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Friday, 28 September 2012

Romney's gaffe blows lid on the myth of US neutrality over Israel_palestine

Mr Romney: "And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way. And so what you do is you say you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that it's going to remain an unsolved problem. I mean, we look at that in China and Taiwan. All right, we have a potentially volatile situation, but we sort of live with it. And we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve. We don't go to war to try and resolve it."

Republican candidate for the White House, Mitt Romney, on Israel-Palestine. The irony is that Romney actually let spill an unspeakable truth in this 'post-truth' politics age: that the US is not and has not been a neutral in the 'peace process' and, indeed, favours Israel in the most strident terms and condemns the hapless Palestinians as aggressive and war-like.

Some facts:
According to Amnesty International: "Israel's military blockade of Gaza... left more than 1.4 million Palestinian men, women and children trapped in the Gaza Strip, an area of land just 40 kilometres long and 9.5 kilometres wide.

"Mass unemployment, extreme poverty and food price rises caused by shortages have left four in five Gazans dependent on humanitarian aid. As a form of collective punishment, Israel’s... blockade of Gaza is a flagrant violation of international law."

During its 2008/9 war on Gaza, "The Israeli army used white phosphorus, a weapon with a highly incendiary effect, in densely populated civilian residential areas of Gaza City, according to indisputable evidence found by an Amnesty International fact-finding team...

"When white phosphorus lands on skin it burns deeply through muscle and into the bone, continuing to burn until deprived of oxygen." The white phosphorous was supplied by US arms firms.

White phosphorous is not illegal under international law but was condemned when deployed by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds in 1991; but was then used in 2004, bu US troops in Fallujah, Iraq.

Illegal Settlements: No foreign government, including the US, recognises Israel's settlements in Sinai, the West Bank or the Golan Heights, nor in East Jerusalem. Yet, Israel continues to defy the International Court of Justice, the UN and the Oslo Accords.

Nuclear weapons:
Despite the attention to Iran's nuclear programmes, Israel has long possessed nuclear weapons and long range intercontinental ballistic missiles. It also has refused to sign the nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, citing "national security".

President Obama also pledged undying support for Israel, the only power with nuclear weapons in the region and which has violated UN resolutions for decades with American support. Israel continues to build illegal settlements on the West Bank; meanwhile Obama signed off Bush's $30 billion aid package to Israel and continues to sell weapons systems to Israel far superior to such aid and sales to US' Arab allies in the region - to maintain Israel's qualitative military edge. To the Palestinians he urged moderation and non-violence.

The 'Palestine Papers' published by The Guardian and other media showed quite clearly the double standards of the US and Israel in the peace process: the Palestine Authority offered practically everything Israel demanded. Like Israel, Obama refuses to recognise Hamas, despite its victory in democratic elections.

Romney's gaffe shows that little changes in US policy towards Israel from one administration to another.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Pretty Harsh Treatment for Bradley Manning

