Saturday, May 06, 2017

Our Brave New Tomorrows: "Yes" to Nukes, "No" to Treaty Ban

United States Says ‘Yes’ to Nuclear Weapons Tests, ‘No’ to a Treaty Ban

by John Laforge - CounterPunch

May 5, 2017 

Twice in seven days the United States shot nuclear-capable long-range missiles toward the Martial Islands, but the same government refused in March to join negotiations for a new treaty banning nuclear weapons.

Tests conducted April 26 and May 3 from Vandenberg Air Force Base launched modernized Minuteman-3 ballistic missiles, and the US Air Force said in a statement that such tests ensure “the United States’ ability to maintain a strong, credible nuclear deterrent as a key element of US national security…”

In late March, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley explained why the US would boycott the “treaty ban” negotiations that began March 27 at the UN in New York City. Amb. Haley said about nuclear weapons,

“[W]e can’t honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have them, and those of us that are good, trying to keep peace and safety not to have them.” 

North Korean president Kim Jong-un could have said the same thing about his seven nuclear warheads, especially in view of US bombs and missiles currently falling on seven countries — Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya — and engagement in massive war games off the Korean peninsula.

Amb. Haley managed to avoid being two-faced on one level. Joining the ban treaty talks would have been tactless and seamy while her colleagues in the war department were preparing both new nuclear weapons production and a series of test launches. Another April test, at the Tonopah bombing range in Nevada, dropped a so-called “B61-12” the newest US H-bomb now in development and scheduled to go into production after 2022.

Jackie Cabasso, of the Western States Legal Foundation, explained April 20

“In 1997… President Bill Clinton signed Presidential Directive-60, reaffirming the threatened first use of nuclear weapons as the ‘cornerstone’ of US national security.… President Obama left office with the US poised to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to maintain and modernize its nuclear bombs and warheads…. Over the past couple of years, the US has conducted a series of drop tests of the newly modified B61-12 gravity bomb…. Each new bomb will cost more than twice its weight in solid gold.” 

Of the 480 B61s slated to become B61-12s, about 180 are scheduled to be placed at six NATO bases in Europe.

US military: “We are prepared to use nuclear weapons”

As it did Feb. 21 and Feb. 25, 2016, the Air Force regularly tests Minuteman-3s. Deputy Pentagon Chief Robert Work explained before the Feb. 25 launch that the US had tested “at least” 15 since January 2011, “And that is a signal … that we are prepared to use nuclear weapons in defense of our country if necessary.” This is a Big Lie. To “use” nuclear weapons produces only massacres, and massacres are never defensive.

Jason Ditz put the rocket tests in context for April 26 US Test-Fires Long-Range, Nuke-Capable ICBM:

“Everywhere and (mostly) without exception, the test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) would be angrily condemned by the United States as a dangerous provocation, and the firing of a nuclear-capable rocket would be treated as tantamount to an act of war. Not today [April 26], of course, when the missile in question was test-fired from California by the United States flying some 4,000 miles before hitting a test target near the Marshall Islands. The missile was identified as a Minuteman III, a nuclear-capable weapon of which the US has 450 in service.”

The two times Amb. Haley flubbed her March 27 “peace and safety” speech were alarming. Haley stumbled once saying, “We would love to have a ban on nuclear treat… nuclear weapons.” A ban on nuclear treaties is clearly what Haley’s bosses do want. So she didn’t correct herself when she said,

“One day we will hope that we are standing here saying, ‘We no longer need nuclear weapons.’” 

Translation: today the US does not even hope to get rid of nuclear weapons.

Instead, the United States is simultaneously bombing and rocketing across the Middle East, hitting civilians with drones, Cruise missiles, depleted uranium, and even a 21,600-pound “Massive Ordnance Air Blast” or MOAB bomb, also tested April 13 but against caves Afghanistan. This giant “thermobaric” or “fuel-air” explosive (FAE) has the mass of five Lincoln Continentals, and reportedly killed 95 people including a teacher and his son. Such is the peace and safety delivered by “those of us that are good.”

One Defense Intelligence Agency report uncovered by Human Rights Watch said that because “shock and pressure waves cause minimal damage to brain tissue…it is possible that victims of FAEs are not rendered unconscious by the blast, but instead suffer for several seconds or minutes while they suffocate.”

On March 29, two days after her UN speech Amb. Haley spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations and cleared up any confusion the Pentagon’s bombing spree might cause. Haley declared,

“The United States is the moral conscience of the world.”

Well, “And I,” Dorothy Parker said, “am Marie of Romania.” 
John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.
More articles by:John Laforge

Charts and Cheat Sheets: Liberals Paying Debt Forward for BC's Kids

Why the BC Liberal economic record is actually worse than the NDP’s in 90’s

by Damien Gillis - Common Sense Canadian

May 5, 2017

Many people are ready for a change in Victoria. Christy Clark is one of the least popular candidates for premier in BC history and, after 16 years of scandal-filled rule, her Liberal Party has tried British Columbians’ patience to the extreme. Yet every day on social media, I run across a familiar refrain: “Better than going back to the NDP’s lost decade.”

Clearly, that narrative is so deeply embedded that it threatens to keep the NDP out of government yet again. But memory, science now teaches us, is unreliable.

Courtesy of Norm Farrell/In-sights

It can play tricks on us. In order to make an informed decision on May 9, voters need to know the hard facts about BC’s economic history – a straight up comparison between the two credible options in this election. A serious examination of the best available data on key metrics reveals that British Columbians have far more to fear from another four years of the Christy Clark Liberals running our economy than they do taking a chance on John Horgan and the NDP.

Debt Bomb

For a government that claims to “balance budgets”, it’s astounding to consider how much debt the Liberals have racked up on our behalf. While the NDP grew the provincial debt by roughly $17 Billion over their decade in power, the Liberals had added $33 Billion by the end of the last fiscal year. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They’ve saddled BC Hydro with $24 Billion in debt and “deferrals”, plus another $58 Billion in unnecessary, sweetheart private power contracts, on which we lose over a billion dollars every year. This also explains the almost doubling of your power bills during their reign. And that’s before the unnecessary Site C Dam, which won’t be paid off until at least 2094! Here’s what UBC’s Dr. Karen Bakker had to say on the subject after she and a team of researchers published their damning report on Site C’s economics:

Site C will be 100 per cent surplus when it’s finished in 2024. That surplus energy will have to be sold, will have to be exported, from the province and B.C. Hydro’s own numbers show that those exports will occur at a high loss. Our figures show that loss will be about $800 million and could be as high as $2 billion.

That’s just if the Liberal Government manages to keep to its $9 Billion budget for the project – hard to conceive of when their top 5 capital projects to date have doubled in cost, going over budget by a whopping $3.3 Billion (compare that with the NDP’s fast ferries, which went over by $250 million).

