Friday, October 09, 2015

Five Against the Empire

Five Leaders Challenging Western Imperialism: Pope Francis, Vladimir Putin, Xi, Jinping, Hassan Rouhani, and Jeremy Corbyn

by James Petras - ICH

 October 09, 2015

Western imperialism, in all of its manifestation, is being challenged by five political leaders, through diplomacy, moral persuasion and public pressure.

In recent time, Pope Francis, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn have raised fundamental questions concerning (1) war and peace in the Middle East and the Caucuses; (2) climate change and the destruction of the environment; (3) economic sanctions, military threats and confrontation; and (4) growing inequalities of class, gender and race.

The New Global Agenda 

These five protagonists of a new global agenda differ from past critics from the left both in the style and substance of their politics.

The politics of change, reform and peace in the near immediate period has a particular complex, heterodox complexion, which contains traditional conservative and popular components. 

These leaders have a global audience and major impact on world public opinion – and indirectly and directly on Western politics. 

Defying Past Left-Right Divisions

These five leaders defy the traditional left-right division. Pope Francis demands immigrant rights, equal pay for women, diplomacy and peace negotiations instead of war, and greater class equality. He excoriates neoliberal, capitalism (“the dung of the devil”).

But he also defends traditional Catholic doctrine on abortion, divorce, contraception and homosexuality. He opposes class struggle and social revolution in favor of class collaboration, dialogue, and negotiations.

President Putin favors negotiations and peaceful resolution of conflicts in Syria and the Ukraine. He is an ardent advocate of a global coalition to fight Islamic terrorism. He has sharply reduced western pillage of the Russian economy and restored salaries, pensions and employment. He has restored Russian military capacity and national security and reduced terrorist assaults from the Caucuses.

At the same time Putin supports some of the biggest Yeltsin era billionaires; is closely aligned with the conservative Russian Orthodox Church; and is excavating the remains of the last tyrannical Russian Tsar to honor him and his family.

President Xi Jinping has played a leading role in promoting increases in consumer spending, wages, pensions and social welfare. He has deepened links with US high tech industries and signed off on a major reduction of carbon fuels and pollution, offering $3 billion dollars to fund alternatives for less developed countries. He has fired, prosecuted and jailed over 250,000 corrupt government and party officials who exploited and abused the public, while limiting operations of speculative Western hedge funds.

At the same time, Xi retains the authoritarian one party system; defends China’s one hundred-plus billionaires; and restricts all forms of independent class political and trade union organizations.

Hassan Rouhani is both devout practicing Muslim and a staunch advocate of peace. He supports a ‘nuclear-free Middle East’. He is a consequential opponent of terrorism by Salafist Islamists, Zionists, Christians and Hindus. He is the leading critic of Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen and a principled defender of national self-determination. Internally he has reduced authoritarian state controls and censorship of free expression and promoted scientific and technological research – in a country where half of research scientists are women.

President Rohani has signed a high risk peace agreement with the US and its partners (5 + 1) dismantling Iran’s nuclear facilities and opening its military installations to international inspection by an international atomic agency of dubious neutrality. 

At the same time, Rohani opposes a secular state, supports liberalizing the economy, invites foreign multi-nationals to exploit lucrative oil and gas fields, and supports the corrupt and regressive US backed Shia regime in Iraq.

Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected head of the British Labor Party, has been a consequential critic of neo-liberal capitalism and a strong advocate of public ownership of strategic economic sectors. He backs a highly graduated progressive income tax to finance a comprehensive welfare program.

He advocates a democratic foreign policy that opposes Anglo-American and Israeli imperialism in the Middle East and elsewhere. 

However, upon taking office as head of the neo-liberal, pro-imperialist Labor Party, he confronts a parliamentary party dominated by his adversaries. His appointments to the “shadow cabinet” are overwhelmingly pro-NATO and pro-European Union; some even oppose his Keynesian budgetary agenda. Moreover, Corbyn endorses ‘working in the EU’ and promises to support a ‘yes vote’ in any referendum, even as the world witnessed how the EU imposed harsh austerity budgets on Latvia, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and other countries in financial straits. 

The Collective Impact of the Five 

There is no question that these five leaders have made a major impact on world public opinion on issues of peace, climate change, equality and the need to reach international agreements. In most cases one or more of the leaders have exercised greater influence on a specific public or region and have had a greater impact on some issues over others. 

The Pope, for example, has greater influence on Christians; Rohani on the Muslim public; Putin, Corbyn and Xi on secular opinion. Xi and the Pope have a greater impact on proposals for climate change. Putin, the Pope, Rohani and Xi are prominent in advocating peaceful resolution of conflicts; Corbyn and the Pope on reducing inequalities and securing social justice. 

With the exception of Corbyn and Xi, all support traditional religious beliefs and observances. Most are ‘ecumenical’ in the sense of supporting religious tolerance. 

Most important, all pursue these goals through persuasion, diplomacy and winning over public opinion. None of these world leaders have invaded or overthrown incumbent adversarial regimes or occupied countries. All are leading opponents of terror – especially ISIS. 

President Putin is playing a leading role in challenging President Obama to join a broad coalition, including Bashar Assad and Iran, in fighting ISIS terrorism. 

Washington, despite its rhetorical hostility, was pressured to respond – ‘partially favorable’. 

President Putin has also taken the initiative in the Middle East. He leads a coalition, including Iraq, Iran and Syria to co-ordinate the war against terrorism. 

China’s President Xi has committed military forces in support of the Russia’s anti-terrorist proposal for Syria. The Pope has offered tacit support via his pronouncements against terrorism and for international coalitions. 

As a consequence of the massive flood of refugees resulting from the US-EU-Saudi-Turkey support of Islamist mercenaries invading Syria and Iraq, several European allies of Washington are reconsidering their anti-Assad policies. They are moving toward the broad front proposals of Putin-Rohani-Xi and the Pope.

The social-economic impact of the Pope’s call for social justice is less apparent, apart from the routine lip-service from Western leaders. Among the quintet, Rohani is looking toward ‘market solutions’: inviting Western and Asian investors to revitalize the oil industry. Xi is cracking down on big time fraudsters in China and abroad, but has yet to embrace a comprehensive welfare and incomes policy. Putin presides over a petrol-economy in recession and has relied on private corporate oligarchs and overseas investors to regain growth. Corbyn’s egalitarian pronouncements have little impact among Labor Party politicians and his shadow cabinet. Moreover, he appears reluctant to mobilize the rank and file Labor activists for a fight for his program within the Party. 

The climate change and environmental struggle received robust backing from the Pope –in his speeches to the US Congress, the United Nations and in his mass gatherings. 

President Xi reinforced the message by proposing to fund a massive clean air program for the less developed countries, while setting rigorous targets to reduce pollution in China. There is no doubt that their message is well received by all environmental groups and the general public. Some political leaders, including Obama, appear to be, in part, receptive. 

Rohani, Putin and Corbyn have played only a minor role in the defense of the environment. 

Response of the Western Powers 

The US, EU, Japan, Israel and Australia, referred to as the ‘Western Powers’ paid lip service to the cause of peace, while continuing to pursue military objectives via air wars, cross border terrorist activities and military build ups. 

In general terms, they manipulate a double discourse – of talking peace and bombing adversaries. 

However, the Western Powers feel the pressure of ‘the quintet,’ which is winning the political ideological contest. The ‘Russian threat’ is no longer viewed as credible by most of the international public. China’s international financial initiatives have gained major support from across the globe. 

Japanese militarization has provoked mass domestic unrest and regional concerns – especially in Southeast Asia. 

Israel is a pariah, not just in the Middle East but is increasingly viewed with hostility by the rest of international public opinion. 

Germany, Europe’s leading economic power, has been discredited because of the massive fraud scandal by Volkswagen, its leading automobile maker and major exporter. 

In other words, while the Western Powers retain military superiority and important markets, their overseas policies have suffered severe setbacks and their leaders have lost credibility. Their domestic and overseas supporters are turning against them. Moreover, the moral authority of Western leaders has been severely questioned by the Pope’s harsh critique of the ‘exclusionary’ policies toward immigrants and refugees, the excessive greed of capitalism, the reliance on force instead of diplomacy and the massive human suffering due to capitalism’s unrelenting destruction of the environment. 

The Pope’s generalities would not have had such a powerful political impact, if they were not accompanied by (1) the selective use of arms and diplomacy emanating from President Putin; (2) the diplomatic successes of President Rohani; and (3) the economic muscle of President Xi, in support of economic development and international co-operation on the environment and climate change.


From widely divergent origins and diverse ideological backgrounds, five political leaders have set a new agenda for dealing with war and peace, equality and inequality, security and terrorism and environmental protection. Except for Jeremy Corbyn, who in any case will probably be rendered impotent by his own party’s elite, none of these progressive leaders’ ideologies is derived from the secular left. 

