity of the “evidence” of Iraq’s WMDs, and that these weak reeds were bent and shaped to fit the policy approved by both leaders: to invade Iraq, come hell or high water.


But Blair goes even further into the mire. One of the features of his defense is – I kid you not -- how “prosperous” the Iraqi economy is now compared to the situation before the invasion:

 

"I would also point out that despite the problems, Iraq today has an economy three times or more in size, with the child mortality rate cut by a third of what it was. And with investment hugely increased in places like Basra."

 

I must admit that, old cynic that I am, even I was taken aback by the brazenness displayed here. Blair was in power for six years of the US-UK sanctions regime against Iraq. He is just as complicit as Clinton and both George Bushes in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent children (and adults) who perished as a direct result of the devastating sanctions, which denied Iraqis most of the basic elements of life. If Iraq’s economy really is “three times larger now” (that is, assuming this smiling, unctuous, super-Christian liar is not lying in his usual lying manner), it is because it is starting from the “Year Zero” level imposed on the ordinary Iraqi people – by Tony Blair himself, colluding with his bipartisan masters in Washington, Clinton and Bush.


Blair himself helped grind the Iraqi economy – and the Iraqi people – into the dust. And now, after launching a war of aggression against the country which killed a million more people, he takes credit for the “improvement” from lifting the sanctions he himself imposed and sternly policed.


Surely this breaks new ground for war criminals. Not even Adolf Hitler claimed that his murderous invasions were “good” for the Poles and the Russians and the Jews, that by launching baseless wars of aggression and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people he was somehow doing them a favor. But Blair, like Bush and Clinton – and like Obama and Romney and the rest of the American political class – insist that their murders and invasions and black ops and sanctions are altruistic missions of mercy to the very people they are killing or strangling.

And as Tutu notes in his piece, the same dynamic is now being played out against Iran – with the stakes for mass murder, suffering and generations of chaos, hatred and destabilization engulfing the world even higher. Yet our leaders plunge on and on in this berserker frenzy in their impossible quest to dominate the entire world.


I’m writing quickly, on the road, grabbing a few rare moments of internet time, so I can’t do this outrage the justice it deserves. (And no, this is not some blanket endorsement of every position or personal association ever taken or made by Desmond Tutu.) But his shunning of Blair and his call for the instigators of the invasion of Iraq – an atrocity which dwarfs the suffering Saddam inflicted on the people there – are examples that should be emulated by everyone in public life. We can only hope it catches on.

 

UPDATE: George Monbiot has more on Tutu's humanitarian intervention in the Tony Blair war crimes case. From the Guardian:

 

When Desmond Tutu wrote that Tony Blair should be treading the path to The Hague, he de-normalised what Blair has done. Tutu broke the protocol of power – the implicit accord between those who flit from one grand meeting to another – and named his crime. I expect that Blair will never recover from it.


The offence is known by two names in international law: the crime of aggression and a crime against peace. It is defined by the Nuremberg principles as the "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression". This means a war fought for a purpose other than self-defence: in other words outwith articles 33 and 51 of the UN Charter.


That the invasion of Iraq falls into this category looks indisputable. Blair's cabinet ministers knew it, and told him so. His attorney general warned that there were just three ways in which it could be legally justified: "self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UN security council authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case." Blair tried and failed to obtain the third.


His foreign secretary, Jack Straw, told Blair that for the war to be legal, "i) there must be an armed attack upon a state or such an attack must be imminent; ii) the use of force must be necessary and other means to reverse/avert the attack must be unavailable; iii) the acts in self-defence must be proportionate and strictly confined to the object of stopping the attack." None of these conditions were met. The Cabinet Office told him: "A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to law officers' advice, none currently exists."


Without legal justification, the attack on Iraq was an act of mass murder. It caused the deaths of between 100,000 and a million people, and ranks among the greatest crimes the world has ever seen. That Blair and his ministers still saunter among us, gathering money wherever they go, is a withering indictment of a one-sided system of international justice: a system whose hypocrisies Tutu has exposed.


…But while the case against Blair is strong, the means are weak. Twenty-nine people have been indicted in the international criminal court, and all of them are African. (Suspects in the Balkans have been indicted by a different tribunal). There's a reason for this. Until 2018 at the earliest, the court can prosecute crimes committed during the course of an illegal war, but not the crime of launching that war.

Should we be surprised? Though the Nuremberg tribunal described aggression as "the supreme international crime", several powerful states guiltily resisted its adoption. At length, in 2010, they agreed that the court would have jurisdiction over aggression, but not until 2018 or thereafter. Though the offence has been recognised in international law for 67 years, the international criminal court (unlike the Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunals, which hear cases from before they were established) will be able to try only crimes of aggression committed beyond that date.