By: Kevin Gosztola Friday August 10, 2012 2:14 pm

A more than one hundred page defense motion detailing how Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of releasing classified information to WikiLeaks, was subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment while held at Quantico Marine Brig has been made public. The motion on “unlawful pretrial punishment” asserts officers at the brig made a decision to hold Manning in the harshest conditions possible, regardless of his psychological health. It concludes, as a result of “flagrant violation” of Manning’s “constitutional rights,” the judge should dismiss all charges with prejudice or, at minimum, grant “meaningful relief in the form of at least 10-for-1 sentencing credit for the 258 days PFC Manning inappropriately spent in the equivalent of solitary confinement.”
According to the motion, in January 2011, a senior officer told multiple brig officials during a meeting that he was to be held in “maximum custody” and under “prevention of injury” (POI) watch indefinitely. The officer claimed that nothing was going to change or happen to Manning on his watch. A Brig psychiatrists did not approve, was upset and said, “Sir, I am concerned because if you’re going to do that, maybe you might want to call it something else, because it’s not based on anything from behavioral health.” The senior officer replied, “We’ll do whatever we want to do. You [the Brig psychiatrists] make your recommendation and I have to make a decision based on everything else.” To which the psychiatrist said, “Then don’t say it’s based on mental health.  You can say it’s MAX custody, but just don’t say that we’re somehow involved in this.” The senior officer dismissed this request. Those at the top of the chain of command would use his “mental health” as an excuse to keep him in conditions of solitary confinement.
For nine months, Brig psychiatrists issued recommendations that Manning be downgraded from POI status, which gave the Brig the power to keep him isolated in the prison. They told Brig officials he posed no risk to himself and that the designation was actually causing Manning “psychological harm.” But these concerns and recommendations were entirely disregarded.
Under POI, according to the defense website, Manning was required to eat all of his meals alone and could only eat his meals with a spoon. He was not allowed to speak with any prisoners. He was given a suicide mattress with a built-in pillow. He was given a “tear-proof security blanket” that was “extremely coarse” and led to rashes and carpet burns on Manning’s skin. The blanket was stiff and would not “contour to his body” so it did not keep him warm. He was not allowed any personal items in the cell. He could only have “one book or one magazine” and when he was not reading the book or magazine would be taken away. It also was taken away each day before he went to sleep. He was not permitted to exercise in his cell. Any attempts to do push-ups or sit-ups would lead to officers ordering him to stop. Every night he went to sleep he had to strip down to his underwear and surrender his clothing to guards.
Manning had to request toilet paper when he needed to go to the bathroom. He would have to wait for guards to get around to providing this to him. No soap was in his cell. Sometimes when he wanted to wash his hands after using the bathroom, he would be able to, but sometimes he would not. No shoes were allowed to be worn. Initially, he was only allowed one hour of “permitted correspondence” a day. Then, after Oct 27, 2010, that changed to 2 hours/day.
Constantly, Manning was monitored. Guards checked on him every five minutes asking, “Are you okay?” Manning had to respond affirmatively each time and guards would take note of each exchange in log books. When guards could not see him clearly at night, like when he had his blanket up over his head or when he was curled up against the wall, the guards would wake Manning up and see if he was “okay.” And all of the lights were never turned off. There was also a fluorescent light in the hall outside of Manning’s cell that was kept on during the night.
These conditions were in addition to the maximum custody conditions imposed, which included being placed in a cell directly in front of the guard post so he could be monitored at all hours of the day, having to wake up at 5 am in the morning, having to stay awake from 5 am to 10 pm every day and not being permitted to lie down or lean his back against the cell wall. He was permitted only 20 minutes of “sunshine call” where he would “be brought to a small concrete yard, about half to a third of the size of a basketball court.” In the yard, he could walk around with “hand and leg shackles” on, while a Brig guard walked at his “immediate side.” The guards gave him athletic shoes that had no laces and would fall of when he tried to walk. Manning chose to wear boots so his shoes would stay on while walking. He would typically walk in “figure-eights” and was not allowed to “sit down or stay stationary” during “sunshine call.”
By December 10, 2010, he earned a longer period of recreation: one hour each day. He could exercise and move around without shackles or a Brig guard at his side. There was “exercise equipment” he could access but he would not normally use it because guards would tell him he could not use certain equipment and much of it was “unplugged or broken down.”
Manning could have non-contact visits on Saturdays and Sundays between noon and 3 pm with “approved visitors.” During visits, he had to wear “hand and leg restraints.” He met his visitors in “a small 4 by 6 foot room that was separated with a glass partition. His visits were monitored by the guards and they were audio recorded by the Brig.  The recording equipment was added by Army CID after PFC Manning’s transfer to the Quantico Brig.”  Contact visits with attorneys were not allowed. Any time he met with his attorneys, he wore shackles on his hands and feet. He was not permitted “any work duty.” When moved outside his cell, the whole brig would be placed on lockdown, and, while being moved, he was “shackled with metal hand and leg restraints and accompanied by at least two guards.”
In July 2010, after being transported from Kuwait, a duty brig supervisor (DBS) assessed whether he should be placed in maximum custody conditions. The DBS “reviewed the inmate background summary and completed an initial custody classification determination.” Despite the fact that the supervisor did not find all the characteristics necessary that are normally required to be found in order to place someone in maximum custody, the DBS ignored this entirely and placed him in maximum custody.
The motion features what appears to be a deposition from one of the Brig psychiatrists that recommended Manning’s POI designation be removed. The psychatrists, whose name is redacted, details how the psychiatrist  ”knew” the brig was “very concerned about his safety…because there had been a suicide in the brig earlier that year.” The psychiatrist went ahead and “obtained the services of another forensic psychiatrist, who “evaluated the patient and concurred that POI was appropriate. The Brig, as I best recall, waited a couple of weeks to put this recommendation into effect.” But, after this, the suggestion that he be “removed from POI” was made again because he was doing “relatively well,” even if he exhibited “odd behaviors such as dancing around” and “possible sleep walking.”
By the fall, there was one incident. Manning apparently tried to perform a “yoga move in which he contorted his limbs in such a way that staff thought he was trying to hurt himself.” Manning was upset. The psychiatrist recommended he be put back on POI status then rescinded the recommendation. Of course, regardless of what the psychiatrist thought, he was never taken off this status. And, apparently, the Brig rarely listened to this person:
Question B. In your experience, does the Quantico Brig follow your recommendation concerning either Suicide Risk or Prevention of Injury Status? 
No. They generally keep patients on precautions longer than I recommend.
Another deposition from a forensic psychiatrist serving in the military appears in the motion. He worked at Quantico and made determinations about the “behavioral health” of prisoners. This psychiatrist said, when asked if being placed on “suicide risk” since July 31, 2010, might be detrimental to Manning’s mental or physical health:
It has long been known that restriction of environmental and social stimulation has a negative effect on mental functioning. Nevertheless, PFC Manning has been able to adapt somewhat and his anxiety disorder is currently in remission, significantly reducing his risk of self harm.
Finally, here’s an exchange that shows just how averse they were to the opinions of “pesky mental health providers,” who worked at the brig:
PFC Manning: Why was I on, why was I on prevention of status for almost 6 months?
**Redacted**: [chuckles to himself] I know this is no secret to you … I have plenty of documentation. Plenty of documentation based on things that you’ve said, things that you’ve done. Actions – I have to make sure, we have to make sure, that you’re taken care of.
PFC Manning: Yes, MSGT.
**Redacted**: Things that you’ve said and things that you’ve done don’t steer us on the side of “ok, well, he can just be a normal detainee.” They make us stay on the side of caution.
PFC Manning: But what about recommendations by the psychiatrist to remove me off the status?
**Redacted**: Who’s here every day? Who’s here every day? We are. Who sees you every day? That’s all he is, is a recommendation. We have, by law, rules and regulations set forth to make sure from a jail standpoint that Bradley Manning does not hurt himself. Maybe from a psychiatric standpoint, the recommendation he’s given – I get it, I got it, understand, OK? But he’s not the only decision maker. A mental health specialist is not the only decision that gets made.
It is over one hundred pages long so this only begins to demonstrate how Brig commanders ensured Manning would be subjected to conditions that amounted to torture throughout his entire detention at Quantico.
Manning’s defense lawyer said during the previous July motion hearing the motion should “shock the conscience of the court.” The totality of its content definitely should bother anyone. So far, Judge Army Col. Denise Lind has demonstrated a willingness to hear all the evidence. She ordered the production of a Leavenworth commander that the government opposed and also ordered that suicide prevention materials, such as a mattress, blanket and smock, be present in court when this motion is argued. (This is the smock he was made to wear after he made a sarcastic remark and a Brig officer reminded Manning who was in charge by forcing him to sleep naked.)
Manning is expected to testify in court on the punishment he endured when the motion is finally argued. It was previously scheduled for the hearing that is to take place during the last week of August at Fort Meade, Maryland. It has been pushed to the first week of October after the prosecution handed Quantico emails over to the defense. The defense filed for a continuance and decided it would need to request additional witnesses be present. This indicates the hearing in August will focus on getting witnesses approved for the hearing on the “unlawful pretrial punishment” motion in October.

