Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Liberty Affair & The Problem With The Truth Of History

Courtesy Of Alan Heart

As it relates to the making and sustaining of the Arab-Israeli conflict, there is no better or more shocking example of how the truth of history has been suppressed than the Liberty Affair? Israel’s attack, on 8 June 1967, on America’s most sophisticated spy ship; an all-out attack which was originally intended to kill all of the Liberty’s crew and sink the vessel but which, when the attack was called off, had killed “only” 34 American sailors and wounded 172 others.

On 8 June this year I received from America’s Council for the National Interest Foundation (CNI) the text of an op-ed carried by the San DiegoUnion Tribune of that day. It was headlined Forty Years Later, Searching for Truth. The writer of it was Ward Boston, Jr. (Who he is, and what he was, in a moment).

For this posting I am going to reproduce the text of the op-ed; then briefly summarise the results of my own search for the truth as set down in Volume Two of my book Zionism, The Real Enemy of the Jews; and I will conclude by addressing the question? Why the cover-up, by the media as well as the Johnson administration?

Text of the San DiegoUnion Tribune’sop-ed (my emphasis added)

Forty years ago this week, I was asked to investigate the heaviest attack on an American ship since World War II. As senior legal counsel to the Navy Court of Inquiry it was my job to help uncover the truth regarding Israel’s June 8th1967 bombing of the USS Liberty.

On that sunny, clear day 40 years ago, Israel’s combined air and naval forces attacked our American intelligence-gathering ship for two hours, inflicting 70 percent casualties. Thirty-four American soldiers died and 172 were injured. The USS Liberty remained afloat only by the crew’s heroic efforts.

Israel claimed it was an accident. Yet I know from personal conversations with the late Admiral Isaac C. Kidd? president of the Court of Inquiry? that President Johnson and Secretary of Defence McNamara ordered him to conclude that the attack was a case of “mistaken identity.”

The ensuing cover-up has haunted us for 40 years.What does it imply for our national security, not to mention our ability to honestly broker peace in the Middle East, when we cannot question Israel’s actions? even when they kill Americans?

On June 8th, survivors of Israel’s cruel attack will gather in Washington DC to honor their dead shipmates as well as the mothers, sisters, widows and children they left behind. They will continue to ask for a fair and impartial congressional inquiry that, for the first time, would allow the survivors themselves to testify publicly.

For decades I have remained silent. I am a military man and when orders come in from the Secretary of Defence and President of the United States, I follow them. However, attempts to rewrite history and concern for my country compel me to tell the truth.

Admiral Kidd and I were given only one week to gather evidence for the Navy’s official investigation, though we both estimated that a proper Court of Inquiry would take at least six months.

We boarded the crippled ship at sea and interviewed survivors. The evidence was clear. We both believed with certainty that this attack was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew.

I am certain that Israeli pilots and commanders who had ordered the attack knew the ship was American. I saw the bullet-riddled American flag that had been raised by the crew after their first flag had been shot down completely. I heard testimony that made it clear the Israelis intended there be no survivors. Not only did they attack with napalm, gunfire and missiles, Israeli torpedo boats machine-gunned at close range three life rafts that had been launched in an attempt to save the most seriously wounded.

I am outraged at the efforts of Israel’s apologists to claim this attack was a case of “mistaken identity”.

Admiral Kidd told me that after receiving the President’s cover-up orders, he was instructed to sit down with two civilians from either the White House or the Defence Department, and rewrite portions of the Court’s findings. He said, “Ward, they are not interest in the facts. It’s a political matter and we cannot talk about it.” We were to “put a lid on it” and caution everyone involved never to speak of it again.

I know that the Court of Inquiry transcript that has been released to the public is not the same one that I certified and sent to Washington. I know this because it was necessary, due to the exigencies of time, to hand correct and initial a substantial number of pages. I have examined the released version of the transcript and did not see any pages that bore my hand corrections and initials. Also, the original did not have any deliberately blank pages, as the released version does. In addition, the testimony of Lt. Lloyd Painter concerning the deliberate machine-gunning of the life rafts by the Israeli torpedo boat crews, which I distinctly recall being given to the Court of Inquiry and included in the original transcript, is now missing.

I join the survivors in their call for an honest inquiry. Why is there no room to question Israel? even when the kill Americans? in the halls of Congress?

Let the survivors testify. Let me testify. Let former intelligence officers testify that they received real-time Hebrew translations of Israeli commanders instructing their pilots to sink “the American ship.”

Surely uncovering the truth about what happened to American servicemen in a bloody attack is more important than protecting Israel. And surely forty years is long enough to wait.

I salute the courage and integrity of three parties: Ward Boston Jr. for writing that; the Editor of the San Diego Union Tribunefor publishing it; and the Copley family which owns the newspaper and allows it to be a beacon of light in an otherwise very dark and menacing mainstream media landscape. (I’m a former ITN and BBC Panorama correspondent, and it’s my view that the mainstream media, out of fear of offending Zionism, is not only complicit in Zionism’s suppression of the truth of history, but is betraying democracy).

The attack on the Liberty was ordered by Defence Minister Moshe Dayan, Israel’s charismatic, one-eyed warlord and master of deception. (I knew this Moshe well enough to have private conversations with him. If asked today to describe him in retrospect, I would say that he was a most engaging war criminal).

Like so much else to do with the making and sustaining of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the motive for the attack on the Liberty has to be deduced from what happened in the countdown to the 1967 war (one could say the countdown began when the fighting of 1948 ended), and what happened during the war.

In Zionism, The Real Enemy of the Jews, the story unfolds in two chapters of Volume Two? Chapter 24, which is titled America Takes Sides, War with Nasser Act II; and the Creation of Greater Israel; and Chapter 25, which is titled The Liberty Affair? “Pure Murder” on a “Great Day” and includes a very graphic and detailed account of the attack.

The key to more or less complete understanding is knowledge of the Liberty’s capabilitiesand what itsmission was as it patrolled off the Mediterranean coast of Israel and the Sinai Peninsula. The essence is summarised in nine paragraphs of my Chapter 25 as follows:

The Liberty’s naval designation was AGTR-5, meaning that it was the fifth ship in a series undertaking “Auxiliary General Technical Research.” It was, in fact, a converted World War II Victory ship? the former Simmons Victory. It had been refitted by the NSA (National Security Agency) for use as a signals intelligence (SIGINT) “platform”? a floating listening post. It had a very sophisticated system of radio antennae including a “Big Ear” sonar-radio listening device with a clear capability range of over 500 miles. Up to that distance the Libertycould intercept virtually any form of wireless communication, including military and diplomatic traffic, telemetry data, rocket guidance and satellite control, among others. It could then decode and process the intercepted messages and relay them back to the NSA at Fort Meade, Maryland, via short-wave radio or through a very special communications system called TRSSCOM, using a 10,000-watt microwave signal bounced off the surface of the moon. The USS Liberty was America’s most advanced spy ship.