The other possibility is a prosecution in one of the states (there are at least 25) which have incorporated the crime of aggression into their own laws. Perhaps Blair's lawyers are now working through the list and cancelling a few speaking gigs.


That the prospect of prosecution currently looks remote makes it all the more important that the crime is not forgotten. To this end, in 2010 I set up a bounty fund – www.arrestblair.org – to promote peaceful citizens' arrests of the former prime minister. … Our aim is the same as Tutu's: to de-normalise an act of mass murder, to keep it in the public mind and to maintain the pressure for a prosecution.


That looked, until this weekend, like an almost impossible prospect. But when the masonry begins to crack, impossible hopes can become first plausible, then inexorable. Blair will now find himself shut out of places where he was once welcome. One day he may find himself shut in.

 
Bloc Party: Pantomime and Power in the Imperial System
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 31 August 2012 03:31

On Thursday, with media attention focused on the gooberish plutocrat accepting the nomination of one faction of our single ruling party -- the bipartisan Imperial Bloc -- the leader of the other faction took the opportunity to bury a few more cases of state murder.

There could hardly be a better example of how the American system rolls in our enlightened, ultramodern 21st century: garish, empty pantomimes of politics coupled with the ruthless, lawless, brutal exercise of imperial power -- with no accountability, no responsibility, no consequences for the crimes and depravities committed by the elites and their agents and sycophants.

We refer of course to this story in the New York Times:"No Charges Filed on Harsh Tactics Used by the C.I.A." There is little need for further commentary on the story; it speaks for itself -- including the headline, which illustrates, once again, the establishment media's pathological refusal to name the systematic beating, freezing and murder of captives: torture. (Try to imagine what word the NYT would use if, say, the members of Pussy Riot had "died ... after being shackled to a concrete wall in a near-freezing temperatures at a secret [Russian] prison." Would they call that "harsh tactics"? Or if a Syrian prisoner "died in [state] custody in a [regime] prison...where his corpse was photographed packed in ice and wrapped in plastic." Would they call that "harsh tactics"? Would that be referred to as "strenuous interrogation" by the New York Times?)

But I digress. To be fair, the story tells the basic facts straightforwardly enough. The Obama Administration announced on Thursday that it would not prosecute anyone -- no one at all -- for the murder of two prisoners in American's Terror War gulags several years ago. As the story notes, this move "eliminat[es] the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the CIA" under the Bush Administration. Considering that dozens of detainees -- if not many more -- have been killed in detention over the course of the Terror War, this is a remarkable feat of erasure. Killing after killing after killing after killing -- and not a single killer prosecuted by the "Justice" Department of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

No, wait: we do the Peace Prize Laureate wrong in the above claim. The state-ordered, state-approved, state-protected murder and beating and freezing and slamming and stripping and ice-packing and plastic-wrapping of prisoners (many of them innocent people rounded up randomly or kidnapped or sold into captivity by criminals) has in fact produced one prosecution by the Laureate, as the NYT notes.

 

While no one has been prosecuted for the harsh interrogations, a former C.I.A. officer who helped hunt members of Al Qaeda in Pakistan and later spoke publicly about waterboarding, John C. Kiriakou, is awaiting trial on criminal charges that he disclosed to journalists the identity of other C.I.A. officers who participated in the interrogations.

There, see! The one CIA agent who revealed the names of people who tortured captives is being prosecuted with the full force of the law, with all the righteousness and moral fervor that we would expect from a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate! There's something that any progressive can point to with pride when he or she works the phone banks and doorsteps for Obama, telling people to support the president and save us from the militarist nutballs and enemies of the truth in the Republican Party.

And yes, of course, the faction of the Imperial Bloc that just nominated Mitt Romney is a pack of militarist nutballs and enemies of the truth. But so is the other faction, which protects torturers, murderers people whose names they don't even know based on arbitrarily chosen "life-pattern" details gleaned by robots in the sky, launches secret wars, foments coups, runs "black ops" in dozens of countries all over the world, killing hundreds of innocent people each year, plunging whole countries into chaos and ruin with its 'terror war' and 'drug war' and 'economic war' agendas -- and ferociously prosecutes anyone who tries to smuggle out a few crumbs of truth about the abominable atrocities and self-destructive follies being carried out daily by a berserk militarist system which has no goal other than its own self-perpetuation and the forced domination of others.

And this will go on and on regardless of which faction of the Imperial Bloc wins in November. Yes, there are differences between the factions. The Republicans and Tea Partiers and Koch-heads are more openly racist, are more proud of their willful ignorance, and hate more of their fellow citizens than the Democrats seem to. (Although actually killing innocent Muslims, including many children, all over the world on a regular basis as the Democrats are doing might possibly be construed as being even more racist than, say, protesting the construction of a mosque somewhere. And the persistent belief that maintaining an all-devouring, treasury-bankrupting, globe-spanning military machine that kills people across the earth is a sensible policy that will produce peace and prosperity could be construed by some as willful ignorance on a Todd Akin-like level.)