All this fiscal mismanagement has taken a huge toll. Add up our official provincial debt and liabilities ($84.3 Billion, according to the Comptroller General), then factor in hidden taxpayer obligations from private contracts for electricity and infrastructure building ($101 Billion, according to the Auditor General) and you get $185.7 Billion of real debt for BC, up from $39 Billion when the Liberals took over from the NDP. That’s about $40,000 for every man, woman and child in the province – double the per capita debt of the next closest province, Ontario, even when you factor in their own “additional taxpayer obligations”.

The BC Liberals also sold off one strategically vital and financially healthy crown corporation, BC Rail, and ran two others – ICBC and Hydro – into the ground, taking half billion to a billion dollar annual profits and turning them into equally large deficits.

The inputs into BC’s tax coffers are declining in other places as well. For instance, huge royalty giveaways to the gas sector have sucked billions out of our provincial revenues. As renowned geologist and shale gas expert David Hughes explains, “[BC’s gas] production has doubled since 2005 whereas revenue is down 87%”. The same thing can be said for stumpage fees from logging, which have sunk to pathetic levels over the past decade.

Given all this, the only way the Liberals can lay any claim to “balanced budgets” is by shunting debt into other accounts and onto the backs of ratepayers and crown corporations, while cutting services to the public. The effects of these debts may not be immediately visible – but they are guaranteed to be borne by young British Columbians and future generations for decades to come. BC’s credit rating is now under threat due to BC Hydro’s shaky position, which means servicing that growing debt is going to become even more costly going forward.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

One of the most telling moments during the televised leaders’ debate was this exchange between moderator Jennifer Burke and Christy Clark:

Clark went on to her mantra that she’s created 226,000 jobs. Even if it were true that British Columbians don’t care about anything else, or that jobs are a panacea for all BC’s socioeconomic ills, how true is her claim that NDP were so much worse for jobs than her government is?

The NDP inherited a high unemployment rate of 10% from the Socreds and saw that decline fairly steadily to 7.2 % in 2000 (BC’s lowest rate since the early 80’s) – the last full year before they left office. Things got worse early on under the Campbell Liberals, but that can be partly attributed to the tech bust and other factors beyond their control.

Throughout Christy Clark’s tenure, BC’s unemployment rate has come down from 7.5% to around 6% today – on the surface, marginally better than then NDP in the late 90’s. But let’s also not forget that Christy came to power in 2011 on the heels of the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression – a natural period for job growth (the NDP faced their own challenges from the global economy int he 90’s). So how much credit can Christy take for these jobs? According to a group of leading BC economists, very little. “I would say the [increase in jobs] is mainly due to market forces,” said Helmut Pastrick, chief economist of Central 1 Credit Union.

It’s also important to consider the specific nature of the jobs we’re creating and losing. For instance, most of the new jobs under Christy’s reign have come in urban centres. “The rest of the economic regions in B.C.— the interior, the north, they are actually losing jobs, and that is worrisome,” says Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ economist Iglika Ivanova.

Rural British Columbians know all too well the harsh realities of the BC Liberal job record. On their watch we’ve gone from 100,000 jobs in forestry, wood product manufacturing and pulp and paper to just 60,000 – largely due to poor government management, mill closures and raw log exports. And what of the 100,000 short term and 60,000 longterm LNG jobs Clark won the last election by promising? A handful of short term jobs on projects since shelved. Zero plants or longterm jobs on the horizon, as the bottom has predictably fallen out of the Asian LNG market.

Finally, many of the jobs Clark has created are low-wage, part-time, short-term, and without benefits. Here’s what a recent report from The Vancouver Sun had to say on the topic:

…an analysis of the federal labour force survey shows the share of part-time jobs has steadily grown here, from 15 per cent in 1976 to nearly a quarter of all jobs in 2016.

In fact, Statistics Canada data shows, of the 72,000 new jobs created in 2016, more than half were part-time.

Adds UBC Sauder School of Business Professor Mark Thompson, “They overlook the fact that we lag the rest of the country in full-time jobs and that the rate of wage increases has been amongst the worst in Canada.”

Unliveable Costs

Even if Christy Clark was telling the truth about her job creation record, what good is a job if you can’t afford your rent and bills? This is why affordability has become the biggest issue of this election. When Christy’s predecessor Gordon Campbell took office, the average price of a detached home in Greater Vancouver was about $369,000. That peaked last year at over $1.8 million! And Christy owns this one much more than Campbell. Since her Johnny-come-lately foreign buyers’ tax, the market for detached homes has cooled a little, but now it’s condos on the rise. The most dramatic increases have happened on Christy’s watch, as a Global News story from a year ago explained:

…[The Real Estate Board of Vancouver’s] data shows the average price of a single-family detached home in the Greater Vancouver area has increased as much in the past five months as it did from 1981 to 2005.

The average price of a sold detached home was $1.4 million in September last year [2015] – but climbed to $1.6 million in October, $1.7 million in December, and $1.8 million last month – overall, an increase of $420,000.

At the pocketbook level, what used to be among North America’s most affordable power bills have almost doubled since the Liberals came to power. ICBC premiums are headed in the same direction . In 2001, there were no bridge tolls in the Lower Mainland; today, people are being nickle-and-dimed to death, or driving extra distances to avoid tolled routes. Childcare costs have skyrocketed – which has even the Board of Trade raising alarms over the negative effect on our economy. Meanwhile, for BC’s least advantaged, disability and welfare rates have barely moved.

Time after time, we hear stories of bright tech employees turning down jobs in Vancouver or young, talented professionals fleeing the city for rural communities or other provinces. We don’t yet have a grasp on the real cost of this brain drain of the Liberals’ making.

One financial metric is way up under the Liberals’ reign: corporate donations to the Liberal Party. If we judge her on this factor alone, Christy Clark is a bona-fide financial wizard. But by many other measures, it’s high time British Columbians came to realize they have far less to fear with the NDP than they’ve been told and a whole lot to lose by sticking with the BC Liberals.

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.
More articles by Damien Gillis

Entrench and Suppress: Canada's Efforts at "Aid" in Palestine

Canada’s Effort to suppress “Popular Protests” against Israeli Occupation

by Yves Engler - Dissident Voice

May 5th, 2017

The Canadian media has mostly ignored recent Palestinian efforts to non-violently disrupt a half-century old occupation. They’ve barely reported on a prisoners’ hunger strike and associated solidarity protests, let alone Canada’s effort to suppress “popular protests” in the West Bank.

Around 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons have been on hunger strike since April 17. In the occupied West Bank thousands of protesters have taken to the streets and gone on strike in solidarity with the 6,500 Palestinians currently imprisoned by Israel.

Long-held Palestinian Fatah Party leader,
Marwan Bargouti on hunger strike since April 24, 2017

The issue resonates with Palestinians since Israel has arrested 40% of the West Bank’s male population — 800,000 people — since 1967.

The hunger strike is directed at the occupying regime, but, it’s also a challenge to the “subcontractor of the Occupation” – the Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Mahmoud Abbas. Ramzy Baround labelled it “a revolt within Fatah against their disengaged leadership, and a frantic attempt by all Palestinians to demonstrate their ability to destabilize the Israeli-American-PA matrix of control.”

Nazareth-based commentator Jonathan Cook points out that Abbas wants the hunger strike to end since it threatens his negotiations with Donald Trump and “tight security cooperation with Israel.”