Below decks the communications areas? which housed the computers, listening and decoding devices manned by linguistic experts and other personnel who were changed according to the ship’s mission? were off-limits to the crew, including Captain William McGonagle. The communication areas were under the direct control of an NSA technician (managing spook). The on-board NSA controller for the Liberty’s June ‘67 mission was known to the crew as “the Major.” With two other civilians he joined the Libertyat Rota in Spain shortly before the spy ship sailed from there for the Middle East on 2 June. The day after Dayan became minister of defense. (A coincidence?)

The Liberty’s movements were controlled by the JCS (Joints Chiefs of Staff) and NSA in Washington. With a top speed of 18 knots it was faster than most ships of its kind. On both the forecastle and deckhouse aft of the bridge there were two pedestal-mounted 0.50-caliber Browning machine guns. These four guns, on open mounts without shrapnel shields, were the spy ship’s only defences. Strictly speaking the Liberty was not an unarmed vessel but for all practical purposes it was. Another sitting duck if attacked.

The Liberty’s mission was TOP SECRET and has not been acknowledged to this day.

It was on patrol, listening, because some in the Johnson administration? perhaps Defence Secretary McNamara especially? did not trust the Israelis to keep their word with regard to the scope of the war.

The Johnson administration had given the green light for Israel to attack Egypt and only Egypt. It was understood that the IDF would have to respond to Jordanian intervention? if it happened, but on no account was Israel to seek to widen the war for the purpose of taking Jordanian or Syrian territory. Apart from President Johnson’s public statement that he was as firmly committed as his predecessors had been to the “political independence and territorial integrity of all the nations in that area”, Washington’s fear was what could happen if the Israelis occupied Syrian territory. If they did there was a possibility of Soviet intervention (for face-saving reasons). Soviet leaders could just about live with the Egyptians being smashed by the IDF but not the Syrians too. Through the CIA the Johnson administration was aware of the IDF’s secret agreement with the Syrian regime. So it, the Johnson administration, was reasonably confident that the Syrians would not seek to widen the war by engaging the Israelis in any serious way. The name of the U.S. counter-intelligence game was therefore preventing Israel from attacking Syria. That was the Liberty’s mission.

Strange Invaders

Can Ignorance and Arrogance Win Hearts and Minds?

October 29, 2009
Courtesy Of CounterPunch

Arguably, two critical assumptions responsible for the events in Iraq (and the pending disaster in Afghanistan) are (1) that men who wear ties and jackets and carry briefcases and Blackberries are “smarter” than men who wear funny clothes and ride camels, and (2) that, in the grand scheme of things, a technologically superior military force will always defeat a technologically inferior one.

As an ex-Peace Corps volunteer (India), I’m struck by how—despite the obvious lessons of Vietnam—the combination of naïve optimism, institutional arrogance, career advancement, and old-fashioned stubbornness can more or less constitute a foreign policy.

Back in those days, Peace Corps training required three months, ten hours a day, of studying the language (Hindi), customs, religion, history, and politics of India. This stuff had to be learned before we were allowed to represent the United States as volunteers. The program was rigorous. A large number of trainees were “de-selected,” the State Department’s euphemism for washed-out.

Our teachers were Indian and American academics. Every candidate in our group had a college education and every one of us was culturally empathetic and idealistic. That was the kind of person the Peace Corps attracted. As a means of weeding out any potential weirdoes or misfits, we were required to meet with a psychologist once every two weeks and a psychiatrist once a month.

Yet, for all this preparation, once in India, we committed social blunder after social blunder. Despite desperately wanting to make a good impression, we regularly embarrassed and disappointed our Indian hosts. We inadvertently insulted them, alienated them, confused, dismayed, and angered them; on occasion we made utter fools of ourselves. And we did this with some of the best training you could get.

Which brings us to Afghanistan. Apparently, the U.S. military—under the rubric of “counter-insurgency”—has been assigned the task of laying the groundwork for the nation building that’s expected to follow. While the notion that something as wildly ambitious as “nation building” (particularly in a country as recalcitrant as Afghanistan) can be successful is, by itself, mind-boggling, the belief that the foundation can be laid by Marines is close to preposterous.

Even though Peace Corps volunteers aren’t experts on political policy or international relations, they do know a thing or two about cross-cultural exchanges. If you were to ask any ex-volunteer who they think would be the worst possible choice for an emissary or ambassador to a foreign country—particularly one expected to mingle at the village level—they’d tell you it would be a soldier.

Villagers already know who Americans are. They know we have everything and they have nothing. They know we’re rich, powerful and aggressive, and they assume—rightly or wrongly—that Americans are going to consider their country an economic and cultural cesspool. If we pretend they’re not poor and backward, we’re patronizing; if we pretend it doesn’t matter, we’re condescending.

Although these people are, by our lights, “primitive,” it is a profound error to assume they’re stupid. Yet, that seems to be the prevailing assumption. Indeed, if we didn’t assume they were less intelligent—if we didn’t think they were too dumb to distinguish between ambassadors and combat soldiers—we wouldn’t be using 19-year old Marines as cultural liaisons.

Still, you hear Pentagon brass glibly defend this policy by assuring skeptics that these soldiers will be provided with all the necessary “sensitivity training” required for the job, including removing their robo-cop sunglasses when conversing with villagers, traveling on foot instead of in motorized convoys, and passing out chocolate bars and medical supplies.

This is startling. Either these officials are working off some mawkish World War II nostalgia, believing the Afghans will greet our soldiers the way French jubilantly greeted the U.S. army when it liberated Paris, or they’re deliberately deluding themselves, denying both the bitter lessons of history and the confounding empirical evidence before them.

In any case, they’re ignoring the fact that the men who are removing their sunglasses and passing out free goodies are armed invaders. Foreign invaders. And it’s simply unrealistic to believe that foreign invaders will win the hearts and minds of the citizens, no matter how “logical” the enterprise or how sincere the effort.

Because these men carry automatic weapons and, literally, have the power of life and death, they will be treated with detached respect; they will be listened to; they will be shown deference; they will be tolerated. Until they finally decide to go back home.

David Macaray is a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”). He can be reached at

Time for Jews To Abandon the Old Foundation Myth of Israel?

Israel Must Abandon Its Myth Of Unquestionable Benevolence If There's To Be Any Hope For Peace.
By Ira Chernus,
Source: Religion Dispatches
Posted July 6, 2009
Courtesy Of Alter Net

Pundit Stanley Greenberg got it right when he said that in politics "a narrative is the key to everything."

But some issues, like the Israel-Palestine conflict, seem to resist change as they form a thicket of many narratives, tangled up so badly that progress toward a solution seems all but impossible.