They challenge the status quo, and raise the central issues of our time, at a time when the secular left is marginal or self-destructs (as Greece’s Syriza, Spain’s Podemos or Italy’s Five Stars in Southern Europe). 

Faced with this heterodox reality, the Left has the choice of (1) remaining in sterile isolation; (2) embracing one, some, or all of ‘the quintet’; (3) or aligning with them on specific pronouncements and proposals. 

The five have sufficient drawbacks, ‘contradictions’ and limitations to warrant criticism and distance. But in the big picture, on the major issues of our time, these leaders have adopted progressive policies, which warrant whole-hearted active support. They are the only ‘show’ in the real world – if we are serious about joining the struggle against imperial wars, terrorism, environmental destruction and injustice.

James Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York

Which Party Will Address the TPP (Before the Election)?

TPP Deal Sparks Election Campaign Discussion: Will we get straight answers about the TPP before the October 19 election?

by Peter Ewart  - News 250

It was a moment of high political theatre. Todd Doherty, Conservative candidate in Cariboo-Prince George, was extolling the virtues of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal at the all-candidates meeting at UNBC in Prince George. The trade deal, according to Doherty, was going to be a virtual bonanza for northern British Columbia in terms of more jobs, forestry exports, and overall prosperity.

NDP candidate Trent Derrick burst the bubble by asking a simple question. Had Mr. Doherty actually read the TPP?

Oh yes, cover to cover, Doherty replied.

In detail? The actual text? Derrick asked.

Yes, Doherty repeated.

At that point, rumblings emerged from the audience and other candidates. How could Doherty have read the text of the deal, which runs 1,500 pages, when it had been drafted in deep secrecy and a high profile figure like U.S. presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton had not even been able to get her hands on it yet?

Challenged on his claim by Trent Derrick and followed up by Liberal candidate Tracy Calogheros, Doherty ran for cover. He had only read a summary of the deal, he now claimed, supplied by the Conservative Party.

Calogheros countered: “That’s not right. It isn’t right, it isn’t honest, and it’s why this country doesn’t trust your government” (1).

The incident underscores a fundamental problem with the entire way this TPP deal is being inserted by the Harper government into the election campaign. Essentially, it is arguing that its candidates should be praising the deal to high heavens even though the text has not been released yet, and even though Conservative candidates like Doherty, despite his claim, have not read it.

When will Canadians get access to the text? “In a few days”, says Conservative trade minister Ed Fast (2). But even that claim has a touch of “now you see, now you don’t” about it. Pressed on his statement, Fast admitted that we might not get the full text, but rather “a form of the text” that may not be “full scrubbed.”

Furthermore, Fast said that he “can’t commit to releasing the so-called side letters” which are “individual agreements between countries on specific sectors.”

However, these “side letters” have definite relevance to British Columbians. For example, 250 News has repeatedly raised the issue as to whether the TPP deal impacts raw log restrictions and other related forestry policy that could impact British Columbia negatively (3). Indeed, there were various news reports this summer that, in the TPP negotiations, Japan was pushing hard for Canada to lift restrictions on raw log exports.

So far, the Harper government has been silent about any downsides to the forestry sector and forestry-based communities.

However, on October 8th, Fast also did reveal that there is a “side letter” that includes “a deal on processed and unprocessed forestry productions between Canada and Japan”. But it appears the Harper government will not be revealing the contents of this side letter anytime soon, despite the fact it sounds like it could very well have provisions in it dealing with raw log exports.

As the old saying goes, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.” If the Harper government wants to garner votes over the TPP trade deal, it needs to make the actual text available to Canadians. Along with that, it should at least reveal the contents of this “side letter” with Japan about forestry. If there is nothing negative in it about raw log exports or forestry policy, let that be clarified.

Is that too much to ask before the October 19th election? Even a Conservative candidates like Todd Doherty might be grateful to have a glance at the side letter, and, wonder of wonders, maybe even the full text of the TPP deal.

Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at:

1) Kurjata, Andrew. “That awkward moment when you say you’ve read the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
2) “Ed Fast says text of TPP trade deal available within days.” Canadian Press. October 8, 2015.
3) Ewart, Peter. “Are raw logs part of the TPP trade deal?” 250 News. October 7, 2015.

Acceptable (War) Crimes: Rationalizing Hospital Bombing

US Lies and Excuses for Bombing Hospital

by Jonathan Cook - Dissident Voice

Here is the US changing its story for the FOURTH time of why it launched an air strike on the Doctors without Borders hospital in the Afghan town of Kunduz at the weekend, massacring at least 22 patients and hospital staff.

As Glenn Greenwald has doggedly pointed out, the western media have been faithfully changing their account repeatedly and largely uncritically of what happened to keep in line with US claims. CNN and the New York Times have been particularly egregious offenders. The media monitoring group FAIR has also produced a revealing overview of the NYT’s coverage of the strikes on the hospital.

Almost all of the corporate media began by distancing the US from the attack, with some indicating that it was possible the hospital’s destruction simply coincided with US air strikes in that area. The BBC used the painfully evasive “Afghan air strike” in an early headline, suggesting the possibility of an illusory Afghan air force, to keep the US out of the picture.

Then, the US admitted it was responsible but claimed the strike was an accident. The problem, however, was that this story too was not credible: Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) had given the US and Afghan forces the GPS coordinates of the hospital and called the US military to tell them of the attack during the strike to no avail.

Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, exemplified the western liberal community’s torturous efforts to avoid considering US responsibility for such a serious war crime. He wanted us to think about Assad rather than Kunduz in this astonishing, deflectionary tweet (since deleted). 

(Note that this a familiar practice by the HRW team: I wrote at length about similar efforts by their investigators to try to accuse Hizbollah of more serious breaches of international law than Israel when considering the same war crimes.)

Next, the US admitted it had intentionally targeted the medical facility, but did so because, it claimed, there were Taliban fighters using it as a base, even though no evidence was produced and Doctors without Borders staff absolutely denied that had been the case.

Now a US general is blaming Afghan forces for directing the US to strike the hospital.

This slipperiness by the US is visible only because Doctors without Borders, a western organisation, ran the hospital, their staff were among those killed, and they have been waging a relentless campaign exposing the US authorities’ mendacity, forcing the army – and its media stenographers – to keep changing tack.

Had this been a local Afghan-run hospital, or a wedding party, the US claims would have gone entirely unchallenged, and the media would have treated them unquestioningly, as they initially tried to do here.

Thanks to the Doctors without Borders, we have now reached the point where the US has been forced both to admit and justify a very serious war crime.

The intense reluctance of the western media to use the same language of outright condemnation faced with the fact of a US war crime that it regularly employs when offered (usually by the same US authorities) an allegation of a similar war crime by an official enemy – say, Russia or Syria’s Assad – exposes quite how much of a propaganda role our media willingly fulfils.

War crimes are war crimes, except, it seems, when they are committed by us and reported by our media.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

Murder as Heroic: America's Death Ethos Reaches Its Logical Conclusion

The Murderer as American Hero

by Ron Jacobs - CounterPunch

The preponderance of torturers and killers that make up the modern day heroes imposed upon the populace is appalling. Equally appalling is the willingness with which so many of us accept the definition of these humans of questionable character as heroic.

From Chris Kyle of American Sniper infamy to the fictional characters in the US television crime series NCIS, the common denominator is the characters’ self-righteous sense that they are somehow better than those whom they beat and kill. The fact is they are not. If they were committing the same deeds for those whom they kill, they would not be heroes, but at the least the viewer would understand the moral equivalency. In other words, murders are murderers no matter who they kill for.

I have not seen American Sniper and have no intention of doing so. The book was a difficult and repulsive read all by itself. Actually seeing reenactments of the murders described and hearing the nationalistic and racist dialogue onscreen is more than I want to deal with. However, I do watch NCIS.

Every episode I view I ask myself why I watch it. The national security rationale that is the foundation of the show and the forays into propaganda for the US Marine Corps, National Security Agency and the entire US warfare state is against everything I believe in. At the same time, the apparent integrity of the primary characters and the interpersonal relationships keep me coming back for the next episode.

It is that latter fact of individual integrity that takes me to the next aspect of this piece. I recently read an article in the conservative weekly of the Catholic Church in the United States, the National Catholic Register. The article is titled “Catholic, Christian and Killing for a Living” and is essentially an interview with retired Marine sniper Jack Coughlin, who intentionally killed dozens of people in US military war zones during his military career. Without any sense of irony, Coughlin is described in the article as “pro-life.” He also justifies the murders he undertook in the name of fighting “evil.” Of course, left unsaid is that many of the fighters and other people he and his fellow snipers kill also believe they are fighting “evil.”