Monday, 20 August 2012

US Grand Jury Sealed Indictment on Assange?

There is a question mark over whether or not the United States will apply to extradite Julian Assange, head of Wikileaks and currently residing in the Ecudorain embassy in London, should he return to Sweden to face questioning by police on rape and other allegations.

Today's Guardian editorial claims there's no evidence that the US would press for extradition. Below is an article from Rolling Stone magazine from February 2012 that concerns the level of anger manifested by official and unofficial US agencies about Wikileaks, Assange, and Bradley Manning, and suspicions of a secret Grand Jury indictment of Assange which may provide reasonable grounds that the US would try to extradite the latter.

It is worrying that the Guardian, which benefited so greatly from the leaking of secret US embassy cables and War Logs by Wikileaks, which shows the Machiavellian as well as brutal character of US power, should now be asking Assange to give them the benefit of the doubt.

WikiLeaks Stratfor Emails: A Secret Indictment Against Julian Assange?
POSTED: February 28,  1:35 PM ET | By Michael Hastings

Julian Assange attends a press conference in London to announce Wikileaks' publishing of millions of emails from the intelligence firm Stratfor.
On January 26, 2011, Fred Burton, the vice president of Stratfor, a leading private intelligence firm which bills itself as a kind of shadow CIA, sent an excited email to his colleagues. "Text Not for Pub," he wrote. "We" – meaning the U.S. government – "have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect."
The news, if true, was a bombshell. At the time, the Justice Department was ramping up its investigation of Julian Assange, the founder of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which over the past few years has released hundreds of thousands of sensitive government documents. An indictment under the 1917 Espionage Act would be the most serious action taken to date against Assange, possibly paving the way for his extradition to the U.S. (Assange is currently under house arrest in Britain fighting extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges.)
Burton, a former federal agent with the U.S. Diplomatic Security Services, had reason to trust his information. He often boasted of his stellar government sources ("CIA cronies," he called them in another email), and in his role as a government counter-terror agent he had worked on some of the most high-profile terrorism cases of recent years, including the arrest of the first World Trade Center bomber, Ramzi Yousef. As the VP of Texas-based Stratfor Global Intelligence, a private firm that contracts with corporations and several government agencies, like the Department of Homeland Security, to collect and analyze intelligence on political situations around the world, it was part of his job to keep those contacts alive and share inside information with analysts at the company. (The emails cited in this story – contained in a leak of 5 million internal Stratfor messages  – were examined by Rolling Stone in an investigative partnership with Wikileaks.)
Burton's information had the ring of truth. As Salon's Glenn Greenwald reported last May, a secret grand jury had begun taking testimony from Wikileaks supporters in a courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia. In December, during the pre-trial hearings of Bradley Manning, the Army private who allegedly gave WikiLeaks a huge trove of classified information in 2009, prosecutors repeatedly tried to convince the judge that Assange had conspired with Manning to release the data. Assange’s own lawyers had warned of a possible indictment a month before Burton said one existed.
A Department of Justice spokesperson declined to comment on whether there was an indictment against Assange; a Strafor spokesperson also declined to comment, directing me to the statement and YouTube video the company released following the disclosure that WikiLeaks was planning to publish 5 million of the company’s internal emails it obtained. "This is a deplorable, unfortunate – and illegal – breach of privacy," the Stratfor’s CEO George Friedman said in a statement, warning that some of the emails may have been "forged." To be sure, we're in new territory here. The latest leak has set off a round of debate over the ethics of publishing information alleged to have been stolen. Members of the hacker collective Anonymous claim to have passed the emails to WikiLeaks; WikiLeaks maintains it does not know the identity of the leaker(s) and stands by its policy of not commenting on its sources.
Assange, who reacts to the indictment revelation in a statement here, has become an obsession for U.S. intelligence and government officials, and the Stratfor staff is no exception. The WikiLeaks founder’s name appears 2102 times in their emails over the past two years. The venom reserved for Assange (and Bradley Manning, too) in the internal email traffic is intense: "astonishing douchebaggery," says one analyst in relation to Assange. Writes another, referring to the sexual misconduct allegations against Assange, as well as his family background: "getting a rapist off the street is getting a rapist off the street. Also, his mom owns a puppet theater." The same analyst continues in another email: "I look forward to Manning and Assange facing a bajillion-thousand counts of espionage." A final note from yet another Sratfor analyst, sent after the arrest of 16 Anonymous hacktivists last July: "These assholes should get the death sentence, along with their hero Julian=Assange."
Predictably, it’s not just intel and government officials (both current and former) that have displayed their distaste for Assange. After WikiLeaks announced on Sunday that they would begin publishing the Stratfor emails, the derision rained down from the usual suspects in the Beltway media. A typical response: one editor at The Atlantic called WikiLeaks "a joke," dismissing the Strafor emails out of hand.
This perplexes me: To advertise a complete lack of interest in the inner workings of a major private intelligence firm, whose corporate clients (who pay up to $40,000 for Stratfor's services) include companies like Lockheed Martin, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America – seems, to say the least, rather un-journalistic. If Stratfor is a joke, what does that say about the government agencies like the C.I.A. and other intel shops that supply Stratfor with employees. And if WikiLeaks – an organization that 's pulled off a few of the biggest coups in the history of journalism – is a joke, whom, exactly, is the joke on?
Already, via these emails, we’ve seen a company, Stratfor, getting paid by large corporations to spy on activists around the world, scheme with Goldman Sachs, and pontificate about money laundering soccer teams. Whatever angle you look at it from, this is news. Though it’s unlikely the Stratfor emails will have the impact that Cablegate or the Iraq Diaries and the Afghan War Logs, it does provide for another fascinating exposé of the types of organizations that are becoming ever more profitable and powerful: intelligence firms that blur the lines between private and government work. Remember, when Burton said "we" have an indictment against Assange, he didn’t mean Stratfor – he meant the U.S. government, our government.