Growing opposition to PA security coordination with Israel is an important backdrop to the hunger strike and recent protests. For years PA security forces have been providing information to Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency and Israel often arrests Palestinian activists after they’ve been released from PA detention. Israeli soldiers recent assassination of prominent activist Basel al-Araj, after being released from PA detention, sparked protests against PA security cooperation with Israel. In mid-March Amnesty International criticized a PA security assault that hospitalized 17 Palestinians protesting security cooperation with Israel after al-Araj’s death.

Like all colonial authorities throughout history, Israel has looked to compliant locals to take up the occupation’s security burden. What is unique about the PA security forces’ operations are their international ties. In a 2011 story detailing how PA security “undermine efforts by Palestinians to challenge the occupation”, Adam Shatz writes: “It is an extraordinary arrangement: the security forces of a country under occupation are being subcontracted by third parties outside the region to prevent resistance to the occupying power, even as that power continues to grab more land.”

Since the mid-2000s Palestinian security forces have been trained by US, British and Canadian troops and police at the US-built International Police Training Center in Jordan (established to train Iraqi security after the 2003 invasion). Part of the US Security Coordinator office in Jerusalem, the Canadian military mission in the West Bank also trains and aids Palestinian security forces. Dubbed Operation Proteus, Canada’s involvement includes Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers as well as officials from the foreign ministry, Justice Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency. In a September 2010 interview with The Jerusalem Post, minister of state for foreign affairs Peter Kent said Operation Proteus was Canada’s “second largest deployment after Afghanistan” and it received “most of the money” from a five-year $300 million Canadian “aid” program to the PA.

With little media attention, over the past decade tens (possibly hundreds) of millions of dollars in Canadian aid money has gone to training and supporting a Palestinian security force that serves as an arm of Israel’s occupation. Internal government documents unearthed by Postmedia’s Lee Berthiaume confirm that as the overriding objective of Canada’s $300 million five-year aid program to the Palestinians.

There have been increasing references in the past months during high-level bilateral meetings with the Israelis about the importance and value they place on Canada’s assistance to the Palestinian Authority, most notably in security/justice reform,” read a November 2012 note signed by former Canadian International Development Agency president Margaret Biggs.

“The Israelis have noted the importance of Canada’s contribution to the relative stability achieved through extensive security co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.” 

The heavily censored note suggests the goal of Canadian “aid” was to protect a corrupt Mahmoud Abbas, whose electoral mandate expired in 2009, from popular backlash. Biggs explained that,

“The emergence of popular protests on the Palestinian street against the Palestinian Authority is worrying and the Israelis have been imploring the international donor community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority.”

Berthiaume effectively confirmed that Canadian aid money is used to train a Palestinian security force to serve as an arm of Israel’s occupation, but this startling information has simply been sent down the memory hole. While Berthiaume’s article was published in a number of Postmedia papers, there was no commentary in a major paper or follow-up stories about Biggs’ internal note or Operation Proteus (with the exception of stories in small town papers covering individual police or soldiers leaving for the mission).

Two years before Berthiaume’s revelation I emailed Globe and Mail Middle East correspondent Patrick Martin about Canada’s aid/military mission to support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. I wrote,

“Hi Pat, not sure if you saw Peter Kent’s comment on Operation Proteus, Canada’s military mission in the West Bank. In a recent interview with the Jerusalem Post Kent dubbed Proteus Canada’s ‘second largest deployment after Afghanistan’ and said it receives ‘most of the money’ from a five-year $300 million Canadian aid program to the Palestinians. It’s an issue that has barely been discussed and I thought it might interest you. Below is a piece I recently wrote partly on it.” 

Martin responded, “it’s a good idea”, but the Globe has yet to publish anything on Operation Proteus or Biggs’ comment that Canadian aid to the PA was designed to suppress “popular protest” by a people suffering under a 50-year illegal occupation. (During John Baird’s 2012 trip to Ramallah Martin quoted the then foreign minister saying Canada was “incredibly thrilled” by the West Bank security situation, which Baird said benefited Israel).

It’s not too late for the Globe and other media to cover Canada’s role in suppressing “popular protests” in the West Bank. Operation Proteus continues with Brigadier-General Conrad Joseph John Mialkowski recently appointed the new head of the military mission.

When Canada’s five-year aid package to the PA concluded in 2013 the Stephan Harper government extended it and the government’s website says $30 million was dispersed to Palestinians in 2014–15 (the last year cited).

The Canadian media should cover the prisoners’ hunger strike and its challenge to PA security cooperation with Israel. Even better, it ought to report on Canada’s role in entrenching Israel’s 50-year-old occupation.

Yves Engler is the author of A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Canada in Africa: 300 years of aid and exploitation. Read other articles by Yves.

Shocked to the Marrow: Creating Yemen's Killing Fields

In Yemen, Shocked to His Bones

by Kathy Kelly - Dissident Voice

May 5th, 2017

Yemen stands as the worst-threatened of four countries where impending famine conditions have been said to comprise the single-worst humanitarian crisis since the founding of the U.N. On May 2nd, 2017, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs published a grim infographic detailing conditions inYemen where 17 million Yemenis — or around 60 percent of the population — are unable to access food.

The U.S. and its allies continue to bomb Yemen.

Jan Egeland, who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), says that seven million Yemeni people are on the brink of famine. “I am shocked to my bones,” said Egeland, following a five day visit to Yemen. “The world is letting some 7 million men, women and children slowly but surely be engulfed…” Egeland blames this catastrophe on “men with guns and power in regional and international capitals who undermine every effort to avert an entirely preventable famine, as well as the collapse of health and educational services for millions of children.” Egeland and the NRC call on all parties to the conflict, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, the U.S. and the U.K. to negotiate a cease fire.

This weekend, the situation stands poised to become dramatically worse with the apparently imminent bombing, by Saudi Arabia, one of the U.S.’ closest allies, of the aid lifeline which is the port of Hodeida.

Egeland stresses the vital importance of keeping humanitarian aid flowing through Hodeida, a port which stands mere days or hours from destruction. “The Saudi-led, Western-backed military coalition has threatened to attack the port,” said Egeland, “which would likely destroy it and cut supplies to millions of hungry civilians.” U.S. congress people demanding a stay on destruction of the port have as yet won no concessions from the Saudi or U.S governments.

The U.S. Government has as yet sounded no note of particular urgency about ending or suspending the conflict, nor has its close ally in the Saudi dictatorship. Saudi Arabia’s Defense Minister, Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently gave “a positive view of the war in Yemen.” (New York Times, May 2, 2017). He believes that Saudi forces could quickly uproot the Houthi rebels, but rather than endanger Saudi troops he says “the coalition is waiting for the rebels to tire out.”

“Time is in our favor,” he added.

The ruins carpeted the city market, rippling outwards in waves of destruction. Broken beams, collapsed roofs, exploded metal shutters and fossilized merchandise crumbled underfoot.