Now President Barack Obama has waded into that thicket, giving the world an implicit pledge that he will somehow make real progress toward a peace settlement. And he's already made a down payment to fulfilling that pledge, provoking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's promise to work toward "two free peoples living side by side," marking a real change in the narrative structure of the situation.

We no longer have to deal with two competing narratives, one about Israel holding on to the Occupied Territories and the other about Israel ending the occupation; the story of the two-state solution has triumphed. So there is no longer an overarching super-narrative about two stories fighting for political dominance in Israel and in the American Jewish community.

This reminds us that in such tangled situations, the many narratives swirling through it are arranged in a (usually implicit) hierarchy. Some are small tales, dealing with only a part of the situation. Some are larger and claim to take in the whole reality. Even among those larger ones, though, some are more basic than others; the upper-story stories (as we might call them) are not convincing, perhaps have no meaning at all, unless one first accepts the more basic lower-story stories.

And if one digs deep enough, down to the foundation, there is a foundational narrative holding up the whole structure and all its component stories. That deepest level narrative is the one we can rightly call the prevailing myth.

Postmodernists may call it the "master narrative" and say it must be abolished or ignored. But ordinary people, who have not read philosophers Jean-Francois Lyotard or Frederic Jameson, don't give up their myths so easily. Nor can even the heaviest barrage of empirical facts tear the myths from people's minds.

A myth is not necessarily a lie or a fiction. It may contain some measure of empirical truth. But that's irrelevant to its power as myth. For those who hold fast to it, the myth determines what can count as truth and what must be rejected as falsehood. It determines what empirical evidence they can see and what they can't see. And it determines what higher-level narratives they will accept or reject.

'You are contemptible, because you have no real self-esteem and no national self-respect'

For the Jewish community, the narratives of accepting and rejecting a two-state solution were rather all-encompassing, and the story of the battle between those two narratives was even more basic. But these still did not get down to the foundational level of myth.

Netanyahu made that clear in the speech that offered his pro forma commitment to a two-state solution. What many took as a sea change in Jewish political life was actually only a small part of the speech.

Look at the whole rhetorical entity, and the message was quite different: Upper-story stories, even seemingly fundamental ones, can come and go, but the foundational myth endures.

After some preliminary praises of peace, Netanyahu got to the heart of his speech, asking the rhetorical question: "Why is peace still so far from us, even though our [Israeli] hands are extended for peace?"

The predictable answer reaffirmed what may be the most basic Israeli myth of all, the myth of innocence and existential threat. Every problem, it turned out, was the fault of others (mainly Arabs) who "refused any Jewish state whatsoever." The speaker offered a long tour of history, all "proving" the truth of his myth -- tautologically, of course, since the facts were only those that the myth permitted.

Even when he turned to "the need for us to recognize their [Palestinian] rights," Netanyahu still projected the whole picture through the eyes of the myth of innocence and existential threat: "We do not want to rule over them. We do not want to run their lives." "We cannot be expected to agree to a Palestinian state without ensuring that it is demilitarized. This is crucial to the existence of Israel. … Without this, sooner or later, we will have another Hamastan."

Then there was the insistence on the seemingly innocent right of "natural growth" in the settlements, an appeal for the return of Gilad Shalit and the closing plea that "if our neighbors [will] only work for peace, we can achieve peace."

The root of every problem, and thus the source of every solution, was still placed outside the Jewish community, among the Gentiles, the "goyim."

This myth is as old as Zionism itself. In the essay that set the movement in motion, "Self-Emancipation" (1881), Leo Pinsker told the Jews that they would always be mistreated by the goyim because everyone fears, and thus persecutes, homeless people.

Later Zionist theorists set forth other explanations of anti-Jewish prejudice. But most agreed that the Jews would be victimized, through no fault of their own, as long as they lived among the goyim.

Pinsker said more, though: His own people were to blame, because they would not acknowledge the permanent enmity and inhumanity of the goyim. "You are contemptible, because you have no real self-esteem and no national self-respect," he wrote. Pinsker's chastising voice has echoed loudly through 130 years of Zionist thinking, casting self-doubt and sometimes even a sense of shame.

It must have echoed loudly in Netanyahu's mind as he pondered his response to the Obama administration's new pressures upon him. He has built his career as a symbol of the self-esteem Israeli Jews gained by showing their strength. If he simply knuckled under to the Americans, he might easily trigger enough doubt and shame in his followers to bring his political downfall.

To still the doubts and fend off the shame, he had to offer the full Israeli myth, with its three interlocking, mutually reinforcing themes: Our enemies threaten our very existence; We are wholly innocent, having done nothing at all to evoke such enmity; We will maintain our self-esteem and self-respect by inflicting enough defeats on our enemies to prove to them, and to ourselves, our indomitable strength.

So the Palestinians get no part of Jerusalem, no hint of a right of return, no freeze on settlements and a vaguely defined state at some future date, but with no army, no control of their air space, no right to sign treaties unless Israel approves, and (it would seem) other unspecified limitations to be dictated by Israel as negotiations proceed.

Of course Netanyahu knows full well that Israel can show its vaunted strength only as long as the United States pays the bill. He could not simply bite the hand that feeds him $2.775 billion a year in military aid. So he committed himself to a "vision" of "two free peoples living side by side," hedged in by all the limitations that the foundational myth requires.

While the question of whether to pursue a two-state solution is apparently settled, the larger questions remain: Will Jews in Israel, and those around the world who care about Israel, continue to build Jewish life on the same old foundational myth? Or will the changes in policy open up room for a discussion of deeper changes in the myth itself?

In Israel, the widespread approval of Netanyahu's speech suggests that the myth remains healthy (although there is still, as there has always been, a significant minority who challenge it). It's here in the United States -- where Jewish community support is vital to keep all those dollars flowing to Israel -- that the myth is increasingly called into question.

Meet the New Myth, Not the Same as the Old Myth

Diane Balzer is president of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the largest -- and among the most moderate -- of American Jewry's several pro-Israel, pro-peace groups. She gave Netanyahu qualified praise, welcoming his two-state approach but noting that his "statements on continued settlement expansion, the status of refugees and Jerusalem, and the future Palestinian state's control over its own borders complicate efforts to renew substantive negotiations by attempting to prejudge their outcome."

Behind those measured words hides a potentially explosive message: It is time for Jews to abandon the old foundation myth in favor of a new one. That's clear just by considering what it means to enter "substantive" negotiations without attempting to prejudge their outcome.

The goal must be an actual settlement of the conflict, one that improves the situation for one's own side; in this case, for Israel, which is exactly what Brit Tzedek and all the other Jewish peace groups want.

But the settlement has to be mutually beneficial; the opponents won't agree unless it improves the situation for their side, too. So there are at least three necessary conditions if you want "substantive" negotiations:

  • You cannot assume that your opponents are out to destroy your very existence simply because they are trying to drive a hard bargain;
  • You cannot assume that all the fault and blame for the problem lies with your opponents;
  • You cannot let your self-esteem rest on showing your strength by being intransigent, prejudging outcomes and inflicting defeats on your opponent.