Obama's war on whistleblowers, unprecedented use of Espionage Act

President Obama has not covered himself in glory - using the Espionage Act to silence critics twice as many times as all previous administrations combined. 

"Change we can believe in" - not sure that's the direction of chnage his supporters thought he was promising. 

"Never be outflanked by the Right", acording to President John F Kennedy. President Johnson managed this as he escalated the war of aggression against Vietnam.

President Obama is doing exactly the same. So when his supporters tell the world, and US voters, that A Romney White House would be far worse, it would be worth remembering his record vis a vis the reviled George W. Bush.

Thursday, Feb 9, 2012 04:05 PM +0000
From Manning to Kiriakou, critics are aggressively targeted as the White House turns a blind eye to abuses

This originally appeared on TomDispatch.
On January 23rd, the Obama administration charged former CIA officer John Kiriakou under the Espionage Act for disclosing classified information to journalists about the waterboarding of al-Qaida suspects. His is just the latest prosecution in an unprecedented assault on government whistleblowers and leakers of every sort.

Kiriakou’s plight will clearly be but one more battle in a broader war to ensure that government actions and sunshine policies don’t go together. By now, there can be little doubt that government retaliation against whistleblowers is not an isolated event, nor even an agency-by-agency practice. The number of cases in play suggests an organized strategy to deprive Americans of knowledge of the more disreputable things that their government does. How it plays out in court and elsewhere will significantly affect our democracy.

Punish the Whistleblowers
The Obama administration has already charged more people — six — under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information than all past presidencies combined. (Prior to Obama, there were only three such cases in American history.)
Kiriakou, in particular, is accused of giving information about the CIA’s torture programs to reporters two years ago. Like the other five whistleblowers, he has been charged under the draconian World War I-era Espionage Act.

That Act has a sordid history, having once been used against the government’s political opponents. Targets included labor leaders and radicals like Eugene V. Debs, Bill Haywood, Philip Randolph, Victor Berger, John Reed, Max Eastman and Emma Goldman. Debs, a union leader and socialist candidate for the presidency, was, in fact, sentenced to 10 years in jail for a speech attacking the Espionage Act itself. The Nixon administration infamously (and unsuccessfully) invoked the Act to bar the New York Times from continuing to publish the classified Pentagon Papers.

Yet, extreme as use of the Espionage Act against government insiders and whistleblowers may be, it’s only one part of the Obama administration’s attempt to sideline, if not always put away, those it wants to silence. Increasingly, federal agencies or departments intent on punishing a whistleblower are also resorting to extra-legal means. They are, for instance, manipulating personnel rules that cannot be easily challenged and do not require the production of evidence. And sometimes, they are moving beyond traditional notions of “punishment” and simply seeking to destroy the lives of those who dissent.

The well-reported case of Thomas Drake is an example. As an employee, Drake revealed to the press that the National Security Agency (NSA) spent $1.2 billion on a contract for a data collection program called Trailblazer when the work could have been done in-house for $3 million. The NSA’s response? Drake’s home was raided at gunpoint and the agency forced him out of his job.
“The government convinced themselves I was a bad guy, an enemy of the state, and went after me with everything they had seeking to destroy my life, my livelihood and my person — the politics of personal destruction, while also engaging in abject, cutthroat character assassination and complete fabrication and frame up,” Drake told “Marriages are strained, and spouses’ professional lives suffer as much as their personal lives. Too often, whistleblowers end up broken, blacklisted and bankrupted,” said the attorney who represents Drake.

In Kiriakou’s case, the CIA found an excuse to fire his wife, also employed by the Agency, while she was on maternity leave. Whistleblower Bradley Manning, accused of leaking Army and State Department documents to the website WikiLeaks, spent more than a year in the worst of punitive conditions in a U.S. Marine prison and was denied the chance even to appear in court to defend himself until almost two years after his arrest. Former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Morris Davis lost his career as a researcher at the Library of Congress for writing a critical op-ed for the Wall Street Journal and a letter to the editor at the Washington Post on double standards at the infamous prison, as did Robert MacClean for blowing the whistle on the Transportation Security Administration.