In one of the burnt-out shells of the shops where raisins, nuts, fabrics, incense and stone pots were traded for hundreds of years, all that was to be found was a box of coke bottles, a sofa and a child nailing wooden sticks together.

This is Sa’ada, ground zero of the 20-month Saudi campaign in Yemen, a largely forgotten conflict that has killed more than 10,000, uprooted 3 million and left more than half the country short of food, many on the brink of starvation
— Gaith Abdul-Ahad in The Guardian,12/9/16 

Even if Hodeida is spared, reduced import levels of food and fuel from the Saudi-imposed naval blockade puts the price of desperately needed essentials beyond the reach of the poorest. Meanwhile prolonged conflict, dragged out by a regime that feels “time is on its side” and punctuated by deadly airstrikes, has displaced the needy to those areas where food insecurity is the highest.

Refugees from three North African countries where conflict is also threatening to impose terrible famine have Yemen on their route to escaping the continent, so they have fled conflict and famine only to be trapped in the worst of this dreadful year’s arriving tragedies.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, describes the present situation, two years since Saudi airstrikes escalated the conflict:

“The violent deaths of refugees fleeing yet another war, of fishermen, of families in marketplaces – this is what the conflict in Yemen looks like two years after it began…utterly terrible, with little apparent regard for civilian lives and infrastructure.
“The fighting in Hodeida has left thousands of civilians trapped – as was the case in Al Mokha in February – and has already compromised badly-needed deliveries of humanitarian assistance. Two years of wanton violence and bloodshed, thousands of deaths and millions of people desperate for their basic rights to food, water, health and security – enough is enough. I urge all parties to the conflict, and those with influence, to work urgently towards a full ceasefire to bring this disastrous conflict to an end, and to facilitate rather than block the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

Time is on no-one’s side as regards the crisis in Yemen. As nightmare visions of living skeletons with bloated bellies and pleading eyes once more appear on the planet’s TV screens, we in the U.S. will have missed a vital chance to avert a world in which untold millions are to be shocked to their bones.

Kathy Kelly co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence. In Kabul, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. (In the late ‘80s she spent one year in prison for planting corn on nuclear missile silo sites). Read other articles by Kathy.

Leaving Guantánamo: When Freedom Really Isn't Free

Life After Guantánamo: Yemeni Freed in Estonia Says, “Part of Me is Still at Guantánamo” 

by Andy Worthington


Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

For some months now, I’ve been meaning to post a handful of articles about former Guantánamo prisoners resettled in third countries, as part of my ongoing efforts not only to tell the stories of the men still held in Guantánamo and to call for the prison’s closure, but also to focus what has happened to released prisoners, especially those resettled in third countries, as part of an ongoing process of encouraging people to reflect on what the United States’ responsibilities ought to be towards men resettled in third countries without any internationally agreed arrangements regarding their status.

In recent months, I have written about Mansoor al-Dayfi, a Yemeni released in Serbia, and, earlier this week, Tariq al-Sawah, an Egyptian released in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In a handful of new articles, I’ll be catching up on some stories that were published last year, but that I didn’t get the opportunity to cover at the time, and the first of these is about Ahmed Abdul Qader, a Yemeni who was given a new home in Estonia in January 2015.

Last spring, Charlie Savage of the New York Times visited Estonia to meet with Qader and to interview him, over a number of days, for a story, “After Yemeni’s 13 Years in Guantánamo, Freedom for the Soul Takes Longer,” which was published in the New York Times at the end of July.

Savage described how he spoke to Qader “in his apartment, strolling through Tallinn’s medieval Old Town, and riding a city bus to Estonia’s Islamic Center,” and he painted a powerful portrait of a young man deprived of almost half his life in Guantánamo, who never had any involvement with terrorism, and who he found trying hard to make a new life for himself in a country with a supportive government, but with few Muslims (and with no other former Guantánamo prisoners), and, of course, with no members of his own family.

As Savage described it, Qader was “about 17,” and “an overweight Yemeni teenager suspected of being a terrorist” when he was taken to Guantánamo in June 2002. “When he left,” he added, “he was past 30, his hair thinning, and about to start a new life in Estonia, a tiny Baltic country he had never heard of before it had decided to resettle a detainee a few months earlier.”

In the Estonian capital, Tallinn, he was provided with “a modestly furnished studio apartment,” but, as Savage described it, “the past, he soon realized, was not so easy to escape. Snow was falling, and he was eager to touch it. He started for the door, then suddenly panicked, fearful that something — he was not sure what — could go wrong if he went outside.”

This fear is commonplace amongst from prisoners, who fear, after years of threats, that they could be picked up and “disappeared” again. As Qader explained,

“Any trouble I get myself in now — even an honest mistake — will be a hundred times worse than if any normal person did it.”
He added, “I thought that after two months’ release, I’d be back to normal, but I cannot live my life regularly. I try, but it is like part of me is still at Guantánamo.”

As Savage described it, Qader “expressed gratitude to Estonia for taking him in,” and he noted that it is the country’s refugee program that “provides him with the apartment, health care, language classes, a small monthly stipend and a mentor to help him navigate daily life.”

Savage added that Qader “smiled often and spoke with optimism about the future” when they talked, but “also lapsed into despondency about his separation from his family, his lost youth, and his ‘hurt’ when people call him a terrorist.”

He also noted that Qader “portrayed himself as paralyzed by anxiety about what others — the police, potential friends or employers — will assume about him.” As Qader said,

“Thirteen years of my life I wasted, and it’s not because of something I did. It’s because something went wrong around me, and I got the blame for it.”

Charlie Savage then ran briefly through Guantánamo’s history, particularly focusing on how “ambiguity” continues to surround the release of men like Qader, “deemed safe enough to transfer, but never proven guilty or innocent,” and the focused on the circumstances surrounding his capture.

As I have explained in detail over the years, Qader was seized with around 16 other men — many of whom “claimed to be religious students” — at a guesthouse in Faisalabad, Pakistan at the end of March 2002, at the same time that another raid led to the capture of Abu Zubaydah, a supposed “high-value detainee,” for whom the Bush administration’s torture program was first developed, even though his supposed significance has evaporated over the years.

In June 2002, he was flown to Guantánamo, and, as Savage noted, he “vividly recall[ed] the ‘long, long, long’ flight to Cuba — limbs immobilized, eyes and ears blocked, destination unknown.” On arrival ,he said, the guards “were often rough.” As Savage explained, an Estonian doctor “is treating him for ligament damage in his knees and shoulder — the result, he said, of treatment like being kicked into the kneeling position or being forced to kneel on concrete with his arms extended.”

When Savage asked what provoked his punishment, Qader sang a lyric from ‘Les Misérables,’ as sung by a prisoner: “Look down, look down / Don’t look ’em in the eye.”

Every few months, Qader said, he “was brought to a trailer and questioned,” telling interrogators that, “after completing the ninth grade in Yemen in 1999, he had traveled to Pakistan intending to study religion and computers, and to do charitable relief work.” He claimed that, “With the financial support of his father, he traveled around, staying for several months at a time in different guesthouses.” He also crossed into Afghanistan, where, he said, “he met several Taliban members who invited him to an area north of Kabul behind the front lines in their war against the Northern Alliance,” where he stayed for “about 10 months.”