Jethro Gibbs, the head agent on the NCIS team (played by Mark Harmon), is also a former Marine sniper. Although he is rarely bothered by the memories of the murders he committed (nor by the killings he and his team commit in every episode), his justification is usually of a more personal nature. Indeed, the defining murder he committed as a sniper was the killing of a drug trafficker that murdered his first wife and daughter. If any killing haunts him it is this one. Yet, it does not stop him from killing again. Likewise, any qualms felt by the individuals employed as snipers in today’s military are apparently not enough to change any aspect of the military’s use of these killers.

Instead, what the civilian sees is greater and greater justification for the killing that comes with war; and greater and greater equating of murder with heroic action. The war in Iraq, which the Catholic Church did not think met its just war doctrine, nevertheless produced Catholic snipers, pilots, and other military-approved killers, not to mention torturers, all of whom exist today with relatively clear consciences. Why? Because their religion (like virtually every other) provides them with enough theological loopholes to continue living without examining the nature of their deeds.

Then, there are the politicians. Here in the United State the interminable election season is beginning. Politicians from both parties are gathering supporters, building campaign bank accounts, hiring writers and advertising companies. They are also redesigning their public personas and redefining their political positions depending on what their advisors tell them the polls are saying. As I write, the media is full of potential presidents explaining their positions on the Iraq invasion of 2003 and the succeeding occupation. All of this is occurring while the somewhat contrived phenomenon known as the Islamic State claims to have taken another Iraqi city. The brother of former president George W. Bush claims that it was faulty intelligence that caused his brother’s administration to go to war in Iraq. Most of the other Republican candidates agree. Of course, this is nonsense. As anyone who was cognizant in 2002 remembers, the intelligence wasn’t faulty. It said there were no active WMD. It was the determination of the neocon wing of the US ruling class that denied that intelligence, made up their own, and sent the US military off. The Democrats followed willingly. Even those who voted against the original authorization for war, like candidate Bernie Sanders, usually voted to fund it after the troops were in country.

From Baghdad to Ramadi, Al-Gharaib to Mosul, and all points between and around, a fair amount of the onus for this war resides with those politicians and the people who voted for them again and again. The torturers in US-run prisons, the civil war fomented by US intelligence, the massive civilian casualties—all of this is their responsibility. So is the current situation in that country, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East and South Asia. So are groups like Islamic State, which, according to recent reports in various Israeli media, is actually coordinating some of its attacks in Syria with Tel Aviv. At the same time, recent press releases from the US Pentagon have informed the world that the United States has Special Forces troops operating in Syria. In other words, there are ground troops in Syria.

The incredible popularity of films like American Sniper prove, if nothing else, that the willingness to continue this imperial path of foolish and deadly destruction has plenty of support among those in the imperial nation. Whatever the reasons beyond those that serve the war industry and its benefactors, the brutality, senselessness, and plain old death of war is spreading, not shrinking.

As for those other reasons, what could they be? Why are mass murderers in the uniform of supposedly civilized nations (like the US) celebrated while those, like Chelsea Manning, who expose their crimes, are imprisoned or, even worse, ignored? What is it in the populations of these countries that invokes their support for actions they would find reprehensible if they were being perpetrated on their children and homes? Why do they celebrate the men who commit said acts?

In 1967 Norman Mailer released a novel titled Why Are We In Vietnam? This exercise by Mailer is the story of a couple 18 year-old Texans off on a hunting trip with their wealthy fathers. The quartet are consumed with an overload of braggadocio and testosterone. The story of the trip, which is full of whiskey and tales of past sexual conquests, racial slurs and assumptions of American exceptionalism, is told through the eyes of one of the younger men. It is obviously meant as a psychological metaphor for why the US fought in Vietnam. Like the film The Deer Hunter and a number of other films having to do with killing America’s enemies, the nature of US machismo and its curious confusion with racism and homophobia, Why Are We In Vietnam? puts forth the proposition that not only is the rugged individualism of the white-skinned pioneer essential to the myth of the US conquest of the North America continent, it is also essential to the expansion of US capitalism as well. Indeed, it is part and parcel of why US history has more years of slaughter than it does years of peace.

-Originally published in Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives June 2015.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at:
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Thursday, October 08, 2015

Looting Syria's (and World) Cultural Heritage

Confronting "Looting to Order" and "Cultural Racketeering" in Syria

by Franklin Lamb - CounterPunch

Damascus  - One of the many gut-wrenching dimensions of the soon to be five-year Syrian crisis is that whenever one surveys the conflict on the ground and concludes that the maelstrom can’t possibly get any worse, it plummets deeper into the abyss. The condition of people in Syria has never been worse in modern times.

This is also the case with the spreading cultural cleansing of our shared global heritage in Syria which this observer views as a precursor to ethnic cleansing. This scourge has been documented in detail by studies from the UN, EU, Archaeologists, Syria’s Directorate General of Museums and Antiquities (DGAM) and others who closely monitor the desecration, looting and destruction at archaeological sites. According to the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology (APSA) and other surveys, more than 1/3 of Syria’s 10,000 archaeological sites are currently under the control of Da’ish (ISIS) who are looting them on an industrial scale for sale globally on the black market. It is not known with precision which or how many other Islamist nihilist militias are controlling other sites. A new report from the US Congress reports that 30,000 people have traveled, including 250 from the US, to join terror groups in the Middle East and Isis in particular, doubling the numbers of one year ago. “We are witnessing the largest global convergence of jihadists in history,” the report warned.​

According to the Antiquities Coalition, raising just $1 million from illicit trafficking of historic artifact in Syria supplies the group with more than 11,000 AK-47 machine guns or 1,250 rocket launchers. This is one of the reasons why Satellite images are revealing that archaeological sites in Syria are increasingly dotted by thousands of illegal excavations.

It is recalled that the looting following the United States-led 2003 invasion of Iraq involved organized international gangs, sometimes with corrupt “Operation Iraqi Freedom” coalition military personnel involved that were contracted to raid the National Museum in Baghdad and Mosul Museum. Mosul Museum director Bernadette Hanna-Metti and Mosul Museum curator Saba al-Omari reported that radio carrying looters also targeted specific antiquities at Nimrud, some with “shopping lists” in hand. Site director Muzahim Mahmud reported that the looters “ignored everything else, went right to that frieze” of a winged man carrying a sponge and a holy plant, “and took it” in a customized looting operation, fulfilling “orders from a buyer.”

The 18 statues that were intercepted as part of one lot in Jordan during 2004 were determined to be filling orders from dealers and within weeks of the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad, US. Customs intercepted an illicit shipment of 669 of its artifacts en route to an antiquities dealer in New York. But apart from police reports labeling these acts “looting to order”, “theft to order”, “stolen to order” or “commissioned theft” no one has even been charged with a crime. Going back to 2005, when al Qaeda was trafficking in looted antiquities, it was second as a source of funding only to kidnappings and ransom.

Similar cultural crimes are being committed today in Syria. It has been documented that Da’ish (ISIS), and Jabhat a-Nusra (al-Nusra Front) use WhatsApp and Skype (Parkinson, Albayrak, & Mavin, 2015), and some militia are using smartphones (Sogue, 2014) as well as employing social-media savvy experts around the world, often teenagers, to design and execute looted antiquities marketing programs.

The financial incentives to looting are very powerful such that to date the international community’s existing methods of prevention are largely ineffective.

But we must not be idle bystanders to a fire sale of our and Syria’s national and historical heritage.

So what can we do now that the continuing destruction of our cultural heritage has sparked a fresh round of global outrage? How can it be harnessed to save other heritage sites under nihilist Da’ish control? Short of defeating the entrenched jihadists militarily which appears highly unlikely anytime soon?

The challenges are great. The tens of thousands of foreign would-be jihadists who have now poured into Syria, most to join the perceived “A-team-Varsity Squads” of Da’ish (ISIS) and Jabhat Al Nusra. There is little evidence of success from international efforts to diminish their ranks. Few on the ground are much impressed by the new Russian hyped 4+1 planned coalition or the Russian proposed bilateral coordination with the U.S. against Islamic State. This is partly because currently, an average of about 1,000 foreign fighters are arriving every month ready to turn Syria into Russia’s new “Afghanistan” with pledges to fight for as long as it takes to expel Putin’s arriving forces. In the past year jihadists from 20 additional countries have entered Syria bringing to more than 100 the total number of countries with fighters in Syria.