Breaking any of these rules, and certainly all three of them, dooms the negotiation to be fruitless from the outset.

Thus, the call for "substantive" negotiations sows the seed of a new Jewish myth whose basic elements are just the opposite of the old one:

  • Jews and Gentiles have to live together; they are inextricably woven together in a single web of relationship, what Martin Luther King Jr. called a "single garment of destiny."
  • Within that web, there will inevitably be both conflict and cooperation; cooperation is perfectly possible, so it pays to make serious efforts to promote it, which means being responsive to the changing concerns of everyone else in the web.
  • There are rights and wrongs done on every side; it makes no sense to measure how much blame accrues to any one side, because finger-pointing blocks the way to cooperation.
  • Self-esteem comes from promoting cooperation; if self-esteem must depend on showing one's strength (an open question), the way to show strength is to show understanding of others, respond to their concerns and find paths of mutual benefit.

Many Jewish peace advocates are not yet aware of the new myth they are implicitly telling, nor of the magnitude of change in Jewish life it can create. But new myths rarely arise by conscious effort. They simply grow organically as people pursue the goals they value most and talk to others about their efforts.

Then one day, someone wearing the mantle of authority (perhaps even a future prime minister of Israel) looks back and says of the new myth just what people once said about the old one: "This is what we've always believed. These are our eternal values."

How long that will take no one can predict. But considering the suffering the old myth has produced for Israelis and -- much more so -- for Palestinians, even one more day is too long.

Ira Chernus is professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Read more of his writing on Israel, Palestine and American Jews on his blog.

The Right-Wing's Vice Grip On U.S. Israeli Policy

Obama's national security adviser will keynote the inaugural conference of the moderate advocacy group J-Street, an alternative to Washington's hawkish Israel lobby.
By Joshua Holland,
Posted October 26, 2009.
Courtesy of Alter Net

This week, retired Marine Corps Gen. Jim Jones, Barack Obama's national security adviser, will keynote the inaugural J Street Conference, billed as a gathering of "progressive pro-Israel, pro-peace" activists.

The event marks the emergence of the moderate Jewish advocacy group that aspires to be a counterweight to the voices of the traditionally hawkish "pro-Israel" lobby in Washington.

The White House's decision last week to send Jones to address the event was a small move that might have a significant impact on the overheated politics of the Middle East.

In the months before, a full-throated "swift boat" campaign had been launched against J Street in an attempt to vilify and delegitimize the group as belonging to the fringe, despite its advocacy of a moderate, or at most slightly left-of center, approach to U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The conservative media offered a steady drumbeat of dubious charges, and a campaign had been under way to warn members of Congress away from the event. And it appeared to be having some impact as several members of Congress pulled out of the conference in the weeks leading up to the event (a total of 10 reportedly dropped out, according to reports, but not all in response to outside pressure).

It was an attempt to nip J Street in the bud and preserve the hegemony established lobbying groups like American Israel Public Affairs Committee have long enjoyed in the halls of Congress.

At stake was not only the definition of what it means to be "pro-Israel" -- long synonymous with supporting the more hawkish end of Israel's political spectrum (despite American Jews' general tendency to lean left) -- but also, and more importantly, the ability of established lobbying groups to claim to speak for the American Jewish community as a whole.

It was a closely watched Washington fight, and when the White House announced that the head of Obama's National Security Council would headline the event, it sent a powerful message, legitimizing the 2-year-old group as a voice in U.S. foreign policy debates and providing cover for wavering lawmakers under pressure to skip the conference.

It signaled, to the media and other interested observers, that the J Street conference is decidedly within the mainstream.

It was also another small shot at the hawkish Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- a public rebuke of Israeli ambassador Michael Oren's high-profile decision to boycott the conference a week earlier -- a decision that may have been prompted by pressure from AIPAC (Israel said it had concerns for some of the group's positions but would send an "observer").

Indeed, the Washington Post framed the entire controversy surrounding the conference as a proxy war in a larger conflict between the White House and the Israeli government under right-wing Netanyahu.

In sending Jones, not only did the Obama administration help J Street take the old-school "Israel lobby's" best punches and come through standing on its feet, it did itself a service in the process.

Obama has long been dogged by warnings that he risks losing support among American Jews for a range of policies -- from attempts to reach out to the Islamic world, to negotiating with Iran and, perhaps most significantly, for confronting the Israeli government on the expansion of Israeli settlements.

His administration is leaning on a new generation of moderate-to-progressive Jewish activists, represented most visibly at the moment by J Street, to provide political cover for him in turn.

What Does It Mean To Be Pro-Israel?

The spate of attacks hurled at J Street were intended to paint the group as "anti-Israel," outside the mainstream and unrepresentative of the views of the Jewish community. As such, its critics claim, J Street has no right to a seat at the table on the "pro-Israel" side of any discussion of U.S. policy.

But a series of polls of American Jews commissioned by the group suggest the opposite is true, that J Street's moderate view of the Israel-Palestine conflict better reflects the views of most American Jews than those of more hawkish "pro-Israel" groups.

According to the study [doc.] conducted in March, while "support for Israel is strong and stable among American Jews," they tend to take "very sophisticated and nuanced positions when it comes to American policy toward the Middle East" -- positions that are anything but the Israel-right-or-wrong narrative advanced by the established right-leaning groups of the "Israel lobby."

For example, almost 9 of 10 American Jews surveyed said the administration should put pressure on both sides to achieve a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. And while it's official Israeli (and U.S.) policy not to negotiate with any Palestinian entity that includes members of Hamas, 7 out of 10 American Jews would be in favor of Israel cutting a deal with a unity government that included the organization.

Six of 10 oppose the expansion of Israeli settlements, "56 percent believe that military action that kills Palestinian civilians -- even if it targets terrorists -- actually creates more terrorism instead of preventing terrorism," and while a majority supported Israel's "right" to launch last year's attack on the Gaza Strip, 60 percent of respondents said the campaign had either done nothing to enhance Israel's security or had in fact made the country less safe.

Withering Fire

The great danger J Street represents to the long-established groups of the "Israel lobby" is that it has the potential to shift the terms of the debate in Washington -- redefining the boundaries of "mainstream" discourse on the Middle East conflict.

"A more open discourse would reveal how the policies advocated by the traditional lobbying groups have damaged U.S. Interests and unintentionally harmed Israel as well," Harvard's Steven Walt, co-author of The Israel Lobby, said in an email-exchange. "And that is not something that AIPAC and the other hard-line groups want to have exposed."