As Savage described it, “Reports summarizing his early interrogations say he was ‘issued’ a rifle and ‘trained’ to use it, but Qader, claimed that translators “had put an exaggerated gloss on his words.” He told Savage that “a Taliban member spent a few minutes showing him how to hold and shoot a rifle, and he never ‘owned’ one.” He also “insisted, then and now, that he never fought or enlisted with any group, and in late 2001, he returned to Pakistan, where he was eventually arrested.”

Crucially, in January 2003, an interrogator, writing about Qader’s case, stated, “As unusual as this source’s story sounds, I don’t think he is hiding the truth.”

However as so often at Guantánamo, “when the interrogators showed his photograph to other detainees, some claimed he was involved with Al Qaeda,” allegations that fall away when scrutinized, as most of those making the allegations have, over the years, been unambiguously identified as unreliable witnesses. Of more relevance was his behavior in Guantánamo, and in the 2008 file released by WikiLeaks he was described as “noncompliant and hostile to the guard force.” However, as he explained to Savage, “in 2007, believing certain guards treated him unfairly, he ‘pushed back’ by refusing for a while to obey orders, like to leave a yard when his outdoors time was up.”

Speaking of his time at Guantánamo, Qader said that his initial “bewilderment” at being there “gave way to routine,” and Savage added that conditions “gradually improved,” as well as noting that, “[b]y reading books and talking to guards, he learned English.”

In 2009, he was approved for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, a high-level, inter-agency review process established by President Obama. Savage noted that, “according to someone who read its report,” the task force “concluded he had not conducted or facilitated any terrorist activity against the United States or its allies.”

However, after a failed attempt by an al-Qaeda recruit to detonate a bomb on a Detroit-bound plane in December 2009, all releases to Yemen were halted, and an effort to secure his release via a habeas corpus petition also failed. As Savage described it,

“The moratorium spurred the Justice Department to appeal government losses in habeas corpus lawsuits, and in 2010, an appeals court instructed judges to interpret ambiguous evidence more toward the government.”

Victories by prisoners came to an end, after successful habeas petitions in over three dozen cases, and Qader’s petition, brought by Wesley Powell, a New York lawyer, was turned down in October 2011.

After that, Qader said, he “lived on a cellblock for the most compliant and westernized detainees — those who liked watching American movies despite actresses with uncovered heads,” and when the prison-wide hunger strike took place in 2013, “they did not participate, he said, although he had sometimes participated in earlier such protests.”

By 2014 the Obama administration finally “stopped waiting for Yemen to stabilize and began pressing other countries to resettle stranded Yemenis,” as Charlie Savage described it, leading to Estonia’s offer to take Qader. Jeffrey Levine, the US ambassador to Estonia at the time, said, “Estonia understood the value in demonstrating its reliability as a friend and ally and was willing to help us.”

Ian Moss, the chief of staff in the State Department office involving in negotiating the transfer of prisoners out of Guantánamo, recalled when Qader was interviewed by Estonian officials. Asked when he was born (he says his date of birth is November 1984, though some US some files say 1983), he replied, instead, “My birthday will be the day I leave Guantánamo.”

On arrival in Estonia, Qader recalled that he initially “processed everything in his new country ‘like a newborn,’” although the timing of his release was unfortunate — just a week after a terrorist attack in Paris and with anti-immigrant sentiment mounting as the Syrian refugee crisis unfolded, and Europeans began to turn their back on the charitable impulses their religions expected them to hold. Qader said he remembered thinking,

“I will never be free until I get my name cleared. I will always be ‘that guy who was in Guantánamo.’”

However, he decided instead “to keep a low profile, declining interviews and telling few people about his past.” That first summer, he was given an apprenticeship by a shop in Tallinn, and, to his surprise, the owner later told him “how he came to suspect that the refugee” he gave a job to “was the Guantánamo detainee he had read about in the news media.” The man said he had looked up his file online, but “concluded that its terrorism accusations were ‘all bullshit.’” One day, he told Qader he was “famous.” Qader said he “acknowledged who he was, expecting to be told to leave,’ but instead the owner “invited him to visit his mother on an Estonian island.” Qader said he was “apprehensive about leaving Tallinn,” and “hesitated for days,” but eventually made the visit.

Savage noted, however, that not every Estonian had welcomed Qader. In the fall of 2015, “a drunken neighbor began hassling him about being a foreigner,” and when the situation escalated, when “the neighbor threatened him with a gun and put garbage at his door,” he was obliged to call the police. Fortunately, the harassment ceased, but two police officers then turned up and questioned him, “asking where he came from” and how he had money. When he explained, he said, “they conferred in Estonian; he understood the word ‘Cuba.’” Although they told him “not to worry,” Qader “said he could not sleep for four days.”

Now, he said, when he “contemplates the future,” he “feels like a man holding a ‘small candle.’” He said,

“People tell me ‘don’t look back, look forward,’ but the problem is when I look forward, it is dark. That is what scares me the most.”

As Savage noted, at the time of his visit the Estonian government had “recently extended his residency permit by two years,” although he was still struggling to adapt. Estonia’s population of 1.3 million people “includes only a few thousand Muslims and fewer Arabs,” halal food is hard to come by, and Qader, understandably, was “interpret[ing] stares on the bus as hostile.” He told Savage he “would like to return home,” but “feared that Yemeni or American security forces might mistakenly decide he was working with terrorists and jail him again — or kill him with a drone.”

Asked what he thought about the US, Qader told Charlie Savage that “he understood why, after Sept. 11, it would detain him,” but added that the US “should have freed him after a year or two.” Holding him for so long, he said, “hurt me very bad.”

As Savage put it, he emphasized that he is “not out for revenge,” but “begged” US officials “to consider helping him move on by clearing his name.” As he described it, “Now you let me go. Thank you very much. No hard feelings. But just let me go for real. Say, ‘This guy, we hold him this long and we were mistaken, we’re sorry,’ and show people the truth.”

To my mind, that is an entirely reasonable request. However, lawyers advising the US government would never agree, as admitting responsibility for any kind of wrongful detention would open the floodgates to compensation claims. Whether consciously or not, Lee Wolosky, the State Department’s special envoy for the closing of Guantánamo in President Obama’s last few years in office, told Savage that “no apology is warranted” for Qader’s imprisonment. “The United States was correct to pick him up when and where we did and to detain him for a period of years,” he said, adding, “We were also right ultimately to release him subject to security assurances.”

At the time of Charlie Savage’s visit, Qader was still alone in Estonia. He described how the Estonian government “will permit family visits, but obtaining travel documents has proved difficult.” He added that Qader’s father, “who had a heart attack after finding out he was at Guantánamo, calls him daily, and his mother has taught him to cook over Skype.”

He also got married. In 2015, his family “helped arrange for him to become engaged to one of his sisters’ friends,” and “they were married in December by a Yemeni judge over Skype.” Qader said they “talk daily,” although at the time his wife had not managed to join him, even though Estonia “permits spouses to join refugees.”