Many suggestions have been heard by this observer in Syria including from local officials and citizens who are on the front lines trying to preserve and protect the cultural heritage that we all share. Some are proposing that cultural heritage benefactors buy the looted objects off looters and errant regular citizens and secure them in safety vaults somewhere until the fighting ends. This has actually been done in Syria with modest success but given its sensitivity, without much publicity. It has been reported that nearly 330,000 artifacts, many from lawless non-state actor areas, have been moved to safety from imminent danger from jihadists and profiteers.

The Syrian government currently has 2,500 people working to save Syria’s past, on both sides in many parts of Syria. Fourteen DGAM employees have been killed so far. It’s Director-General Dr. Abdul Karim has reported to this observer and others that “We saved 99 per cent of the collection in our museums. It’s good. It’s not just for the good of the government. It’s for the opposition, for humanity, for all Syria. It is our common identity, our common heritage.”

Ricardo J. Elia, an archaeologist at Boston University, endorsed a moratorium on purchasing trafficked item, arguing that “looting is a function of a system that runs on supply and demand. Would it not be possible for museum associations, dealer associations, auction houses, and private collections to say “look: this is a horrific crisis. Let’s just stop these things. Let’s diminish the demand side.” To avoid collecting potentially looted antiquities, Richard Stengel, US under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, recently proposed: “Don’t sell; don’t buy. That’s the best solution.”

A similar proposal comes from American cultural heritage lawyer Rick St. Hilaire who has prepared a proposal to avoid purchasing “blood antiquities.” It also promotes as a protective measure a “Don’t Buy” initiative backed by strict due diligence. It is worthy of implementation and can be linked to the 2009 Code of Ethics for Collectors of Ancient Artifacts authored by individual collectors that is being considered again given our current cultural heritage crisis. It urges the public and all buyers to protect archaeological heritage and uphold the law, check sources, collect sensitively, recognize the collector’s role as custodian, keep artifacts in one piece and consider the significance of groups of objects, promote further study, and dispose of artifacts responsibly.

To achieve these goals, the ethics code highlights common sense due diligence and acquisitions advice, including: “Ask the vendor for all relevant paperwork relating to provenance, export etc. Take extra care if collecting particular classes of object which have been subjected to wide-scale recent looting. Verify a vendor’s reputation independently before buying. Assure yourself that they are using due diligence in their trading practices, and do not support those who knowingly sell fakes as authentic or offer items of questionable provenance. Do not dismember any item, or acquire a fragment which you believe to have been separated from a larger object except through natural means. Consider the implications of buying an item from an associated assemblage and the impact this could have on study. Liaise, where possible, with the academic and broader communities about your artifacts.”

One encouraging sign that those destroying our cultural heritage may be more apt to face legal accountability before the International Criminal Court in The Hague is this month’s arrests and extradition of the alleged Islamic extremist Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi also known as “Abu Tourab” who the ICC claims was a member of Ansar Dine, an affiliate of Al Qaida. He appeared on 9/30/2015 before the ICC and was formally charged with involvement in the 2012 destruction of 14 of the 16 mausoleums and other historic buildings including a Mosque, in Timbuktu, Mali. The entire city of Timbuktu, nicknamed the “City of 333 Saints’” is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and during the 15th and 16th centuries, operated 180 schools and universities that received thousands of students from all over the Muslim world. According to Corrine Dufka of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, “The Abu Tourab case signals that there will be a price to pay for destroying the world’s treasures.”

On a related matter, during his 9/28/2015 UN General Assembly address, Ban Ki-moon called for the Syrian crisis to be referred to the International Criminal Court. This would include jurisdiction over all cultural heritage crimes committed at Syria’s archaeological sites.

Several encouraging and admirable public and private initiatives are employing creative ways to protect Syria’s millennia-long cultural heritage are currently underway as experts and locals scramble to save what they can. Others are about to be launched, and all warrant our support. .

Some of the current initiatives include, but are not limited to the following.

The Million Image Database is a large-scale scholarly project targeting both object documentation, and trafficked object identification. The project is sending thousands of low-cost, easy-to-use 3-D cameras to volunteers across the Middle East to document sites and objects in their area. Images and videos collected in this way are received for processing by the project’s technical team in the United Kingdom via uploads to the project’s website. Some of these images will be used to create detailed maps of Syrian sites, and to create 3-D models of buildings and artifacts that will be usable as blueprints for full-scale reconstruction. The project website is closed to the public to protect volunteer’s anonymity and also to ensure that the initiative remains a purely scholarly venture, not a social media platform for activists, according to Alexy Karenowska, the project’s director of technology. But she assures that as project progresses, it will find a way to share storytelling from the material to the public. The images are to be collated in a huge, publicly accessible database. Available to all, and under development in collaboration with UNESCO, the vision for this resource is for an ever-growing archaeological catalogue which brings together scholarly information about sites and artifacts, raises awareness of cultural heritage and cultural heritage preservation, and provides a new platform for the identification of trafficked objects. The database will be integrable with existing catalogues and lists of known missing or stolen items and employ the latest image comparison and feature recognition based search technology, removing the need for those inspecting suspect cargo or objects to have specialist knowledge.

Another project would carry out far more detailed scans of antiquities in Syria using laser scanners. The scanners bounce lasers off the surface of objects in the field, measuring millions of points a second to create a data set known as a point cloud. The data can be used to create 3-D images accurate to two or three millimeters to create models or virtual tours of the sites or allow full-scale reconstructions. This project, called “Anqa,” the Arabic word for the phoenix, the legendary bird that rises from the ashes, aims to laser-scan 200 objects in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the region, according to the California-based scanning company CyArk. It hopes to work with DGAM and other antiquities agencies in Syria, as well as UNESCO, to deploy teams in Damascus and other accessible areas.

A recently launched campaign is taking a more low-tech approach aiming at directly protecting at least some sites. The project, by the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), provides supplies and funding to local experts and volunteers for crates and other items to store artifacts and also sandbags to pack around unmovable structures to give some protection against shelling or bombs. This, according to LeeAnn Gordon, project manager for Conservation and Heritage Preservation at ASOR also using satellite images to track destruction of antiquities. One problem this initiative has to deal with is that US policy toward Syria prohibits the funding of governmental groups, thus limiting ASOR’s options in a country divided between government-controlled, and jihadist held areas.

We can all help raise awareness in our communities and instruct our politicians to tighten and enforce current national and international laws and to ratify the instruments of international humanitarian law that protect cultural heritage. Specifically the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (The Hague 1954) and its two Protocols (1954 and 1999), as well as the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (Paris 1970); to implement them swiftly and efficiently into national legislation and in accord with their spirit and overarching goal to preserve cultural heritage, and to observe and enforce them.

Irina Bokova, the Director of UNESCO has called on governments to implement the U.N. Security Council’s Resolution 2199 which was adopted in February of this year and lays out serious penalties for the illegal importation of antiquities trafficked from regions under cultural threat.

Traveling around Syria one comes upon many heritage unfunded preservation projects through the initiative of local private citizens who love their country and want to preserve the cultural heritage of all of us. Some are reportedly being accomplished in rebel held areas where there is little technology and no resources. One of countless examples is the work of a history teacher, Suleiman al-Eissa who lives in Busra Sham, one of UNESCO‘s six World Heritage sites in Syria. As reported recently by the AP, Suleiman al-Eissa, a history teacher leads a self-created “revolutionary” antiquities department to protect the ruins in his hometown of Busra Sham in southern Daraa province one of the six UNESCO World Heritage sites. Mr. Al-Eissa, like many Syrians, is documenting in writing current damage at local archaeological sites while guarding some sites from looting.

We can and must support new dedicated groups like Heritage for Peace and the more than two dozen NGO’s recently formed that are working to protect archaeological sites in Syria and Iraq. In each of our communities we can work on strengthening our national capacities, training for soldiers, more resources, experts on the ground, and better coordination with armed forces, Interpol, and other actors while encouraging volunteer organizations willing to send international volunteers experts as Cultural Heritage Monitors on the scene. Their work would be to assess, protect, and investigate cultural property destruction and looting. All this while working with locals of all religions and ethnicity who want to protect our and their cultural heritage. In other words we need to establish the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross and Blue Shield providing an emergency response to cultural property at risk from armed conflict.

As Dr. Emma Cunliffe, an archaeologist at Oxford University pointed out recently: “Today’s Monument’s Men are often volunteers. Some are local people, such as the Syrian Association for Preserving Heritage and Ancient Landmarks, who work in Aleppo (a UNESCO World Heritage City) to try and save the monuments and buildings there during the current conflict. In 2006, America formed a Committee of the Blue Shield, a group of individuals committed to the protection of cultural property worldwide during armed conflict. The UK Committee was established last year, and other committees are located across the world.”

And there are many others.