Four employees of the Air Force Mortuary in Dover, Delaware, attempted to address shortcomings at the facility, which handles the remains of all American service members who die overseas. Retaliation against them included firings, the placing of employees on indefinite administrative leave, and the imposition of five-day suspensions. The story repeats itself in the context of whistleblowers now suing the Food and Drug Administration for electronically spying on them when they tried to alert Congress about misconduct at the agency. We are waiting to see the Army’s reaction to whistleblower Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, who documented publicly this week that senior leaders of the Department of Defense intentionally and consistently misled the American people and Congress on the conduct and progress of the Afghan War.

And this remains the most partial of lists, when it comes to recent examples of non-judicial government retaliation against whistleblowers.

Government bureaucrats know that this sort of slow-drip intimidation keeps people in line. It may, in the end, be less about disciplining a troublemaker than offering visible warning to other employees. They are meant to see what’s happening and say, “Not me, not my mortgage, not my family!” — and remain silent. Of course, creative, thoughtful people also see this and simply avoid government service.
In this way, such a system can become a self-fulfilling mechanism in which ever more of the “right kind” of people chose government service, while future “troublemakers” self-select out — a system in which the punishment of leakers becomes the pre-censorship of potential leakers. At the moment, in fact, the Obama administration might as well translate the famed aphorism “all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to remain silent” into Latin and carve it into the stone walls of the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, or NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, or the main office of the State Department at Foggy Bottom where I still fight to keep my job.

Silent State
I am told that, in its 223 years of existence, I am the only Foreign Service Officer ever to have written a critical book about the State Department while still employed there. “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People“ exposed what State did not want people to know: that they had wasted enormous amounts of money in Iraq, mostly due to ignorance and a desire for short-term successes that could be trumpeted back home. For the crime of writing this book and maintaining a blog that occasionally embarrasses, State Department officials destroyed my career, even as they confirm my thesis, and their own failure, by reducing the Baghdad Embassy to half its size in the face of Iraq’s unraveling.
“The State Department was aware of Mr. Van Buren’s book long prior to its release,” explains attorney Jesslyn Radack, who now represents me. “Yet instead of addressing the ample evidence of fraud, waste and abuse in the book, State targeted the whistleblower. The State Department’s retaliatory actions are a transparent attempt to intimidate and silence an employee whose critique of fraudulent, wasteful and mismanaged U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq embarrassed the agency.”

Without allowing any rebuttal or defense, State suspended my security clearance, claiming my blogging was an example of “poor judgment,” transferred me from a substantive job into a meaningless telework position, threatened felony conviction over alleged disclosure of classified information, illegally banned me from entering the building where I supposedly work, and continues to try to harass and intimidate me.
My travel vouchers from as far back as the law allows have come under “routine” re-examination. My Internet activity is the subject of daily reports. My credit reports have been examined for who knows what. Department friends who email me on topical issues have been questioned by agents of Diplomatic Security, the State Department’s internal police. My Freedom of Information Act request for documents to help defend myself and force State to explain its actions has been buried.

Without a security clearance, and with my Diplomatic Passport impounded, I will never serve overseas again, the lifeblood of being a Foreign Service Officer (FSO). A career that typically would extend another 10 years will be cut short in retaliation for my attempt to tell the truth about how taxpayer money was squandered in Iraq.
All of this has taken place in such a way that I cannot challenge it (except by writing and speaking about it in public — at additional risk). The State Department has standard disciplinary procedures that it could have invoked against me, but those leave room for public challenges and, in some cases, would allow me to force documents into the open that State would rather not share with you.