Savage also noted how, in theory, “he could visit nearby European countries — he is supposed to consult Estonian officials first — but he has not dared leave,” because of the fears he mentioned above. Although he feels “[c]omforted by the thought that the Estonian government is monitoring him,” he said, “he fears that if he travels abroad and a bomb goes off nearby, he might be unable to prove his innocence and would be scapegoated and imprisoned again.”

In any case, as Savage concluded, Qader “knows some things are up to him.” He said he had “heard a story about elephants who died in a circus fire,” who “were tied with a flimsy rope but had been trained in chains as babies, learning not to try to break free.” As he said,

“When this story hit me, I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to be locked inside my own Guantánamo.’ I promised myself that I have to break free from myself. And I told my wife, ‘I will take you to Paris.’”
He added that “his wife, who has never left Yemen, replied that when she finally reached Estonia: ‘I will explore the world with you. I will hold you to your word.’”

In following up on this story, I spoke to Qader’s attorney, Wesley Powell, who gave me a number of pieces of very good news. Firstly, Qader had recently been allowed to visit Egypt for a month to meet up with his parents and other relatives. Furthermore, his wife has now joined him in Estonia, so perhaps that visit to Paris will now finally come true.

As Powell explained to me, the Estonian government has been very supportive of Qader, who, he believes, was a perfect candidate for resettlement — westernized, non-extreme, and able to fit in because of being short-haired and clean-shaven. He told me Qader had complete freedom of movement within Estonia, and had also begun to avail himself of the opportunities to travel abroad — beyond the visit to Egypt, which, to my surprise, proceeded without a hitch. I had feared that the taint of Guantánamo, which clings so many former prisoners, would have made a visit difficult, but Powell told me that, as an officially accepted refugee, he had been treated as an Estonian citizen would have been. Powell also explained that, since Savage’s visit, he had found the courage to visit Norway by boat, and as a result I now expect, one day, to receive a postcard from Paris, from Ahmed Abdul Qader and his wife.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Friday, May 05, 2017

PR Giant To Push Legitimacy of ‘Muslim NATO’

Saudis Hire Controversial PR Firm To Push Legitimacy Of 41 Nation ‘Muslim NATO’

by Whitney Webb - Mint Press News

May 2, 2017

An infamous PR firm that specializes in damage control during “crisis situations” has been hired by Saudi Arabia to improve the image of the Wahhabist military alliance that is led by the Gulf state. But the firm will likely find itself defending the country’s ongoing war in Yemen as well. 

NEW YORKWith plans to step up its grotesque war in Yemen and the first major meeting of defense ministers for the 41-nation military alliance it leads fast approaching, it’s no wonder the Saudi government has called upon public relations firm Burson-Marsteller for its services.

The New York-based company, known as one of the world’s most controversial public relations firms, has now become the latest Western PR firm to land on Saudi Arabia’s payroll. They’ve been hired with the specific intent of improving the image of the so-called Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism – an alliance occasionally referred to by the nickname “Muslim NATO,” as it is modeled after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The alliance, founded in late 2015, was created by the Saudis in partnership with 34 Muslim majority nations with the intention of sharing information and training, equipping and providing forces needed to combat Daesh (ISIS) militants who are active in Iraq and Syria, as well as fighting “any terrorist group that appears in front” of the alliance. The move was welcomed by the Obama administration, which had been seeking greater regional involvement in the U.S.-led campaign to fight Daesh.
The praise bestowed upon the alliance by Obama administration officials was unusual, given that the Obama State Department was aware at the time that Saudi Arabia provides “clandestine financial and logistic support” to Daesh and other extremist terrorist groups that are active in Syria and Iraq.

In addition, according to a leaked memo authored by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Saudi Arabia is known to the State Department to be the world’s largest funder of Wahhabi militant groups worldwide, including al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Other members of the Islamic military alliance – Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – were also listed as countries known to be funding Wahhabi terrorists.

Many of the alliance’s member nations are also known for their sordid human rights records, an inconvenient truth that some have argued is being hidden by the peddling of a “terrorist-fighting” military alliance. As Husain Abdulla, executive director for Americans For Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, told Middle East Eye:

“Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and many other members of this coalition are masterful at diverting attention from their systematic human rights abuses. Their participation in the Islamic Military Alliance is a clear example of how they use the fight against terrorism to distract from abuse and repression.” 

Saudi troops arrive in Bahrain, March 14, 2011. A Saudi-led military
force crossed into Bahrain to prop up the monarchy against widening
demonstrations, launching the first cross-border military operation to
quell pro-democracy protests since the Arab world’s rebellions began in 2010.
(Photo: APA/Landov)

Notably, the alliance fails to include Muslim-majority nations like Iran and Syria – countries that have a proven track record of fighting the Wahabbist terror groups that the Saudi-led alliance claims to fight but is actually funding. As Middle East Eye noted, the exclusion of Iran and Syria, among others, has prompted concern from Iran that the alliance is a sectarian force with ulterior motives.

While the organization’s official name may paint the alliance as being inclusive of all Muslims and focused on fighting extremism, the Saudis – in addition to being internationally recognized as the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism – are well-known for spreading sectarianism via the exportation of Wahhabist ideology.

As political analyst and writer Catherine Shakdam noted in 2015:

“Wahhabism is merely the misguided expression of one man’s political ambition – Mohammed Abdel-Wahhab, a bigot who was recruited by the British Empire to erode the fabric of Islam and crack the armor of the then-Ottoman Empire by breeding sectarianism and dissent. It is Abdel-Wahhab’s alliance to the House of Saud that ultimately unleashed this now seemingly unstoppable evil we know today under the tag of Islamic radicalism. If not for the Al Saud Royals’ billions and the silence of Western powers, Wahhabism would never have crossed the deserts of Saudi Arabia. If not for the kingdom’s lavish sponsoring of the Wahhabi school of thought, extremism would never have come to be in the first place.”

Thus, the assertion that this alliance represents Islam as a whole is misleading, as a majority of Muslim practitioners are viewed as “unbelievers” and deserving of death through the lens of Wahhabism.

Now, less than two years later, alliance members are suggesting that they will be targeting not Daesh terrorists, but a Yemeni resistance movement led by Houthi rebels who have been actively fighting al-Qaeda in Yemen, as well as fighting the influence of Saudi Arabian colonialism in the country. Last week, Saudi Major General Ahmed Asiri, a major player in the alliance who is currently being investigated by British authorities regarding alleged war crimes, told the Wall Street Journal that the alliance’s scope could be extended to include fighting against the Houthis.

The Houthis have been targeted by the Saudis since early 2015 in a war that has crippled the nation, killing thousands of civilians and provoking a massive humanitarian crisis that is estimated to claim the life of one child every ten minutes. Much of the death and destruction in Yemen owes to the Saudi-led coalition’s repeated bombings of hospitals and civilian infrastructure, leading many in the international community to accuse the Saudis of war crimes.

In addition, Saudi Arabia has weaponized humanitarian aid that is being provided to Yemen by blocking shipments of medical aid and food from humanitarian organizations.