The growing global groundswell of popular support spawning an international volunteer movement to confront and expel the non-state actors endangering our cultural heritage in Syria is cause for hope. And it’s a clarion call for each of us to join the growing public support for confronting ‘looting to order’ and ‘cultural racketeering’ in Syria to preserve and protect our shared culture heritage for those who follow us.

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (
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Soon-to-be-Released: An Open Letter to the 6,000

Coming Home: An Open Letter to 6,000 Soon-to-be-Released Prisoners from an Ex-Con

by Anthony Papa - CounterPunch

For those 6,000 prisoners who will soon be released, I want to share with you my story of being released from prison when I received executive clemency after serving 12 years. I hope it will give you some insight on what to expect.

Being released from prison was not what I expected. The freedom was swift and furious. I felt as though I had been slapped on my face with it. There was no preparation, and because of this it brought on an array of emotional highs and lows. During that time I had struggled with the most mundane tasks, like using a cell phone or flushing an automatic toilet. Its cumulative effects were psychologically devastating. The way of life I once knew was now gone, along with my friends and support base. I then discovered I was alone in a new world that had drastically changed without me.

The days leading up to my release from Sing Sing prison were full of anticipation and my mind was riddled with doubt. To be honest, I was really scared. My main concern was the same as that of everyone who had done a long stretch in prison as they approached their release date. I questioned myself and asked if I would be able to survive life on the outside. The question haunted me.

I was re-entering the real world with only the clothing on my back and a few dollars in my pocket. But little did I know that I also brought along with me all the coping mechanisms I used to survive imprisonment. A simple walk in the neighborhood, or a train ride, was elevated to a state of panic because of the fear I might violate parole and return to prison.

This reality came to me one day when I was riding a crowded train and a passenger bumped me from behind. I automatically went into a defensive mode. I gripped the overhead hand rail tightly, as my heart beat elevated and my adrenaline started to pump into my veins. I knew back in prison a simple bump could lead to a brutal confrontation. As I calmed myself down I then observed several other passengers being bumped twice as hard as I was. They did not react at all, making me realize that bumping passengers was a way of life in a New York City subway train.

I soon found out that reestablishing and developing relationships became awkward and painful. I searched for a solution to my problems and realized that I did not leave behind those 12 years of hard time. I had lived a decade of life in an environment where survival mechanisms and behaviors were hardwired into my daily existence. This changed me profoundly and I discovered how difficult it was to forget prison life. Being hardwired for survival inside was a good thing, but in the free world it was another matter, especially when these mechanisms would surface suddenly and without warning.

The tools that were once life-saving had now become a tremendous burden to me as I tried to get my life back together. Because of this it created roadblocks at every level of my existence. Carrying the stigma of being an ex-offender is debilitating. From being denied employment and housing, to not knowing how to establish healthy relationships, life becomes exceedingly difficult. And maintaining my freedom, I soon found, was no easy task while wrestling with the haunting memories of my past imprisonment.

Going back to prison was the last thing I wanted. But I realized that I could go back inside, at any time, at the whim of my parole officer. I witnessed this the first week I reported to my parole officer. The conditions of my parole dictated that I had to report to parole twice a week, with periodic drug testing, and find employment. My parole officer was friendly for the most part, but she had a case load she couldn’t handle. Because of this she took no bullshit. She was a tough cop who made it clear she had the power to put me back in prison if I ever stepped out of line.

While waiting in her office I sat and watched her as she was questioned a young black parolee that had messed up. She asked him a routine question that she asked all parolees: “Have you had any police contact?” Police contact was any negative interaction with law enforcement. He replied, “Yes,” and the mild mannered parole officer suddenly went ballistic. She knew already that the guy was a suspect in a robbery and ordered him to stand. She grabbed the parolee by the collar and forcefully pushed him until he reached the wall. “Nose on the f—ing wall and spread ‘em,” she said. The parolee did not resist. She handcuffed him and yelled, “You’re going back in.” I was scared shitless at that point and pissed my pants out of fear, just thinking about returning to prison. I had learned that freedom was not what I expected.

So for all those that will be coming home, you should remember that freedom is precious, and in order to maintain it, you have to work hard to keep it. It’s something I discovered during the 17 years I have been free.
Anthony Papa is a manager of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.
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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Talking of Syria, Listening to Syrians

Listen to Syrians: The Media Jackals and the People’s Narrative

by Ramzy Baroud -

Imagine the Syrian war from the point of view of ordinary Syrians from a variety of backgrounds. They are most likely to offer a different perspective and to hold entirely different expectations than most other parties involved.

A resident of Idlib, a villager from Deraa, a housewife, a teacher, a nurse or an unemployed ex-prisoner from anywhere else in Syria would distinguish their relationship to the war in terminology and overall understanding that is partially, or entirely, opposed to the narrative communicated by CNN, Al-Jazeera, Russia Today, the BBC, Press TV, and every available media platform that is concerned with the outcomes of the war.

These media tailor their coverage and, when necessary - as is often the case - slant their focus in ways that would communicate their designated editorial agendas, which, unsurprisingly, is often linked to the larger political agenda of their respective governments. They may purport to speak in accordance with some imaginary moral line, but, frankly, none of them do.

Surely, the stories of ordinary Syrians are not prepared in advance or communicated via press conferences in so articulate, guarded and predictable a manner. That is a job that has been reserved for, and perfected by, politicians who represent countries with palpable vested interests in the war.

But how could a story that is so thoroughly covered and discussed round the clock in so exhaustive a fashion be so far removed from the reality at hand?

Of course, there is no single truth in explaining the war in Syria, and not even an unmitigated people’s narrative can change that. The Russians, for example, justify their latest intervention as needed action to stave off the progress of Daesh, although the Russians themselves are accused by everyone else, save Iran, that they are targeting other opposition groups. The Russians, in turn, accuse everyone else, but Iran, of either initiating the problem in the first place, empowering or funding Daesh, or failing to do anything meaningful to bring the war to an end.

If seen from others’ perspective – the Arab (especially Gulf countries), Turkey, Iran, Hezbollah, Jordan, the United States, European countries, and so on – every country seems to communicate their understanding of the war, thus explaining the nature of their involvement by using all sorts of upright and righteous rationales. It seems as if they are all united by their love of the Syrian people and the sanctity of their lives.

However, considering that over 300,000 Syrians have been killed in the war so far, with many more wounded, and six million becoming desolate refugees, one can be certain of the fact that none of these governments actually care for Syrian lives, including, sadly, their government and the opposition. To be less crude, we can be certain that the survival of the Syrian nation is not a top priority to those who are using Syria as a ground for their proxy war.

Those who perished in Syria have been victimized by all warring parties, and the bullets that killed, the shells that devastated neighborhoods, and the rockets that randomly toppled homes originated from too many directions to count.

In other words, there should be no room for polarizing narrative in Syria any more, as in good guys vs. bad guys; evil regime vs. opposition or terrorists vs. a sovereign government; or regional forces that are attempting to invite stability and peace vs. others espousing chaos.

These thoughts, and more, crossed my mind as I began recording the experiences of Syrian and Palestinian refugees who managed to cross to Europe via Turkey and Greece. After reading countless articles about the war, listening to a thousand news broadcasts, consulting with dozens of ‘experts’, Arab and non-Arab alike, I found the hours I spent with the refugees far more enriching and informative.

When it was explained to me, for example, how the Yarmouk siege came about, and after I crossed referenced the information with other refugees – who may hold a different political perspective on the war – I found out that our understanding of what took place in the refugee camp was almost completely misguided, or rather, politicized - thus slanted, self-serving and generally untrue.

Khaled’s journey from Damascus to Idlib, Homs, Hama, all the way to Qamishli, then to the Turkish border deprives the narrative from its polarization; he was a target for everyone; indeed, his suffering continued even when he crossed the Turkish border, took a boat to Lesbos, attempted to enter Macedonia, then Serbia, and so on. It took him four months to reach Sweden, with about ten different stops in different jails.

His narrative contained no references to good guys vs. bad guys, in any collective sense. Any act of kindness he encountered on his journey was surely a random one, and depended entirely on the goodness of ordinary people, like himself.

The same sentiment was conveyed through Maysam’s story, whose peers at the Syrian Red Crescent Society were arrested and tortured because they treated fighters from the Free Syrian Army at the Palestine Hospital. She fled before the mukhabrat came looking for her at her house in the Zahra neighborhood in Damascus.

Many more are no longer able to convey their own story of the war because they were killed, either by Syrian Government forces, the opposition, other parties or US-led airstrikes. A particularity moving account was of the execution of a 16-year-old girl in a public square near al-Hajar al-Aswad, after she confessed to be a ‘spy’ for the regime. The ‘confession’ was exacted after she was shot, point-blank, in the palm of her right hand. They claimed that she placed GPS devices in opposition areas so that the Army may guide its missiles based on signals it received. The Syrian Army’s barrel bombs, of course, are not smart bombs and, in fact, none exist. The child was shot in the face six times.