The reaction to J Street's emergence on the scene has been fierce. In an e-mail to supporters, J Street Campaign Director Isaac Luria wrote: "The Weekly Standard magazine -- dubbed the "neocon bible" by the Economist -- launched an attack on our conference and the whole pro-Israel, pro-peace movement."

Weekly Standard Editor Michael Goldfarb -- a man who has suggested that killing innocent women and children is an effective tool in the "war on terror" -- launched a campaign urging readers to call members of Congress and, in Luria's words, "frighten them away from associating with J Street."

Commentary's Noah Pollack called J Street an "anti-Israel group" that is "simply contemptible," James Kirchick of the New Republic, in the midst of an ongoing public crusade against the group, sneered that "far from representing the 'silent majority' of American Jews," J Street is "run by politically marginal amateurs." And a slick-looking Web site, JStreet, popped up to "track Israel's Jewish defamers."

Luria calls the attacks "classic swiftboating," and on examination, the charges against J Street appear to fit that description. One of J Street's most vocal critics has been Lenny Ben-David -- whom MJ Rosenberg, an Israel policy analyst and former congressional aide, described as "the quarterback of the smear campaign against J Street."

Rosenberg, who has firsthand knowledge of Ben-David's political tactics, called him "a feckless character, if there ever was one":

I knew him during his AIPAC days (he worked there for 25 years before being handed his gold watch and shown the door). At AIPAC, Lenny was in charge of the AIPAC version of oppo research. Lenny compiled files on everyone who criticized Israeli policies in any way and used the material he gathered to destroy careers. Lenny loved his files. He loved sending college kids out to gather negative information about journalists, politicians, rabbis, whatever. … Lenny now lives in Israel in the Efrat settlement. He's been on the payroll of the governments of Turkey, Georgia, oil companies, whoever will pay. He also was a Netanyahu aide. He remains close to AIPAC and to Netanyahu…

Ben-David is organizing a phone and e-mail campaign around an "open letter" to J Street's leaders published by the conservative Pajamas Media. It's a classic of its genre, painting the group as marginal with a thin soup of guilt-by-association.

Daniel Levy, a co-founder of J Street and now an adviser to the group, works at the (decidedly centrist) New America Foundation, which gets some funding from George Soros. That, according to Ben-David, ties J Street to a favorite right-wing bogeyman.

Another charge: J Street's director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, used to work for Fenton Communications, a PR firm that (after his departure) committed the crime of running "an international public-opinion awareness campaign that advocates for the accountability of those who participated in attacks against schools in Gaza."

At worst, Ben-David's indictment of the group veers from plain vanilla McCarthyism to a much uglier Islamophobia. He argues that the fact that some of the organization's supporters are members of the Muslim community is alone enough to discredit it.

Ben-David paints a sinister picture, for example, of "the case of Rebecca Abou-Chedid," who made a donation to J Street. Ben-David accuses Abou-Chedid not only of the crime of having previously served as political director at the Arab American Institute but also currently being director of outreach at the New America Foundation's Middle East Task Force.

Journalist Spencer Ackerman responded to the smear with a personal view:

You will notice that nowhere in Lenny Ben-David's post is there any accusation that Rebecca has taken any sort of objectionable stand or made any sort of objectionable point. And that's because it is impossible to do so.

I would wager that every journalist in Washington who writes on Middle East peace issues has had some interaction with Rebecca, as has every Hill staffer and innumerable current and former administration officials. Every single one of us will attest that Rebecca is incapable of ill will toward the Jewish people or toward Israel. Her entire professional life is devoted to peace, reconciliation and two states. I have repeatedly marveled at how good-natured she can be.

In a sense, the heat of the attacks on the young organization reveal what's at stake: the ability of what Rosenberg calls "the status-quo lobby" to portray itself as the only "pro-Israel" perspective in Washington. Steven Walt said, "because their own case is so weak, the hard-liners have little choice but to smear" those who advocate a more moderate approach.

Shifting Window of Acceptable Discourse

While J Street has plenty of progressive allies, it has established itself in Washington by being almost self-consciously centrist. When asked by the Atlantic Monthly's Jeffrey Goldberg where he sees the group in relation to America's Jewish community, Ben-Ami said: "I believe that we are at the center. The Marty Peretzes and the Michael Goldfarbs and the Lenny Ben-Davids are on the right, to the far right, and there are people to our left, and we are in the middle trying to put forward a thoughtful, moderate, mainstream point of view about how to save Israel as a Jewish home."

That kind of "triangulation" -- in Goldberg's words -- represents a trade-off: J Street will disappoint those who expected it to be a vocally progressive counterweight to the right-leaning advocacy groups. For better or worse -- and that's certainly the subject of some debate among various activists -- J Street's leaders clearly believe that mainstream credibility is crucial for the group's success.

So when the Goldstone Commission released a blistering report that found widespread violations of the rule of law during Israel's invasion of Gaza last year, J Street didn't join the hawkish voices accusing Goldstone of acting out of anti-Semitism or hatred of Israel (he's a Jewish Zionist who "loves Israel"), singling out Israel while ignoring other countries' crimes (he was the chief prosecutor for the international war crimes tribunals in Rwanda and Yugoslavia) or ignoring the Palestinians' human rights' violations (his report found crimes on both sides).

But J Street did reject the report's core recommendations and took a jab at the oft-maligned U.N. Human Rights Council, even as it urged Israel to "establish an independent state commission of inquiry" into the Goldstone Commission's findings (something Tel Aviv has refused to do).

And while J Street endorses sanctions against Iran -- what it calls a "thoughtful and nuanced approach" -- its position is less than black-and-white; it has opposed sanctions bills before Congress in the past. According to a statement, the group's "first choice" is to resolve the tensions between the U.S and Iran "through diplomatic means."

The great potential of J Street is not that it might radically shift U.S. policy in the Middle East, but rather that its existence has the potential to shift the "Overton window," a term coined by Joe Overton at the Merrimac Center for Public Policy to describe the range of approaches to an issue that the public finds acceptable to consider -- which proposals appear to be "fringe" and which fall within the mainstream.

J Street offers cover to those who would deviate from the hawkish orthodoxy established by the "status-quo lobby" -- one can oppose a sanctions bill that's too deep or accept the legitimacy of a human-rights report that finds Israel at fault without being reviled for being "anti-Israel."

That alone might prove a crucial first step toward a more balanced view of the Middle East conflict to emerge within the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

Right-Wing Extremist Group On Active Military Duty

Extremists Continue To Get Free Military Training In The U.S. Armed Forces.

By Rob Waters,
Source: Southern Poverty Law Center
Posted October 26, 2009.
Courtesy Of Alter Net

Oath Keepers, the militia/“Patriot” extremist group made up of law enforcement officers, military personnel and veterans, has posted a photo on its site showing (it says) “an active duty Oath Keeper in Mosul, Iraq” wearing two Velcro-attached “tabs” or patches, one saying “Oath Keeper” and the other “Three percent.” The flag patch beneath them is also an insignia of the “Three Percenters,” an informal alliance of hard-line gun owners.