Hall Walkers: Ghosts in the Machine
Before “telework” existed as an option that allowed undesirable employees to be sent home and into a kind of benign house arrest, people like me at State were called “hall walkers.” They were the ones whom the Department no longer wanted as employees, but who could not be fired due to lack of evidence. So they would have their security clearances suspended without recourse, be removed from their assignments, and yet told that, to get paid, they needed to be physically present in the main State building eight hours a day.
Since they were not assigned to an office, State was wholly unconcerned about how they occupied themselves during those long empty days. And though as a “teleworker” I am not one, the hall walkers are still with us.
The main State building is enormous, with literally miles and miles of corridors, and the hall walker might wander them, kill time at the library, have a long lunch, stop in to chat with former colleagues still willing to be seen in his or her company. Even in the first FSO training course called A-100, young diplomats are advised that the most ignominious end to a career is not failing at your job, but being thrown into the purgatory of hall walking — still on the payroll but no longer a member of the tribe. Disowned, shunned, exiled in the ancient Greek tradition.
Hall walking is a far cry from being dragged through a trial or spending two years in solitary, but it exists on the same continuum. No one at State will say how many employees still exist in the shadow world of hall walking, but at least dozens is a reasonable guess.
I am told as well that State Department officials are increasingly moving to suspend security clearances for acts wholly outside the realm of security, like blogging they find offensive. One State Department Human Resources employee confided to me that this has, in fact, become the go-to strategy for winnowing out unwanted employees in the too-hard-to-fire category, a sad evolution, given the sorry history of the State Department in the McCarthy era.
Fighting Back
For a government employee being punished extra-legally by an agency ignoring its own rules, there is still one recourse: the Office of the Special Counsel. Created in 1979, it was to be an ombudsman meant to keep an eye on governmental nastiness and ensure the implementation of the Whistleblower Protection Act. Empowered, among other things, to investigate and “make right” instances of federal retaliation against legitimate whistleblowers, the office was sidelined through several administrations.
Under George W. Bush, it was embroiled in scandal when its head, Special Counsel Scott Bloch, instead purged its staff of lawyers who disagreed with him and announced that he would not follow up on cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Last summer, Bloch pleaded guilty to deleting evidence from his computer while under investigation for retaliating against his own staff.
At a moment when government extra-legal retaliation against whistleblowers and leakers is on the rise, call it ironic, but the Office of the Special Counsel has seen a rebirth under its current head, Obama appointee Carolyn Lerner. As the Washington Post recently described her, Lerner has “gone to the mat and tried to expand the boundaries of the law’s protections for whistleblowers. She has lifted long-sagging morale at an agency that, instead of behaving as an independent watchdog, has treaded water for much of its existence.”
Specifically, Lerner reassignedstaff members to review a backlog of cases against whistleblowers facing reprisals, including “veterans’ hospital staff members reporting poor lab procedures [and] air traffic controllers claiming flight-pattern dangers.” She has enforced a 60-day limit on responses from federal agencies. The Office seems to have re-embraced its mission. “She’s a pit bull,” saysTom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, which defends whistleblowers.
There are other signs of resistance in Washington to the urge to cloak the government in silence. For example, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) launchedan investigation into the Food and Drug Administration’s secret email monitoring of scientists warning that unsafe medical devices were being approved over their objections. Whistleblowers, said Grassley, often are treated “like skunks at a picnic.”
The Senator demanded that FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg disclose who authorized the monitoring, how many employees were targeted, and whether the agency obtained passwords to personal email accounts, allowing communications on private computers to be intercepted. He also wants to know whether the agency’s two-year surveillance campaign is still ongoing.
In another recent case, the Office of the Special Counsel formally asked the Air Force to take harsher disciplinary action against supervisors at the Dover mortuary who had tried to fire two whistleblowers who raised accusations about the mishandling of soldiers’ remains.
The Government Accountability Project has filed a complaint on my behalf with the Office of the Special Counsel demanding that the State Department cease its retaliatory personnel practices against me. The Department is particularly vulnerable, given its drumbeat of support for the rights of bloggers and other dissidents in the Middle East and China. State has already been forced to readmit me to the building and return my access badge.  I remain an optimist, believing that my complaint will succeed and that, someday, I will return to work at a State Department where employees can talk openly about the bad as well as the good.
It Matters
Americans, who elect and pay for their government in Washington, deserve to know exactly what it does there — and elsewhere around the world — with their dollars. As in my case in Iraq, such information often is only available if some insider, shocked or disturbed by what he or she has seen, decides to speak out, either directly, in front of Congress, or through a journalist.
The Obama administration, which arrived in Washington promoting “sunshine” in government, turned out to be committed to silence and the censoring of less-than-positive news about its workings. While it has pursued no prosecutions against CIA torturers, senior leaders responsible for Abu Ghraib or other war crimes, or anyone connected with the illegal surveillance of American citizens, it has gone after whistleblowers and leakers with ever increasing fierceness, both in court and inside the halls of various government agencies.
There is a barely visible but still significant war raging between a government obsessed with secrecy and whistleblowers seeking to expose waste, fraud and wrongdoing. Right now, it is a largely one-sided struggle and the jobs of those of us who are experiencing retaliation are the least of what’s at stake.
Think of those victims of retaliatory personnel practices and imprisoned whistleblowers as the canaries in the deep mineshaft of federal Washington, clear evidence of a government that serves its people poorly and has no interest in being held accountable for that fact. This administration fears the noise of democracy, preferring the silence of compliance.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Swedish Due Process, International Law, Not Followed in Assange Case

Given Sweden's close relations with the United States, despite its pacifist/peaceable image, and violations of Swedish legal and police procedure in pursuing the case against Julian Assange, there is sufficient cause for the founder of the Wikileaks organisation that leaked hundreds of thousands of secret US embassy cables to the world's leading newspapers in late 2011, to worry that the Swedes would quite easily be persuaded to extradite him for prosecution in the USA with the possibility of being tried for a capital offence.

Sweden contributes military forces under US-NATO control in Afghanistan; it contributed military assistance during the Libyan intervenion; its ministers report regularly on military and intelligence matters to the US embassy; its Afghanistan-based aid agencies supply intelligence to the United States on a regular basis. It collaborated with the United States on extraordinary rendition by the CIA of people who had applied for asylum to Sweden. And Assange's Wikileaks  website exposed a whole range of US-Swedish cooperation that did not reflect well on Sweden's global image as "a good state".

A country that is so close to the United States may be likely to extradite Assange. If that is assumed, then the violations of police and judicial procedures during the early part of the investigation of Assange's alleged sexual assault and rape of two Swedish women - which he denies - acquire an essentialpolitical context that appears lacking in most mainstream analyses of the matter - for example in The Guardian's editorial (17 August, 2012).

Some issues that are pertinent - based on the legal opinion of Sven-Erik Alhelm, former Stockholm District Prosecutor, who now lectures at Lund University, among other roles, as submitted to the Stockholm Court are indicated below. Together, they case doubt on the nature of the investigation of rape allegations against Assange and, according to Alhelm, make a fair trial unlikely:

1. The police interviewed both female complainants together rather than separately which, according to Alhelm, was "a mistake" that "contaminated the evidence" which was "not professional".

2. The prosecution informed the media of Assange's identity during the investigation phase against normal procedure; rape trials are normally held in secret and the identity of suspects is maintained until after successful prosecution. "Such confirmation of the identity of a suspect to the meid is, in my view, completely against proper procedure and in violation of the Swedish law and rules regarding preliminary investigations." Alhelm also noted in his expert witness statement that the prosecutor should not have done this although there is no remedy against this in Swedish law. Hence, the word spread to the world's media that assnage was a rape suspect, despite the early stage of the preliminary investigation.