Ordinary Syrians’ narratives are often used in media coverage of the war, but in a selective fashion, never in an honest and true sampling. Al Mayadeen’s version of ‘average Syrians’ is almost entirely different to that of Al-Jazeera. Syrians are used to supplement existing media agendas, as their country is used to advance political agendas.

When the war is over, the warring parties will reach the conclusion that they have either achieved their objectives or can no longer do so; only Syrians will be left to put their lives back together. When the remaining dead are buried, the missing found or declared dead, the prisoners released or kept indefinitely, only then winning and losing will cease to hold any meaning at all.

The tragedy in Syria is that the war fought in the name of the Syrian people has little to do with the rights of the Syrian people; and the voices of Syrians are either entirely neglected or used and manipulated to achieve specific political ends. And when it is all said and done, the media jackals are likely to fan the flame of some other conflict in some other place.

Certainly, it is already late for too many Syrians whose stories were buried with them, but it is not too late for many who are still alive. We need to listen to the Syrian people, who have been at the receiving end of death, but are yet to articulate their own aspirations for life, and their ongoing tragedies.

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is:

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Liar Telling Them: Obama Speech to UN General Assembly

Lies and Truth - Obama's UNGA Speech Dissected

by F. William Engdahl - NEO

To those who bothered to listen to President Obama’s UN General Assembly speech without falling asleep like Secretary John Kerry clearly wished to do, there was a stark contrast to that speech which followed from the Russian President. First before Barack Obama completed his first sentence we could feel his emotion. It was projecting a contempt and arrogance of a special variety: “We have the biggest, baddest military; we call the shots, you peons of the nations of the world.”

Going through the official Obama text it’s difficult to find even one sentence where he speaks honestly. It’s an example not of grey propaganda but black. I cite several of the most egregious instances.

Near the start after the usual pious homage to the 70-year history of the United Nations, Mr. Obama says,

“the United States has worked with many nations in this Assembly to prevent a third world war — by forging alliances with old adversaries; by supporting the steady emergence of strong democracies accountable to their people instead of any foreign power.”

I am challenged to think of one single strong democracy accountable to their people that US interventions of the past years have supported. On the contrary look at the actual record since the US invasion and destruction of Afghanistan in 2001 and then Iraq in 2003. Then we have seen the US State Department’s launching, under Hillary Clinton, of the NGO and social media-steered Arab Spring destabilizations under the false flag of installing democracy. Then Washington went on to the destruction of Africa’s most stable, peaceful state, Qaddafi’s Libya. And in 2013 the US-directed Maidan coup d’etat to install a neo-nazi band of hooligans in Kiev to try to destabilize Russia. Every covert and overt US intervention has brought the world a giant step closer to World War III. The latest move in that direction is US insistence on placing the most advanced nuclear bombs on German soil making a major destabilization of the current status quo between NATO and Russia.

Further on in the Obama speech, after nice sounding words about the wonderful principles of the UN Charter, “collective endeavor,” and of “diplomatic cooperation between the world’s major powers,” he inserts a bizarre non-sequitur: “I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.” A kind of modern cover version of the 1970’s Jim Croce song that might be titled, “You don’t mess around with Barack…” So much for the UN Charter. Here is the mailed fist under the velvet glove that all too often these last decades is the substance of US foreign political and military policy.

Then Mr. President goes on to speak of dictators and tyrants. Trying to deflect accusations that the US creates regime change via NGOs, Barack Obama declares, “It is not a conspiracy of US-backed NGOs that expose corruption and raise the expectations of people around the globe; it’s technology, social media…” The truth is just that of US-backed NGOs as most in the UN audience know from personal experience with US-Congress financed NGOs like National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House, and the Soros Open Society Foundations. It is precisely this Washington regime change by “US-backed NGOs that expose corruption,” via the “weaponization of democracy and human rights,” which is toppling legitimate regimes that refuse to bow to Washington’s agenda, from Brazil to Syria. As the recent Snowdon and other revelations confirm, precisely the US-based social media such as Facebook, Twitter and others are tied to or work closely with the CIA, State Department, NSA, and facilitate the NGO regime change.

Now comes a whopper. The President of the United States states, “No matter how powerful our military, how strong our economy, we understand the United States cannot solve the world’s problems alone. In Iraq, the United States learned the hard lesson that even hundreds of thousands of brave, effective troops, trillions of dollars from our Treasury, cannot by itself impose stability on a foreign land.”

With due respect, Mr President, if you learned that hard lesson after wasting “trillions of dollars,” not from your Treasury, but from US taxpayers and Chinese and others invested in your US Treasury bonds, to finance that debacle called the Iraq War, why are you in Syria today? What are you doing training the Ukraine military today? Why are you meddling all over the world to stir people up? Why are you building military bases on every piece of dirt around the world where you can dig a hole to plant the American flag? You even admit it was a total fiasco. There is a significant reality disconnect in Washington today.

Finally the US president hits the real point of his current discontent: Russia. “Consider Russia’s annexation of Crimea and further aggression in eastern Ukraine. America has few economic interests in Ukraine…we cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated. If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today. That’s the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners impose on Russia.” This statement skillfully ignores the reality of the Ukraine events of 2013-2014.

It is a documentable matter of record that it was a Washington-sponsored Color Revolution that launched the November, 2013 Maidan Square protests against the legal, elected government of corrupt-but-legitimate President Viktor Yanukovich. It was ignited by US-backed NGOs of George Soros and others within seconds after a tweet from US-backed now Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, calling for “EuroMaidan” protests against the legitimate decision of the Yanukovich cabinet to accept an offer, a very economically attractive one, from Russia to join their emerging Eurasian Economic Union, receive a reduction of Russian gas costs of 30% and an offer to buy $15 billion of Ukraine state debt.

It was neo-conservative Assistant State Secretary, Victoria “Fuck the EU” Nuland (who says Washington today has forgotten the fine art of diplomacy?), who, together with Vice President Joe Biden and US Ambassador in Kiev, Jeffrey Pyatt, and droves of CIA agents, who made what George Friedman, US CEO of Stratfor, termed “the most blatant coup in history,” in Ukraine in February 2014. Washington has gone on to hand-pick the Ukraine government, even placing an American citizen, a US State department veteran as Finance Minister, and named the son of Vice President Biden to the board of the Ukraine state gas company and other such “US interests.”

The Syrian Fraud

Finally Barack Obama comes directly to Syria, the issue that Russian diplomacy has recently exposed to world scrutiny. President Obama states, “Nowhere is our commitment to international order more tested than in Syria. When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not just a matter of one nation’s internal affairs — it breeds human suffering on an order of magnitude that affects us all. “

First it has never been established that Assad has killed “tens of thousands” of Syrian citizens. Secondly, it’s a sly way to attempt to justify an insidious idea, “Responsibility to Protect,” (RTP) that was used by Washington in Libya in 2011 to destroy that country. RTP is a direct violation of the UN Charter. Washington’s “coalition” bombing of Syria allegedly to destroy IS is also in violation of the UN Charter, as it is bombing a sovereign nation without being invited officially by their government as required in the Charter Washington drafted in 1944 at Dumbarton Oaks.

Moderate Syrian Opposition?

The Washington game is first to force elected President Assad out, at the same time it claims it wants to destroy ISIL (or IS or ISIS or DAESH depending on your choice of the many names). Russia’s position is clear: The only organized force in Syria today capable of destroying terrorist Salafists, all terrorist Salafists, is Bashar al Assad’s government and the Syrian National Army and intelligence services that remain loyal to him.

The Obama speech talks of the US support for “moderate” opposition rebels. Yet as far back as April 2013, when ISIS was called Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria, and run now by Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, the US-trained lieutenant of the late Osama bin Laden, the New York Times, quoting numerous US officials, documented that virtually all of the rebel fighters in Syria are hardline Islamic terrorists. There are no “moderate” oppositionists fighting today. The so-called “moderate” Free Syrian Army has also signed a non-aggression pact with ISIS since 2014.

On September 16, 2015, almost two weeks before the Obama UN speech, Gen. Lloyd Austin III, head of the US “war against ISIS,” during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Syria, admitted that the military program intended produce 5,400 trained fighters a year has so far only resulted in “four or five” who still remain on the ground and active in combat. The rest have all joined ISIS or Al Nusra Front of Al Qaeda, the US-backed “moderate opposition” to ISIL. At the same Senate hearings, Christine Wormuth, the Pentagon Undersecretary responsible for the Syrian war confirmed recent Russian statements, noting that Assad’s military “still has considerable strength,” adding, “it’s still the most powerful military force on the ground. The assessment right now is the regime is not in imminent danger of falling.”