The Oath Keepers figured prominently in a recent special report by the Southern Poverty Law Center on the resurgence of the antigovernment militia movement. The report described the group as “a particularly worrisome example of the Patriot revival.” Oath Keepers is fully on board with all the standard right-wing conspiracy theories, as evidenced by its official list of 10 “Orders We Will Not Obey,” in which it vows to resist any government efforts to “disarm the American people” or turn cities into “giant concentration camps.”

In July, the SPLC also presented Congress with growing evidence that extremists are infiltrating the U.S. military and urged Congress and the military to take steps to ensure that the armed forces are not inadvertently training future domestic terrorists.

A spokesman for the Defense Department, Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, confirmed that the uniform shown in the photo is an Army combat uniform, the kind worn by soldiers in Iraq. Army regulations stipulate that any uniform item not expressly authorized for wear is prohibited. But Melnyk noted that a Velcro-attached tab can be put on quickly for a photo-op and just as quickly removed. We’re guessing that not many soldiers are really parading around Mosul or anywhere else with these things on display.

Oath Keepers has scheduled a national conference this weekend in Las Vegas, hometown of the group’s founder, Stewart Rhodes. The Las Vegas Review-Journal profiled Rhodes and the organization in a story on Sunday. The story included this quote from the SPLC’s Mark Potok: “I’m not accusing Stewart Rhodes or any member of his group of being Timothy McVeigh or a future Timothy McVeigh. But these kinds of conspiracy theories are what drive a small number of people to criminal violence. … What’s troubling about Oath Keepers is the idea that men and women armed and ordered to protect the public in this country are clearly being drawn into a world of false conspiracy theory.”

Rhodes and Potok also faced off last night on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

And how does the Pentagon feel about Oath Keepers? “I don’t have a formal assessment of Oath Keepers for you,” Melnyk, the Pentagon spokesman, said in an E-mail. He noted that it is “a fairly new group” and said the Defense Department would defer to the judgment of the Department of Justice and the FBI. “Certainly if they were on an FBI list of gangs or groups espousing hate, DoD would find this a compelling reason for prohibiting membership.”

Melnyk provided the specific Defense Department regulation regarding prohibited extremist groups, and it clearly is aimed more at groups that discriminate based on such things as race, ethnicity or religion. Simple conspiracy theorists, for now, might get a free pass. The regulation reads as follows:

Prohibited Activities. Military personnel must reject participation in organizations that espouse supremacist causes; attempt to create illegal discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, religion, or national origin; advocate the use of force or violence; or otherwise engage in efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights. Active participation, such as publicly demonstrating or rallying, fund raising, recruiting and training members, organizing or leading such organizations, or otherwise engaging in activities in relation to such organizations or in furtherance of the objectives of such organizations that are viewed by command to be detrimental to the good order, discipline, or mission accomplishment of the unit, is incompatible with Military Service, and is, therefore, prohibited.

As the SPLC noted in its July report, however, the military services’ track record when it comes to disciplining or purging extremists in their ranks has been spotty. Here’s a story from Stars and Stripes, the independent military paper, based on the SPLC report.

CIA Kept Prisoners Alive To Keep Torturing Them

Human rights lawyer John Sifton says the CIA tried to prevent detainees from dying, "which might sound humanitarian, but was kind of sickening."
By Muriel Kane,
Source: Raw Story
Posted October 28, 2009
Courtesy Of Alter Net

According to human rights lawyer John Sifton, the CIA tortured detainees so severely that it had to take measures to keep them alive so they could continue being tortured.

Sifton, who is currently the director of One World Research, explained to an interviewer for Russia Today that there was both a CIA detention program and a military detention program, which was modeled on that created by the CIA.

"The CIA program was by far the most secretive," Sifton noted. "That's the one that only had a few dozen detainees at any given time -- but it's the one that saw the biggest abuses, the most serious forms of torture."

"In the military, there was actually a larger number of deaths than with the CIA," he continued. "The CIA engaged in some horrendous abuses, but they appear to have taken precautions to have actually prevented people from dying -- which might sound humanitarian, but in fact was kind of sickening."

"The military wasn't so careful," according to Sifton. "The military subjected a lot of people to the same techniques, but without the precautions, and as a result a large number of detainees in military custody died. … While they didn't use the worst forms of torture, like waterboarding, they often used sleep deprivation, forced standing, stress positions. … When you combine these techniques … they cause excruciating pain … and the military used them on thousands and thousands of detainees."

Sifton commented that what he found most shocking was "the cold, clinical fashion in which they went about designing the program. They didn't want to commit outright physical torture … so they went to psychologists and lawyers and they tried to design a program which was, in their minds, legal. … They tried to make it legal and safe, but they just made it even more grotesque."

Now, Sifton says, "Our information is that the Obama administration essentially put the CIA out of business with respect to detaining people. They no longer have their own secret prison program." Because nobody has been held accountable, however, and much of what went on is still being concealed, it "causes a moral culpability issue worldwide. President Obama may have closed the prisons and ended the programs, but … it creates a stain that has yet to be cleansed."

Europe Stoops To Conquer The Uzbeks

By M K Bhadrakumar
October 30, 2009
Courtesy Of Asia Times Online

The worsening Afghan war has brought some good news for Uzbekistan. On Tuesday, the European Union announced it was lifting a four-year old arms embargo against Uzbekistan. The EU imposed wide-ranging sanctions in 2005 after Uzbek troops fired on civilians during an uprising in the city of Andizhan in Ferghana Valley, and Tashkent rejected calls by Western countries for an international inquiry into those killings.

Tuesday's decision completes an incremental process stretched over the past year or so on the EU's part to kiss and make up with Tashkent. The EU officials justified their decision with Tashkent's recently release of some political prisoners and
abolishment of the death penalty. Amnesty International has promptly contradicted the claim with facts and figures.

Aside from the veracity of the EU claim, the reality is that Europe not only blinked first, it also bent its knees while doing so. Brussels kept a straight face, though, assuring the world audience that it would "closely and continuously observe the human-rights situation in Uzbekistan … [and] assess progress made by the Uzbek authorities."

No More 'Regime Change' …

All the same, the EU decision is a good thing. It underscores a new degree of realism often lacking in Western policy towards the strategic Central Asian region. The West has been far too prescriptive towards a region whose civilization dates back several centuries further than Europe's. Besides, the dogma regarding democracy and "regime change" was alien to the steppes and somewhat irrelevant at this point in time.

Are we seeing the end of the "regime change" ideology? The signals are tentative. Statements made by United States Vice President Joseph Biden during his tour this month of Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania, hark back to the former president George W Bush era. But then, Biden was grandstanding in front of people upset over President Barack Obama's reversal on the Anti-Ballistic Missile system deployment in Central Europe.