Calm in crisis: Burson-Marsteller’s damage control track record 


A press conference held in Dubai on to announce results of a
Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey funded by Gulf Arab countries.

The Saudis, worried about bad PR from their campaign in Yemen right before the alliance’s first major conference, have enlisted the services of the world’s premier PR firm for corporations and authoritarian governments in crisis.

Burson-Marsteller, while offering a range of PR services, is best known for its “crisis capabilities.” In other words, corporations – ranging from ExxonMobil to Blackwater – enlist the firm’s services when they find themselves in hot water and are in desperate need of damage control.

Burson-Marsteller rose to prominence in the 1980s, when it was hired by Johnson & Johnson in the aftermath of the Chicago Tylenol murders. Seven people died after taking Tylenol that had been contaminated with cyanide by an unknown suspect who was never apprehended.

Other notable cases taken by the firm include representing the builders of the Three Mile Island nuclear station following the station’s near-meltdown, as well as Union Carbide (now Dow Chemical) after a chemical disaster at one of its plants killed thousands in India and tobacco giant PhillipMorris after the Environmental Protection Agency warned about the dangers of second-hand smoke.

In addition to its work in the corporate world, Burson-Marsteller has also worked on behalf of several governments with questionable human rights records. Among their past clientele include Argentinian dictator Jorge Videla in the late 1970s and Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, as well as the governments of Nigeria and Indonesia after those governments were accused of genocide.

The firm has also had several lucrative contracts with the U.S. government, including a $4.6 million contract with the Department of Homeland Security in 2005. The firm’s leadership is also deeply connected to the Clinton family, with former CEO Mark Penn serving as a key “behind-the-scenes” figure in the Clinton White House, as well as chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential campaign. Current CEO Don Baer has also worked for the Clintons, having served as a senior adviser to the Clinton White House, as well as its director of communications and top speechwriter.

Saudi Arabia has employed Burson-Marsteller in the past, most notably just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, when it hired the firm for its crisis management expertise. Working in connection with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, the firm launched an advertising campaign in newspapers across the country seeking to distance Saudi Arabia from the attackers, 15 of whom were Saudi nationals.

Burson-Marsteller is not the only Western PR firm the Saudis have employed in recent years. The Saudis recently came under fire for their use of U.S.-based lobbying firms in order to convince Congress to repeal or rewrite the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, also known by its acronym JASTA, or simply as the “9/11 bill.”

Some of the firms employed for this particular purpose have included Edelman PR, the Podesta Group, DLA Piper, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, Qorvis MSLGROUP and the Capitol Media Group. The latter two are especially controversial for the exploitation of veterans that played a role in their anti-JASTA lobbying efforts.

With Saudi Arabia having recently been appointed to the UN’s women’s rights commission, it seems that the Gulf Kingdom’s use of western PR firms is paying off.

Correction: This article was originally published with the headline: Saudis Hire Controversial PR Firm To Push Legitimacy Of 34 Nation ‘Muslim NATO’. The alliance was initially founded with 34 members but has since grown to 41 members. We regret the error.

Abbas and Trump: Continuing the Facade

Abbas, Trump and More

by Mazin Qumsiyeh -

May 5, 2017

Factoid of the day: Did you know that Jericho is derived from Yerihu (Aramaic for beautiful smell) after the fragrant balsam plant that used to grow all around that area of the Jordan valley. It was the main ingredient in Cleopatra's perfume that the queen of Egypt used to give as gifts to impress her visitors. Jericho is the oldest continuously inhabited town on earth (11-12,000 years).

Donald Trump and Mahmoud Abbas both accomplished what they wanted to accomplish from the meeting at the White House.

I could only think of the statements of Martin Luther King Jr and of Edward Said as I watched the theater unfold in DC. Just a reminder of what MLK Jr said 50 years ago as leaders of South Vietnam trashed leaders of North Vietnam:

"Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government."

This was one of his most analytical and important speeches which should still be read carefully today (full text at

Little changed in those 50 years since then and Trump (like Obama and other presidents before him) gave green light to his military to bomb poor neighborhoods around the world (killing hundreds of civilians mostly children in Mosul alone) while hosting compliant leaders and speaking of “peace” (like fucking for virginity!?). Excuse my language.

Let me step back into analytical mode. In meeting with Abbas, Trump wanted to get the aura of working for a peace process so that when he goes to Saudi Arabia and Israel later this month they can be more comfortable increasing the wars on Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran (the remaining axis of rebel states in an otherwise US/Israel dominated Middle East). This public relations ploy worked historically. Trump and his advisors praised Abbas for the continued close security cooperation with Israel (the main function for keeping the Palestinian Authority in the past 24 years). Trump said that cooperation between “Palestinians” (the PA) and Israel is “working beautifully” and encouraged further emasculation of any potential future leverage for the Palestinians (I cringe when I hear terms like “incitement” used for native people who want their rights back).

Oppressors and enablers of oppressors use the same language. Clinton used it 20 years ago for Arafat. This is the usual carrot and stick approach. Trump asked Abbas to stop the verbal acrobatics of appearing to support “terrorists” (resistance) pushing him strongly in private and nudging him gently in public.

Husam Zomlot (PLO representative in Washington) tried his best to facilitate and get some productive outcome but the decks are stacked and the PLO has long been stripped by the PA of its original role as a “Palestine Liberation Organization” (it neither reflects all of Palestine nor Liberation and no longer an  organization but a club). It cannot apply any pressure since it has been stripped of all such cards and there is little prospect of democratizing it now (I hope I am wrong).

Abbas got what he came for: appearing “presidential” and relevant to the future, international visibility, and most importantly continuation of the status quo that guarantees continued “financial support” that allows the system to go on.

I just finished reading a book received last week by Andy Clarno titled “Neoliberal Apartheid: Palestine/Israel and South Africa after 1994”. Meticulously the author explains why despite some differences between the two apartheid regimes, that after 1994 the rich got richer (the ruling white and Ashkenazi elites and some blacks in South Africa and some Palestinians) while millions of poor get poorer, more disenfranchised, more bitter etc. This trend will increase even more now that neoliberal trends get “validated” via a successful PR meeting.

Beneficiaries of this meeting: neoliberalism, Zionism, the elites. Targets in the cross-hairs: resistance forces, the prisoners on hunger strike, and the common people in the Arab world (many who will also be bombed soon). Maybe I am wrong and if so I wish colleagues like Dr. Husam Zomlot and Dr. Saeb Erekat tell us exactly what materially was accomplished.

Will Israel stop torturing prisoners? Will it stop or even dismantle continued colonial activities? Will we at least get our act together as Palestinians or will the division with Hamas only intensify serving Zionist interests? Why not implement the Cairo agreements with Hamas? Why insist on continuing this charade of “authority” under occupation (both Hamas and Fatah fell into that trap)?

I would genuinely like to hear the logic of what we are doing. If you are a Palestinian leader, email me even privately and explain (I will keep confidential).