But the fact is we have only one party, the Imperial Bloc. You may find one faction more distasteful than the other, but both fully support the moral insanity of the militarism outlined above. Whichever faction wins, more people will die horrible deaths -- and no one will answer for it, no one will be prosecuted. And the firestorm of hatred and blowback that both factions of the Imperial Bloc keeps stoking against our country will continue to build. So be clear: if you vote for one of these factions, that is what you are supporting. Perhaps you may feel that such a dreadful moral compromise is necessary; that's your choice. But if so, you should know -- and feel -- just what that choice means.

 
In the Interval: Rusty Metal, Cankered Ills, Kairotic Moments
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 18 August 2012 22:59

Going away for awhile. I'll be back when I am back, if I get back. In the meantime, here are a few essais, new and old, addressing issues of import for the elucidation of anyone who cares to peruse them, concerning:

implications of the Socratic dictum of self-knowledge;
the complex interactions of biological drives, social cohesion and individual psychology;
a full-blown political platform for the betterment of humanity;
the long-term implications of militarist foreign policy;
relevant historical perspectives on sociopolitical dynamics;
suggested methods for dealing with the burden of state tyranny;
veteran's issues;
and the indelible, abiding traces of meaning left behind by transitory, kairotic moments of freedom…

***

A couple of housekeeping notes: While I'm gone, it's possible that a few comments won't get through, because some of them, for various technical (not ideological) reasons, have to be approved 'by hand' before going live. So if you post a comment and it doesn't appear, don't be offended; it's nothing personal, and it will get there eventually. As I've explained in the past, this is due to the fact that the website has been severely hacked and damaged several times, often through hackers exploiting openings in the comments section. So the process we have now is somewhat cumbersome, but more secure.

Second, the front page of the website sometimes has a 'run-over' problem, with the text of posts spilling over into the side column. Again, this is something that has to be fixed by hand, and my hands will be elsewhere for a time. So if this happens while I'm gone, my apologies. I think if you click on an individual post, it opens into a more readable window.

Oh yes: don't forget to feed the chickens and slop the hogs while I'm gone. Thanks.

 
Imperial Affront: Ecuador Will Face US Wrath for Asylum Decision
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 16 August 2012 15:48

[UPDATED BELOW]

It is apparent that the nation of Ecuador will now be in the frame for what American foreign policy elites like to call, in their dainty and delicate language, "the path of action." Ecuador granted political asylum to Julian Assange on Thursday for one reason only: the very real possibility that he would be "rendered" to the United States for condign punishment, including the possibility of execution.

None of the freedom-loving democracies involved in the negotiations over his fate -- Britain, Sweden, and the United States -- could guarantee that this would not happen … even though Assange has not been charged with any crime under U.S. law. [And even though the sexual misconduct allegations he faces in Sweden would not be crimes under U.S. or UK law.] Under these circumstances -- and after a sudden, blustering threat from Britain to violate the Ecuadorean embassy and seize Assange anyway -- the government of Ecuador felt it had no choice but to grant his asylum request.

As we all know, some of America's top political figures have openly called for Assange to be put to death for the crime of -- well, what was his crime, exactly, in American eyes? His crime is this: he published information leaked to him by a whistleblower -- exactly as the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, NBC, Fox News, etc., etc., do on a regular basis. Some American leaders and media blowhards have demanded he be executed for "treason," although, as an Australian citizen, he cannot commit treason against the United States. Others say his leaking of classified documents (none of them remotely as sensitive as, say, the much-celebrated Pentagon Papers from the Vietnam Era) has put "American soldiers in danger" -- even though America's own military and intelligence officials have repeatedly stated that no one has been harmed from the publication of documents on Wikileaks.

No one has been physically harmed, that is. Of course, great harm has been done to the pride of the puffed--up poltroons who strut and preen atop the imperial battlements, thinking themselves the lords of all the earth and the apple of every little peon's eye. Their crimes and lies and third-rate minds were exposed -- in their own words -- by Wikileaks: and it is for this that Assange must pay. (And be made an example of to all those who might do likewise.) Our imperial elites (and their innumerable little yapping media sycophants on both sides of the political fence) simply cannot bear to have American power and domination resisted in any way, at any time, for any reason, anywhere, by anyone. It offends their imperial dignity. It undermines their extremely fragile, frightened, frantic egos, which can only be held together by melding themselves to an image of monstrous, implacable, unstoppable power.