There is a Russian joke currently making the rounds in Moscow. Russia’s Putin arrives back in the Kremlin after his September New York meeting with President Obama on Syria and other topics. A trusted aide asks how the talk with Obama went. Putin tells his aide that, in a bid to lower the temperature and calm the nerves before turning to grave topics like the wars in Syria and Ukraine, the Russian president proposed they first sit down to a game of chess. Putin tells his aide what it’s like playing chess with Obama. “It’s like playing with a pigeon. First it knocks over all the pieces, then it shits on the board and finally struts around like it won.”

F. William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

Al-Aqsa: Lighting the Touchpaper Again

Israel Lights the Touchpaper at Al-Aqsa Again

by Jonathan Cook - CounterPunch

Since a boy named David slew the giant Goliath with a slingshot, the stone has served as an enduring symbol of how the weak can defeat an oppressor.

For the past month Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to rewrite the Bible story by declaring war on what he terms Palestinian “terrorism by stones”.

There are echoes of Yitzhak Rabin’s response nearly 30 years ago when, as defence minister, he ordered soldiers to “break bones” to stop a Palestinian uprising, often referred to as the “intifada of stones”, against the Israeli occupation.

Terrified by the symbolism of women and children throwing stones at one of the world’s strongest armies, Rabin hoped broken arms would deprive Palestinians of the power to wield their lowly weapon.

Now the West Bank and Jerusalem are on fire again, as Palestinian youths clash with the same oppressors. Reports suggest soldiers killed one Palestinian youth and injured more than 100 others on Sunday alone. Talk of a third intifada grows louder by the day.

The touchpaper, as so often, is Israel’s transgressions at the al-Aqsa mosque compound, known as Haram al-Sharif, in Jerusalem’s Old City.

During the weeks of Israel’s high holidays, tensions have risen sharply. Israeli government ministers and ever larger numbers of Jewish ultra-nationalists, backed by paramilitary forces, have been ascending to the mosque area.

In parallel, Palestinian access has been restricted and settlers have stepped up seizures of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem to encircle al-Aqsa.

Palestinians believe Israel is asserting control over the site to change the long-standing “status quo” designed to keep Islamic authorities in charge.

Israel refers to the Haram as the Temple Mount, because the ruins of two ancient Jewish temples supposedly lie underneath. As Israel has swung to the right politically and religiously, government and settler circles have been swept by an aggressive Jewish messianism.

Palestinian efforts to resist have been limited. Israel has long barred Palestinian factions and organisations from any dealings in the city it calls its “eternal capital”.

The situation at al-Aqsa has come to symbolise in painful microcosm the Palestinian story of dispossession.

The mosque has also served as a red line, both because it is a powerful cause that unites all Palestinians, including Christians and the secular, and because it rallies the wider Arab and Muslim worlds to the Palestinians’ side.

But like Goliath, the Israeli prime minister appears to assume greater force will win.

First, he outlawed last month a group of Islamic guardians, many of them women, known as the Murabitoun, stationed at al-Aqsa. They had not even resorted to stones. Their crime was to try to deter Jewish extremists from praying at the site by crying “God is great”.

Then, Israeli police stormed the compound to evict youths who had barricaded themselves in. Severe restrictions on Palestinian access to al-Aqsa followed.

As youngsters took to the streets, Mr Netanyahu authorised live fire against stone-throwers in Jerusalem, and minimum four-year jail sentences for those arrested.

To ensure the judiciary complied, the police minister threatened the promotion of judges whose sentencing was not harsh enough.

Predictably, violence has not calmed but spiralled. On Saturday night a Palestinian youth stabbed to death two Jewish settlers near the Western Wall.

Israel has described such incidents as “lone-wolf attacks”. In truth, these unpredictable outbursts of violence are the inevitable result of the orphaned status of Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Israel responded with another unprecedented move. Palestinians were banned from the Old City for the following 48 hours unless they lived or worked there. Israel’s track record suggests this will soon become the new norm.

Mr Netanyahu also approved fast-track demolitions of Palestinian homes, more soldiers in Jerusalem and even tighter restrictions at al-Aqsa.

So where is this heading?

Doubtless Mr Netanyahu is in part proving his credentials to an ever-more religious and intolerant Israeli public. After Saturday’s deaths, Jewish mobs once again patrolled Jerusalem’s streets seeking vengeance.

But he is also cynically exploiting western fears to reinvent the David and Goliath story. He hopes the words “Islamic terrorism” – conjuring up Islamc State’s threats to religious freedom – will scotch western sympathy for Palestinian youths facing armed soldiers.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, warned in his speech to the United Nations last week that Israeli measures were “aimed at imposing a new reality and dividing Haram al-Sharif temporally”.

These are not idle fears. In 1994 Israel capitalised on a horrific massacre of Palestinians perpetrated by a Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein, at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron to justify dividing it.

Today, Jews have prayer rights at the site, enforced by Israeli guns, and central Hebron has been turned into a ghost-town – much as Jerusalem’s Old City looks since the weekend ban on entry for Palestinians.

Most Palestinians fear an Israeli-engineered spiral of violence in Jerusalem will be used to impose a similar division at al-Aqsa.

There is little Abbas can do. His PA is barred from Jerusalem and committed to helping Israeli security elsewhere. Like the Muslim world, he watches helplessly from afar.

Which is why Palestinian youths will continue reaching for the humble stone, exerting what little power they have against a modern Goliath.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is
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Israeli Ethnic Cleansing and the Next Intifada

14th Intifada on the Way and Its Global Ramifications

by Mazin Qumsiyeh -

Below I discuss briefly why I think Israel is intent on ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories, the recent upheaval here and the killing of children, who is Benyamin Mileikowsky (aka Netanyahu) behind the spate of recent war crimes including murdering a 13 year old child (pictures below), ask whether a 14th Intifada on the way and its global ramifications, and progress in building something positive in Bethlehem.

There has been a significant escalation of violence in the apartheid country in the past few days. If this is a new uprising it is expected as we have one on average every 10 years (we had nearly 14 in the past 140 years of Zionist onslaught). When we analyze the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back for this particular wave of unrest, we see the arson attack 31 July 2015 on the Dawabshe family (father, mother and child murdered) and the calls for revenge. Since then some 30 Palestinians and 4 Israelis were killed.

The past week saw further escalation that started with storming Al-Aqsa mosque area with extremist settlers who call for destroying the mosque to build a Jewish temple. A Jewish settler husband and wife were killed by a cell from Hamas (probably acting without direct orders from hierarchy). They were residents of an illegal Israeli colony built on Palestinian land and the husband was a high level Israeli officer (the wife also served in the Israeli military). Whether one supports such actions or not, the action predictably unleashed a torrent of settler revenge attacks supported by the Israeli military.

Netanyahu came back from his US tour after receiving a green light from Washington for ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and for killing Palestinians. He told  his commanders to shoot any Palestinian throwing stones and if they arrest such youth to give them mandatory minimum sentences of 4 years. Settlers and soldiers in turn got the green light to torch cars, shoot civilians, burn crops and more. Tensions escalated and 650 Palestinian civilians were injured and many killed.

Here in Bethlehem a 13 year old child Abdelrahman Obeidallah was gunned down when he was returning from school. Pictures showed he was not participating in the demonstration. It is hard to justify shooting a child in the chest who is not posing a threat. I cried as I paid a visit and extended condolences to his father and other family members today.

In a videotaped incident in Jerusalem, there was clear execution of a young man who was posing no threat. Israeli settlers chased a 19 year old Fadi Alloon heading for his early morning prayers. He tried to get protection even from Israeli police officers but settlers screamed at the police telling them to shoot him and the police followed settler orders without the victim posing any threat to anyone. Full evidence with translation by Ronni Barkan from Hebrew of the Nazi like behavior is found here:

The murderers like in thousands of similar incidents will remain free and even be praised for their actions. It is clear now that there is an orchestrated campaign to destroy native presence here to extend the geography and hegemony of the racist “Jewish state” and western media have done little or no reporting on what is going on in here. The few local reporters trying to cover events are targeted physically and shot at regularly.

Israeli military occupiers decided to close down the old city of Jerusalem selectively to Palestinians while Israeli Jews were allowed in to rampage and taunt and attack the native Jerusalemites (Christians and Muslims). Such a military order shows once again that we are deeper into fascist apartheid.