We certainly miss our friend Professor Edward Said who was so right in his analysis of trends and current events. The brief notes I made above are not convincing and not well articulated for example compared to this still relevant analysis from Edward Said written in 1994: Who is worse?..on a humiliating year

Or this one in 2003: A Road Map to Where? and the most important article of his which pierces through speaking Truth to Power (including Said’s brilliant analysis shortly before he died): Of Dignity and Solidarity

Who said it: pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will! We must have the latter and continue working very hard. The stakes are far too high and not just for Palestine but the whole world. Brainstorming yesterday only convinces us of the need to act today. And there are so many good people acting that we indeed become optimistic for the future (even intellectually):

What is behind Hamas new charter

BDS is winning, admits top Israeli “sabotage” strategist

Moral Victory for BDS Activists at UBC and Canadian Campuses

Stay Human and come visit us

Mazin Qumsiyeh
A bedouin in cyberspace, a villager at home
Professor and (volunteer) Director
Palestine Museum of Natural History
Palestine Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability
Bethlehem University
Occupied Palestine
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Sisi and Francis: The Pope Visits Egypt

Pope and I in Cairo

by Andre Vltchek - Dissident Voice

May 4th, 2017

In Cairo, Pope Francis, once again, did what he usually does best: he snapped at the state of immorality and selfishness, which is governing the world, particularly in the West.

The message to Egypt’s priests could actually be directed at the population of the European and North American cities:

The first temptation is to letting ourselves to be led, rather than to lead… The second temptation is complaining constantly… The third temptation is gossip and envy… The fourth temptation is comparing us with those better off… The fifth temptation is individualism, ‘me, and after me the flood’… the final temptation is ‘keep walking without direction or destination’…

Pope Francis gave speeches, and met the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah El Sisi. He appealed to Egypt to “Save the world from famine of love”. The Egyptian Gazette, an official English language newspaper, carried a headline with a photograph of Pope Francis and the President (and ex-general El Sisi), smiling at each other, as if this odd couple could truly become the entity capable of returning both love and passion to the world.

“Although the Pope’s speeches were good, I have a big problem with anyone meeting the murderer El Sisi,” one of my friends wrote to me from exile in Paris, one of the ‘revolutionary doctors’, a man who used to be imprisoned and tortured here in Egypt.

And El Sisi he did meet, and they grinned at each other for the camera lenses.


There is one point that is hardly made in the local and international media: the Christians in Egypt fully embraced the military coup of July 2013, during and after which allegedly thousands of people were massacred (some in the poorest slums of Cairo), tens of thousands tortured, and more than a million imprisoned.

At Hanging Church in Cairo

In 2012 and 2013 I was filming in Egypt for Telesur, directing and producing a documentary film about the end of the Arab Spring and the crashing of all hopes for a better, socialist Egypt.

After witnessing the horrors of El Sisi’s crackdown on Morsi’s supporters, as well as on the Egyptian left, I went to the famous ‘Hanging Church’ in Coptic Cairo and asked the believers about the coup. They refused to even use the word ‘coup’, and expressed their unconditional support for the military junta.

Today, almost 4 years later, I went back to the same church, and confronted two leading Orthodox Christian clerics of Egypt, Father Jacoub and Father Samuel (they claim that in their mind there is “no difference between the Catholics and Orthodox Christians).

“Now that Egypt is bleeding and people are pushed to the edge, do Christians still support the military government?” I asked point-blank.

First, Father Samuel replied:

Yes, now it is the same unwavering support as before. The church was behind the President, El Sisi from the very beginning, and it is with him now.

Then Father Jacoub joined the litany:

El Sisi protected us; he saved our country.

Then Father Samuel again:

President Sisi came to power during the difficult time for Egypt. He’s doing well, changing the country.

“Isn’t it all sectarian, religious?” I wanted to know. “ Aren’t you supporting El Sisi because he attacked the Muslim Brotherhood?”

Another honest answer followed:

Yes it is religious… Yes, it is one of the reasons for our support.


I spoke to people in slums and on the street. Almost all of them were desperate. Food prices were skyrocketing and periodically, there have been shortages, even of some basic food.

A person with whom I used to work before, during the ‘days of hope’, was subdued, frustrated, and angry:

Now people are really furious. Everything is getting more and more expensive. But currently, people don’t even dare to protest: the police and the army closely monitor everything. You dare to go to the streets, and they disappear you; you get immediately arrested. There are some 2 million people in our prisons now… Perhaps one or two more years and things will explode again. It really cannot continue like this forever.

Egyptian people are well informed, but frightened and fragmented. They clearly comprehend what is taking place, but they are waiting for the right moment to return to the streets. I personally know those who were imprisoned and tortured in Egypt, after the coup. Every trip back here reminds me of extremely close calls, when I could have been killed myself, be it in Port Said, in Alexandria, and in Cairo. But Egypt is ‘addictive’: once you begin writing about it, it is extremely difficult to leave forever.

Coup in Egypt

“The military is everywhere,” I’m told inside the monumental Citadel built by the great Sultan Saladin, who fought against the European crusaders, defending vast areas between Egypt, Syria and Iraq:

The military and the police; they are paid by the West, particularly by the United States. For decades, they were corrupted; they control Egyptian businesses, from A to Z. It would be suicidal to criticize them openly. And they love the West. Many of our people also have no choice but to ‘love the West’, because the economy of this enormous country has already collapsed. You are either miserably poor, or you are part of the armed forces, or in the tourist industry, or the few other services which are all somehow intertwined with the West.

The same pattern as in Afghanistan, I realize. Endemic corruption mostly injected from outside, and hundreds, perhaps thousands of treasonous families, the elites, who produce nothing tangible but live well from selling their own country to the imperialist Western rulers. And then there are, of course, the army, the police, and dozens of their branches with complicated and proud names.

And countries are going to the dogs, while the Western mass media is busy demonizing Syria, Venezuela, the Philippines and North Korea.


This is an S.O.S. written to me a few months ago by one of the left-wing “revolutionary doctors”, with whom I was working on my Egypt film:

The counter revolution has triumphed… Sisi dictatorship strengthened… All opposition parties and organizations squashed… thousands of revolutionaries imprisoned… Hundreds executed by court orders or liquidated by the police…

“Pope of Peace, in Egypt of Peace” 
Media suppressed and directly controlled by the regime… The military economic investment in the country has soared… Neoliberalism is taking hold… People are suffering.

Really? Egypt of peace… 

“POPE OF PEACE, IN EGYPT OF PEACE” one reads from the thousands of posters hanging on the electric poles of Cairo.

Is the Pope blind? Or is there perhaps some other, more complex game, which is being played?

Pope Francis is, after all, from Argentina, and his own country is deeply divided about his role during the military dictatorship there.

“The famine of love!” He and the General (currently President), together, are now ready to tackle it, heroically, hand in hand, while millions are rotting in prisons, and the country is gradually collapsing.

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are the revolutionary novel Aurora and two bestselling works of political non-fiction: Exposing Lies Of The Empire and Fighting Against Western Imperialism. View his other books here. Watch his Rwanda Gambit, a documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo. He continues to work around the world and can be reached through his website and Twitter. Read other articles by Andre.