3. Despite Assange making himself available for interview by police while still in Sweden, the Prosecutor chose not to do so, even though one of the alleged rape victims was re-interviewed while Assange was in the country. Failing to obtain the alleged suspect's side of events, at an early stage of the preliminary investigation, prevents the full picture of events from emerging, from all sides.

4. Assange could still be interviewed in London, including at the Ecudorian embassy, and has indictaed his willingness to be interrogated by Swedish police, but to no avail. He is still not charged with any offence, which may be surprising given the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) that has been issued calling for his extradition.

5. Alhelm argues that issuance of EAW is "against the principle of proportionality"

6. The current Stockholm Prosecutor, Marianne Ny, may still seek British permission to interview assange in London but cliams it is against Swedish law - a claim Alhelm denies has any grounds under Swedish law.

It is difficult to understand why Assange was not interviewd by Ny in Sweden when he was there and offering to be interrogated, or in London thereafter. To ask for extradition of an individual who was not interrogated when available and is still not charged with an offence would appear to be wholly disproportionate.

At the very least, there are grounds for Assange credibly to claim that he is unlikley to be dealt with fairly in Sweden and, at worst, to be handed over to the US for prosecution for the most heinous of crimes - leaking official information on how American power really works.

In that context, UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague's, thinly veiled threat to send in police to arrest Assange from within the Ecuadorian embassy in London, are reminiscent of the sort of gunboat diplomacy British imperial rule was built upon, with scant regard for international law.

It demonstrates that Hague, in citing a 1987 UK law passed after the shooting from the Libyan embassy of a police woman, considers Assange a terrorist, just as much as many leading American politicians do, for leaking to the world's publics information vital to understanding the nature of US power. Indeed, the secret US embassy cables showed, among other things, that Hillary Clinton, Obama's secretary of state, orderd the CIA to violate the Vienna Convention to gain information on UN diplomats and representatives.

Blow the whistle on anyone else, but not on the global powers that be - that's the message of the case against Julian Assange and the Wikileaks organisation. In pursuing Assange they way they are, the Swedish and UK authorities demonstrate their slavish compliance with US power.

Friday, 17 August 2012

America's Toxic Legacy in Vietnam

US President Lyndon Johnson's stated wish to leave in Vietnam the "footprints of America", monuments of American generosity and power, have left a toxic legacy, the clear up of which has hardly begun, as America celebrates its contribution to detoxification at one air base, 50 years since 20,000,000 gallons of deadly Agent Orange were poured over South Vietmnam.

University of East Anglia's Dr. David Milne, able biographer of one of the architects of US aggression in Vietnam, Walt Rostow, understates the case when he suggests that "As it turned out, America's footprint on Vietnam's topography often took the more distinguishable form of bomb craters and torched villages..." Of course craters and villages razed to the ground were a feature of America's attempts to "save" the Vietnamese people from communism and attempts to chart their own future within their own borders, a basic democratic right. There are 20 million bomb craters still there, filled with stagnant water, infested with malaria and dengue fever-carryng mosquitoes.

More ordnance was dropped on Vietnam by the Americans' military juggernaut than over Europe as a whole during the Second World War. Indeed, bombing Vietnam "back to the stone age" was one possible scenario envisaged by US Air Force cheif of staff, Curtis LeMay.

The legacy of Agent Orange, however, has proved longer lasting than ordnance and scorched earth policies. 20 million gallons of the deadliest toxin developed by science was used to defoliate forest and agricultural field to deny communists food and shelter in the countryside and to drive peasants off the land and into US dominated cities. Communists were considered infiltartors from North Vietnam fomenting rebellion against the corrupt US-installed puppet regime of Ngo Diem, among others. In fact, South Vietnam was a state entirely sustained by US power and collapsed within a month of their departure in 1973, so illegitimate was it in the eys of ordinary Vietnamese people.

Agent Orange led to ca 400,000 deaths and severe casualties, in addition to ca 500,000 children born with birth defects.

By 1971: 12% of the total area of South Vietnam sprayed with defoliating chemicals, at an average concentration of 13 times the recommended USDA application rate for domestic use.

In South Vietnam alone, an estimated 10 million hectares of agricultural land were ultimately destroyed.

Destroyed 5 million acres (20,000 km2) of upland and mangrove forests and millions of acres of crops.

Overall, more than 20% of South Vietnam's forests were sprayed at least once over a nine year period

Children in the areas where Agent Orange used: multiple health problems, including cleft palate, mental disabilities, hernias

Contaminated soil and sediment continue to affect the citizens of Vietnam, poisoning their food chain and causing illnesses, serious skin diseases and a variety of cancers in the lungs, larynx, and prostate.

About 17.8% (3,100,000 ha) of the total forested area of Vietnam was sprayed during the war; persistent nature of dioxins, erosion caused by loss of protective tree cover, and loss of seeding forest stock, meant reforestation was difficult or impossible in many areas

Dioxins from Agent Orange have persisted in the Vietnamese environment since the war, settling in the soil and sediment and entering into food chain through the animals and fish that feed in the contaminated areas.