Palestinians rightly wonder why the cell that firebombed the Dawabsheh family is still free while those who killed the settler couple were tracked down within 24 hours? Denying a city to the native people while opening it up for colonizers is against International law. Murdering at will, injuring hundreds, kidnapping citizens (600 in  September alone) and holding them for months and years without trial, torturing people, demolishing homes. Many consider it a beginning of a new (14th) uprising against the Zionist colonization of Palestine. The conditions of an uprising are indeed there and I explained in detail in my book about its trajectory (see )

The "Arab and Islamic world" and the USA are increasing exposed as collaborators with Netanyahu and company in the slaughter stretching from Yemen to Syria passing through Palestine. Palestinians in the streets  are increasingly frustrated at their own leaders (whose terms have expired and can't seem to let go of their seats).

Political paralysis 

New actors are coming to fill the gap left after the mess created by imperialism here. Russia entered the fray in Syria. Russia entered Syria at the request of the Syrian government while the US did not have such permission nor a decision by the UN Security Council. But more importantly, Russian jets did more damage to ISIS in the first 48 hours that US “coalition” did in one year.

Russia says it will talk to the “moderate rebels” that the US claims to exist if they can be found. Problem is all non-government held territory is in the hands of Nusra, ISIS or others (many of them equipped by USA and its coalition). US security establishment already admitted that most of the weapons they sent to supposed moderate people (mercenaries?) switched to be held by the extremist rebels. Perhaps the US was interested in what Henry Kissinger described as policy is “to get them to kill each other”. Perhaps Russia will upset this and finally succeed in ending 5 years of stalemate in Syria.

The pivot remains here. Leaders of the Zionist forces ordered soldiers to shoot children, to torture prisoners, and to demolish homes and repeat the ethnic cleansing done in 1948. Since he is in the headline for staring down the UN and meeting with world leaders to bully and threaten them, it is worth looking at who Netanyahu is.

Benyamin Mileikowsky (aka Netanyahu) was born to Benzion Mileikowsky (later changed names to Netanyahu), a Polish settler who came to Palestine and to the USA (dual citizenship acquired). His American father became secretary to terrorist leader Vladimir Yevgenyevich Zhabotinsky (aka Zeev Jabotinsky) founder of "revisionist" Zionism and supported groups like Irgun terrorist organization during the mandate in Palestine. His son continues to idolize these early Jewish terrorists.

Both Benjamin and his brother served in units of the Israeli forces responsible for assassinations on foreign lands (in violations of international law) and committed war crimes. He is known both among Israelis and globally as a consummate liar who refused to accept the Oslo accords (even though they were partial to Israel) and has gotten rich off of his political activities. Here is a video of him thinking the camera was off explaining his true contributions during his first stint as Israeli prime minister in the 1990s. .

See also this report: (

This is after all the same terrorist who gave a speech to dozens of Likud Party members in Eilat in which he admitted this is his strategy. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (15 July 2001): " his audience a bit of advice on how to deal with foreign interviewers (Netanyahu said):
"Always, irrespective of whether you're right or not, you must always present your side as right."

In 2011 at the G20 summit, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, described Netanyahu as a liar in a private exchange with US President Barack Obama (it was inadvertently broadcast to journalists). "I cannot stand him. He's a liar," Sarkozy told Obama. US President Obama responded by saying: "You're fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day." (

But Obama was exaggerating: he does not have to deal with Nothingyahu every day. We do and we are sick and tired of it and that is why Abbas's efforts to stem an uprising will fail.

​Sadly civilians suffer for US/Israeli policies of destabilization and mayhem. My view is that Palestine will remain an Achilles heel of western hypocrisy, and the key to conflict generation in Western Asia. Our  freedom will be a key to regional and global stability. Perhaps that is why demonstrations were in over 50 cities and towns in occupied Palestine (including Jaffa, Haifa, Nazareth etc) and dozens of cities around the world. The world is waking up. We pray that politicians do not be the last to wake-up.

Besides engaging in popular resistance, we continue to build for the future. We have several new volunteers at our Palestine Museum of Natural History and Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability at Bethlehem University (see We just had our first rains of the season. Olive picking will commence shortly. We have visitors daily. We plan and execute projects that help people stay on their land and do productive work. We have students learning and growing in their skills. We learn new things every day. Life goes on even in the midst of decades of Zionist genocidal actions. We teach life. Join us, visit us.

Missing the target, forgetting the point, forgetting the profession by Dr Paola Manduca

Stay human

Mazin Qumsiyeh
Professor, Bethlehem University
HumanRights newsletter

Raw Logs for TPP? What The Big Deal Means

Are raw log exports part of the TPP trade deal?

by Peter Ewart - News 250

October 7, 2015

The Harper Conservatives need to answer a simple question. Are raw log exports part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal? This, along with any other changes to Canada’s forestry policy, is something that British Columbians and Canadians need to know, and they need to know before the October 19 election.

Throughout these negotiations the Harper government has been hyper-secretive about the TPP negotiations, but has indicated that, even though a deal has been signed, the full text and fine print will not be revealed until long after the election.

Why is this a concern? As noted in an earlier column this summer in 250 News (1), a secret memo was leaked from the Foreign Affairs department of the federal government acknowledging that, as part of the TPP process, intense negotiations were taking place on the issue of lifting forestry tariffs put up by member countries.

However, in return, the memo says, “discussion with Japan are ongoing but have been difficult. Japan has very clearly linked the elimination of forestry tariffs to B.C. eliminating or significantly modifying log export controls” and that Canada’s efforts to delink the two [issues] “are becoming increasingly difficult” (2).

Simultaneous to this, several major articles in Eastern Establishment newspapers were published on the topic. For example, Jack Mintz (one of the main promoters of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in BC during the referendum several years ago) wrote a column advocating for the end of raw log export restrictions (3). Conservative-friendly Mintz was described by Maclean’s Magazine as an economist whose expertise “the Harper government values, very, very, very … much” (4).

Likewise, in tag-team style, former Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay wrote another column with Mintz in the Globe and Mail calling for the raw log export restrictions to be ended (5).

In addition, the Fraser Institute, which has been a strong supporter of the Harper government on many issues, published a report claiming that “removing all restrictions on log exports as a trade agreement could leverage concessions of a similar size that would benefit British Columbia and Canada” (6).

Fast forward to this week when the TPP deal has been signed. As previously noted, the Harper government does not plan to reveal the text and details of this deal until after the election is over.

Is this acceptable? Shouldn’t Canadians, and British Columbians in particular, be informed before casting their ballot on October 19th about any change to raw log export restrictions, given that lifting these restrictions could mean even more job losses, mill closures, and outsourcing that has already plagued the forest industry.

Furthermore, does this TPP trade deal freeze in place existing levels of raw log exports which are already at record levels? Such types of “freezing” have been common practice in other trade deals such as NAFTA. In that regard, it would be particularly galling in coming years for British Columbians to see raw log exports being maintained at high levels, while BC mills are being shut down for lack of timber.

What would be even more galling is to see Canadian multinational forest companies setting up operations in other TTP countries and processing exported logs from BC in joint ventures.

Using Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses which are said to be included in the TPP agreement, multinational companies can “challenge regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings” and sue for damages. Will these clauses be used to challenge raw log export restrictions and other forestry policies (7)? Clarification is needed now.

Given the stakes, workers, contractors, value-added producers, forestry businesses, and community leaders in British Columbia have every justification to demand answers about a trade deal that has been negotiated behind closed doors without even the opposition parties knowing what is going on.

The big forestry multinationals are hailing the deal which they claim will give them access to new foreign markets and bring them prosperity (8). Why do they have inside information and everyone else in the forestry industry is in the dark? What has been given up and who has been sacrificed to provide them with what appears to be a sweetheart deal?

End the mystery. If the Harper government wants to use the TPP deal in an attempt to gain votes, then he must reveal the full contents of this deal and how it could affect, not just the big companies, but all sections of the forest industry, as well as forestry-based communities.

The questions remain: Are raw log export restrictions part of the TPP deal? And what else has been negotiated that could impact the forestry sector?

Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at:

Ewart, Peter. “TPP trade deal – Will restrictions on raw log exports be eliminated?” 250 News. July 8, 2015.
“Trans-Pacific Partnership talks: Canada, Japan at odds over B.C. timber.” Canadian Press. July 6, 2015.
Mintz, Jack. “TPP should raze forest protectionism.” Financial Post. June 29, 2015.
Wherry, Aaron. “Idea Alert.” Maclean’s Magazine. 24, 2012.
Findlay, Martha Hall & Jack Mintz. “Here’s Canada’s way forward on supply management.” Globe and Mail. June 10, 2015.
Wood, Joel & Ian Herzog. “Log export policy for British Columbia.” Fraser Institute. June 2014.
Johnson, Dave. “Now we know why huge TPP trade deal is kept secret from the public.” Huffington Post. March 27, 2015.
“Mining, forestry companies hail TPPA.” com. October 6, 2015.