As one Moscow commentator put it, Biden's mission was to "provide comfort to the distressed ... to heal the wounds of upset allies", by explaining "that the US would abandon neither its defense commitments ... nor the strong friendship … there will just be a political order in which Russia's interests hold more weight than under the Bush administration".

Indeed, the first detailed articulation of the Obama administration's Central Asia policy, as available from the major speech made by the US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns in Washington, DC, a fortnight ago, all but threw the "Great Central Asia strategy" that the Bush administration proclaimed out of the window. Burns's speech almost made Tuesday's decision on Uzbekistan at Brussels inevitable.

Burns paid no attention to "regime change" or democratization and instead the emphasis was on "a focus on mutual interests" with the Central Asian states "in a spirit of mutual respect, which means that we [the US] won't pretend to have a monopoly on wisdom, or seek to impose our system or to preach or patronize".

He explained this "blend of mutual interest and mutual respect" in terms of energy cooperation, increased trade and security ties and "practical cooperation" was based on the recognition that the countries of the region are "unique, independent, sovereign states, each with its own distinctive national cultures, experiences, people and economies".

All the same, Burns stressed the high priority the Obama administration attaches to the region and revealed that Washington has initiated "an effort to construct high-level mechanisms with each Central Asian country, featuring a structured, annual dialogue." True, he sidestepped Biden's combative tone toward Russia but then he implicitly suggested that the Obama administration wouldn't accept the thesis of "sphere of influence". Burns made not a single reference to Russia in his entire speech.

Arguably, therefore, the EU's decision on Uzbekistan has been taken in a holistic spirit taking into account many factors such as the Obama administration's new approach to the region, the promise of "reseting" US-Russia relations, energy security, trade and investment, and China's surge in Central Asia.

All the same, it should be traced first and foremost to the imperatives of the Afghan war, and only reminds us how far the war has transformed as a "bleeding wound" - to borrow former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev's unforgiving words.

... As Afghan War Beckons

Germany took the initiative in Brussels to propel the EU toward full restoration of ties with Uzbekistan. Tashkent's goodwill has assumed the nature of a strategic asset for Berlin, given its heavy dependence on Uzbek transit facilities for ferrying supplies to the 4,500-strong German contingent deployed in the Amu Darya region in northern Afghanistan.

Termez port, on the Uzbek side, has become Germany's gateway to Afghanistan, and the Freedom Bridge built by the Soviets across the Amu Darya connecting the Afghan port of Heiraton is today the vital lifeline for the Bundeswehr contingents.

No doubt, Uzbekistan's strategic importance has risen manifold for the US and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies as a northern supply route for Afghanistan takes shape. Although Uzbekistan has only a relatively short border with Afghanistan (in comparison with Turkmenistan and Tajikistan), logistically its terrain offers the most convenient entry point to the nation. These considerations weighed heavily in the German mind when it encouraged Washington to painstakingly rebuild its own ties with Tashkent, while taking the initiative on lifting the EU sanctions.

The fact that EU was making an exception that it isn't ready to contemplate yet for China should drive home the fact that the Afghan war is hitting the European capitals where it hurts.

The EU decision comes at a time when alarm bells are beginning to ring in the Central Asian capitals regarding the spillover of the Afghan war to the region, which seems all but certain. The Taliban are strengthening their presence in northern Afghanistan and it is a matter of time before they threaten the Central Asian countries with retaliatory action for the latter's association with the US in Afghanistan.

Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are particularly vulnerable as their involvement in the war is much more direct and extensive than Turkmenistan's, which keeps a discreet, standoffish policy.

The outcome of the military operations in Waziristan on the Afghan-Pakistan border is viewed with utmost concern both in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. A group of Central Asian Islamist fighters estimated to be in the hundreds with strong ties to al-Qaeda is holed up in Waziristan. These fighters are also the toughest and most battle-hardened "foreign fighters" in the war.

It remains a toss-up whether the 28,000-strong Pakistani army units can vanquish the estimated 10,000-15,000 Taliban militants in Waziristan. Expert opinion says Pakistan needs 10 times its present force strength to establish control. The Central Asians will be keeping their fingers crossed for another few anxious weeks before the winter sets in, as the Pakistani army cannot sustain the momentum of even its current level of operations.

In the event of the Pakistani army driving the "foreign fighters" out of Waziristan altogether, these militants may move up north. Tajikistan had sent troops into the Rasht Valley bordering Afghanistan earlier this year on the basis of reports that militants were transiting through Tajikistan towards the Ferghana Valley, which has been historically a hotbed of radical Islam and resistance.

General David Petraeus, the Central Command (CENTCOM) chief, who visited the Tajik capital of Dushanbe on Monday, acknowledged the problem when he told reporters, "First of all let me say that we are very sensitive to the movement of extremists in response to our operation. One reason we have worked with all of the countries to the north of Afghanistan to help with their borders and customs and special operation forces is to ensure that they have the capacity if required to combat extremism."

Great Game Simmers

Commenting on Petraeus' consultations with Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon and Tajik military officials, the US embassy spokeswoman in Dushanbe said the discussions touched on "joint operation in promoting stability in Afghanistan. They are going to be talking about combating drug trafficking, preventing terrorism and ... border security", apart from the transit deal for NATO cargo for Afghanistan.

Conceivably, the EU hopes to play an active role in the emergent scenario. Petraeus' visit to Dushanbe itself took place just four days after Rakhmon's visit to Moscow, which was billed by the Kremlin as a "special occasion". The Joint Declaration issued in Moscow said, "Russia and Tajikistan perceive the difficult situation in Afghanistan and the threats originating from Afghan territory in exactly the same way." It identified "specific steps to strengthen cooperation between the two countries in military and military-technical spheres".

Considering the deterioration of the war, Washington should have been pleased that Moscow was prepared to boost security on the Tajik-Afghan border. But the contrary seems to be happening. The US prefers to cherry pick from the Russian offers of help:

"A transit route for NATO cargo through Russian territory?" "Yes, that'll be useful."

"A waiver of charges for using Russian airspace [estimated fee of US$1.2 billion annually]?' "Of course, yes."

"Russia providing training and equipping the Afghan army [which is used to Soviet standards and weapons]?" "Maybe, we'll discuss."

"But, how about a role for the Collective Security Treaty Organization [CSTO] in the war?" Mum's the word.

"A coordinated war effort between NATO and CSTO?" Pin-drop silence.

Meanwhile, according to reports, the US is deploying its special forces in Central Asia.

Smoke and Mirrors

The Central Asians comprehend what is going on. They know that while the US keeps Russia out, NATO will never have the capacity to deploy in Afghanistan at the level of the Red Army in the 1980s. They also know that raising an Afghan army - "Afghanization" - is vacuous talk. They see an indefinite Western military presence in Afghanistan as the only way out, but the political will is lacking in European capitals for that to happen.