And now the US is paying towards detoxification of the US air base at Da Nang, probably part of an attempt to woo Vietnam into closer US cooperation to contain or encircle China. 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012



As the world prepares to face another US presidential election, thoughts turn to the likely foreign and national security policies of America’s first ‘Mormon’ White House under Mitt Romney. Widely derided as either weird or a cult, a foreign policy ‘true’ to Mormon beliefs would likely see radical shifts – a massive rollback of American military forces from Afghanistan, reduction of the threatening attitude to Iran, a reversal of blanket support and aid to Israel, and slashed military spending. America would ‘come home’ and experience a real peace dividend that so patently failed to materialise after the end of the Cold War.
But there’s a difference between authentic Mormon beliefs and ex-Bishop Willard Mitt Romney, the Church of Latter Day Saints’ establishment and, it must be noted, the majority of American Mormons. So ‘Americanised’ are Romney, the LDS establishment, and lay Mormons that a Romney White House would differ little in practice from previous administrations – including JFK’s ‘Roman Catholic’ and Obama’s ‘African-American’ ones. And that is testimony to the almost overweening assimilating powers of the American Way of Life – the subordination, or hollowing out, of any beliefs that challenge free enterprise, limited government, American exceptionalism, and US proactive global leadership.  

A variety of dissenting voices – socialist, conservative, and others - are heard in the Mormon community which, at 14 million strong worldwide, is the fourth largest denomination in the United States. ‘Mormons for Ron Paul’ – a libertarian Republican contender for the GOP’s nomination who may have as much as 20% of all delegates at the upcoming national convention in Tampa, Florida - argue that Romney, the LDS hierarchy and fellow Christians have forgotten the fundamentals of Christian beliefs in peace, diplomacy and negotiation. But when Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas, rejected US military intervention as a ‘silver bullet’ for global problems, he was met with derision from fellow Republicans and Christians. LDS ‘Liberty’ members, who also backed Ron Paul, suggested that US foreign policy be run according to the Bible’s ‘Golden Rule’ – the principle that “forbids interference by one with the rights of another. It is equally binding upon nations, associations, and individuals…” “Love your enemies,” they suggest, while deriding as “death and destruction” large swathes of American foreign and national security policy.

Meanwhile, the ‘Latter Day Conservatives’ website further underlines Mormons’ authentic belief in Christian values. They argue that Christians should ever lift “a standard of peace” rather than fight wars or exact “vengeance” even for the terror attacks on 9-11, rejecting “pre-emptive war” on Iraq, or a future war on Iran, as Romney threatens, if elected. Projecting back into American history to trace the rise of an interventionist mindset, LDS Conservatives criticise President Woodrow Wilson’s alleged support for a  “world safe for democracy” during World War I, suggesting that “There is one and only one legitimate goal of US foreign policy…: the preservation of our national independence. Nothing in the Constitution grants that the President shall have the privilege of offering himself as a world leader…. [nor] to influence the life of other countries, to ‘uplift’ their cultures, to bolster their economies….”

Yet, so reputedly integrated into the American Way are Mormons that the FBI and CIA regard mere LDS membership as de facto patriotic loyalty tests. And there is a logical reason: Mormons believe the American Constitution to be a sacred document received direct from God – not the work of mere mortals. They also believe fundamentally in America’s exceptional character and mission. And this aligns perfectly with the missionary character of Mormonism itself. Indeed, the teetotal Mitt Romney spent years in France – and in French bars – trying to win converts to the cause.

There are Mormons, however, who lament the uncritical acceptance among their community of the word from the White House in regard to the dangers to the republic from “monsters abroad”. To some, the broad mass of Mormons appear to be only faintly familiar with the Book of Mormon, the LDS’ earliest and most holy scripture, making them prey to “scheming leaders”. They reject the claims of the LDS establishment, which backed the preventive war on Iraq in 2003, on the basis that it was a war, in the words of LDS President, Gordon B. Hinckley, “not… for… power but… for [Americans’] homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church.”
From the Left, The Mormon Worker website not only rejects Romney’s foreign policies on Israel and the Palestinians, among others, but also lambasts President Obama’s strategy - before and during the Arab spring – of supplying American arms to some of the most repressive and backward regimes in the region to put down popular revolts.

But these are relatively isolated voices in the Mormon community, while Romney swims with the tide. Romney has drawn his foreign policy advisors from among re-organised and renewed neoconservatives who backed the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) and other militaristic organisations – like Elliott Cohen, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, John Bolton- that called for an American war on Iraq as early as 1997. Not for Romney, a foreign affairs novice, the counsel of old time Republican internationalists like Brent Scowcroft or Richard Armitage, or Reagan-Bush I era former secretaries of state, James Baker III or George P. Shultz – who were aggressive enough in the pursuit of American power. Consequently, Romney has veered towards bellicose declarations – no negotiations with the Taliban (instead the US should “go anywhere they are and… kill them”), greater military and economic pressure on Iran, more arms to Taiwan, and declared Russia America’s main geopolitical enemy.

Romney has dozens of foreign and national security policy advisors but his inner circle are reputed to be similar to Bush’s ‘vulcans’ – neoconservative hardliners who appear to think that the Iraq War was a great American victory and that the military budget should be increased by $200 billion by 2016 ( the Obama administration had increased military spending by $200 billion over that of President Bush in 2008; Romney’s plans project spending to increase 38% higher than Obama’s current plans), including an increase of 100,000 soldiers in the military, from five to nine navy ships built annually, stationing two aircraft carriers off Iran’s coast (Obama has ramped up such pressure on Iran too), and installing a missile defence system in Europe. At the same time, Romney advocates cutting taxes by 20%; in 2010, Obama, it may be recalled, retained President Bush’s planned tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. The Obama administration’s militarism has pushed Romney to even greater, politically less credible, extremes.

A truly Mormon White House? If only….