It also -- and by no means incidentally -- threatens to put a slight crimp in their bottom line, for the American system is now thoroughly militarized; the elite depend, absolutely, on war, death, terror and fear to sustain their economic dominance. As the empire's chief sycophant, Thomas Friedman, once put it: "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps." You really can't put it any plainer than that. The only path to prosperity is through domination by armed force. Others must die, must suffer, must quake in fear, to preserve our comfort. This is Modern American Militarism in a nutshell: the ruling ideology and national religion of American society today.

Anything or anyone who threatens this dominance -- or just disagrees with it, or simply wants to be left alone by it -- is automatically judged an enemy of the imperial state. You must accept the system. You must get with the program. You cannot question it. The beliefs or religion or  ideology of the resister (or perceived resister) do not matter in the slightest. Even the impact (or lack of impact) of the resistance doesn't matter. It is resistance that it is the crime. It is the refusal to acknowledge the greatness and goodness of the strutters on the battlements, and the legitimacy of their armed domination over the earth, and over you.

It is not enough that you obey; you must be seen to obey. You must obey cheerfully, without complaint -- just ask any of thousands and thousands of your fellow citizens who have been tasered or beaten or arrested for failing to show due deference to a police officer or security guard or any of the many other heavily armed figures out there who can stop us, hold us, put us away -- or put us down -- on the merest whim.

Although Britain is acting as the beard in this case, the government of the Nobel Peace Laureate is clearly driving the action. It is simply inconceivable that Washington will not find ways to punish Ecuador for this act of lèse–majesté. What form it will take remains to be seen (although it could begin with covert backing for Britain's violation of the Ecuadorean embassy in London). But the fragile, frantic strutters will not let this pass.

***
UPDATE: Just to make it clear, sexual assault is a very serious matter. To say that the accusations now being made against Assange would not constitute a crime under U.S. or UK law is not to diminish the right of all women to be free from sexual assault in any form.

But these concerns have nothing to do with what is being played out in London right now. Assange has not actually been criminally charged with sexual assault, although this claim is repeated unceasingly in stories about the situation. [Including my post above, when I carelessly wrote "charges" in place of "allegations"; now corrected.] He is wanted for questioning in a case involving such allegations; a case which was at first dismissed by a prosecutor then reopened later by a different prosecutor. This prosecutor did not charge Assange with a crime, but wanted to question him further in the process of re-examining whether formal charges are warranted.

Now here is one of the many bizarre turns in this story. Assange was in the UK after the case was re-opened. If the prosecutors wanted to question him, they could have done so at any time, either by coming to London or interviewing him via video hookup. There are ample precedents in European and Swedish law for either course. They refused to do so. (They have also refused Ecuador's offer to have Assange interrogated in their London embassy.) Assange has also said he would return to Sweden for questioning if the government there would guarantee he would not be extradited to the United States. This was also refused.

Given the fact that Swedish prosecutors have repeatedly turned down opportunities to question Assange about the case -- even though they say this is their sole aim -- it is not entirely unreasonable to assume, as Assange has done, that there is some other intention behind the process that has led to the standoff we see today. If the primary concern was justice for the two women involved in the allegations, who have had the case hanging over their heads for almost two years, Assange could have been questioned by Swedish authorities at any time during that period, and the process of resolving the case, one way or another, could have moved forward. But this has not been done.

As Assange's lawyer, Per Samuelson, notes:

In August 2010, Assange was interviewed by the police for the first time, then released. A month later, the prosecutor requested an additional police interrogation be held, insisting this time that it be done with Assange behind bars. She called for Assange's arrest, issued a European arrest warrant and ordered that he be deported from the UK. Stockholm district court and the Svea court of appeal upheld her request and arrested Assange in absentia.

Neither Assange nor I can understand the motivation. Why couldn't the second police interview be conducted with Assange at liberty? Assange is not a Swedish citizen. He does not reside in Sweden. His work has worldwide impact and he must be able to travel freely to accomplish this. He would happily have presented himself for interrogation and, had the case gone to trial, willingly returned to Sweden to face charges. All this could have been done while he remained at liberty. Had Sweden handled the case in this way, the issue would have been resolved a long time ago.

Instead, Sweden insists on Assange's forcible removal to Sweden. Once there, he will immediately be seized by police and put in jail. He will be taken to the detention hearing in handcuffs, and will almost certainly be detained. He will remain in custody for the duration of the proceedings. This is unnecessary. The prosecutor is at liberty to withdraw the arrest warrant and lift the detention order, and a hearing in Sweden could be arranged very quickly. The prosecutor could also arrange a hearing in the UK or at the Swedish embassy in London.

Again, it seems evident that the Swedish authorities did not want to pursue any of these options, but have instead sought relentlessly to put Assange in a Swedish jail and keep him there. Whatever their motives for this heavy-handed course of action, concern for victims of sexual assault does not seem to be among them.

 
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