However, the dilemma of the elites in Tashkent and Dushanbe is that while they accept that Moscow is genuinely concerned about the escalating security threat to the region from Afghanistan, and may ultimately be compelled to seek Russian protection, they would rather not do so if they have a choice. Like Afghan President Hamid Karzai wanting to demarcate a "cultural gap" vis-a-vis the US, they too would consider it prudent to distance themselves from Russia and consolidate their position as national leaders and as "good Muslims" to brace for a possible Taliban victory.

Like Karzai, they too would be increasingly skeptical about the ability of the Western powers or Russia to avert a Taliban victory. Equally, they too would be mindful of the very real possibility bordering on probability that neither the US nor Russia will hesitate in the ultimate analysis to strike a deal with the Taliban in its interests, leaving fellow travelers and comrades-in-arms in the lurch.

To quote a Central Asia scholar, "Increasingly, they [elites in Tashkent or Dushanbe] ask for assurance that they will not be left in the cold, or [they] demonstrate their independence from both Russia and the West so as to ensure their support domestically and possibly among the very same Islamists against whom they supposedly engage in the war."

Clearly, no story quite ends in the Central Asian steppes. There is always a sub-plot, often more than one. It is against this complex backdrop that the uniqueness of Uzbekistan - a cradle of Islamic culture and civilization - needs to be grasped. The West learned the hard way that the pre-requisite of an effective engagement in Central Asia is a full-fledged relationship with the regime in Tashkent.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Argentina Insists On Re-Negotiating Military Agreements With U.S.
2009-10-29 09:42:38
Courtesy Of Xin Hua Net

BUENOS AIRES, Oct. 28 (Xinhua) -- The Argentine government reiterated its need on Wednesday to re-negotiate with the U.S. government military accords signed between 1953 and 1964, which the South American country deemed outdated.

Argentine Defense Minister Nilda Garre insisted on a review and re-negotiation while meeting visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Mora.

"Many of the contents of those talks and their specific agreements involve issues and typical activities of conceptions associated to the Cold War," Garre told Mora last month during her visit to the United States.

The 1953, 1960 and 1964 accords included clauses related to the internal security of the country as well as activities of intelligence exchange on issues that are now prohibited to the Armed Forces, like drug trafficking, terrorism and other security threats, and to nuclear cooperation.

Other senior defense and military officers from both countries were present at the meeting.

Editor: Anne Tang

The Continuity Of Immunity For Tío Sam In Colombia

Written by James J. Brittain
Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Courtesy Of
The Upside-Down World

It is not difficult to obtain information related to the many social movements and progressive political mechanisms working to implement social reforms throughout contemporary Latin America. Venezuela continues to experience support for the presidency of Hugo Chávez [1999-] and the changes therein via the Bolivarian Revolution; Bolivia has witnessed the successful promotion of nationalization projects through Evo Morales’ Movement for Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo, MAS) [2006-]; and president Rafael Correa [2007-] has garnished significant applause for his administrations consistent denunciation of US intervention in the region, as shown through Ecuador’s disallowance of Washington to resume activities at the port and airport in Manta. Alongside the aforementioned electoral shifts, the on-going civil war within Colombia has, contrary to state and popular media reports, seen the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas-Ejército del Pueblo, FARC-EP) remain a consistent threat to dominant political-economic interests in both Colombia and the United States (Brittain, 2010). For years the FARC-EP have been "the most powerful and successful guerrilla army in the world" leading it to be seen as "the most important military and political force in South America opposing imperialism" (Escribano, 2003: 299; Petras and Brescia, 2000: 134; see also Petras and Veltmeyer, 2003). A testament of their consequential Marxism, administration after administration in Colombia (and the United States) have diligently fought to halt the FARC-EP’s struggle of emancipation fearing that the country’s elite could lose their entrenched class dominance. If such events were to occur a further destabilization of domestic and foreign interests would subsequently arise within a region increasingly moving away from a well-entrenched conventional political-economic system dominated by the United States. While 2008 witnessed the insurgency implement a tactical withdrawal, the FARC-EP remains to be the largest and longest-established insurgency movement in Latin American history (Brittain, 2010; Petras, 2008).

To prolong influence over Colombia, every US administrations from Nixon [1969-1974] to Obama [2009-] has embraced a ‘war on drugs,’[1] or more recently a ‘war on terror,’ as a means to deploy counterinsurgency campaigns to silence antagonistic sectors of said population. It is increasingly clear, when concerning the recent actions of Bogotá and Washington to facilitate seven fortified bases controlled by the United States on Colombian territory, that both states have coordinated a strategic alliance to militarize the region, not simply one country. German Rodas Chavez (2007: 97) suggests that such activities are an attempt to enable the US to stabilize at least a portion of Latin America’s territory. Securing some form of control over Colombia – and subsequently using the country as a centralized outpost – would assist the US to deploy ‘sub-regional military operations’ throughout the domestic and regional geography (Campos, 2007: 31). From this one can view Colombia as a strategic ‘national security’ case for Washington on three fronts:

  • First, the country’s influential economic and geopolitical placement as the regions gateway to South America: bordering on the Panama Basin and Caribbean Sea, access to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and neighbouring five nation-states (Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil).
  • Second, Colombia is one of the United States’ most important Latin American and Caribbean energy suppliers in both present and future forms via extensive untapped oil/coal reserves and already established pipelines and open-pit mines.
  • Lastly, both states share a dual goal of eliminating the ideological significance and potential political-military threat of the FARC-EP from creating a successful revolutionary shift ‘from below’.

Supporting such a scenario, John Perkins describes Colombia as the last bastion of US imperial power in Latin America. As a result of the country’s tactical location Washington has attempted to financially and militarily sustain the basis of power in Colombia to ensure that a geopolitical opening remains in the grasp of the US – hence, the importance of the seven bases.[2] If the Colombian state can hold power than Washington still has a hope of regaining regional political-economic authority.

Colombia is the glaring exception to the hemispheric anti-corporatocracy movements. It has maintained its position as Washington’s surrogate. Shored up massive U.S. taxpayer assistance and armies of corporate-sponsored mercenaries, as well as formal U.S. military support, it has become the keystone in Washington’s attempt’s to regain regional domination (Perkins, 2008: 149).

What is being witnessed in Colombia reflects what Marx (and Engels) alluded to when concerning the activities of ruling powers under ingrained capitalist conditions. While not apparently in their immediate interests, elites from various countries will periodically align when problematic conditions arise for the purpose of eliminating impediments to expansion. Hence, their historical statement, "in political practice … they join all coercive measures against the working class" (Marx and Engels, 1976: 481, 508). In 1847, before a collective of workers in London, Marx highlighted how capitalists, without fail, would, across borders, support one another as a consequence of their class position.

A certain kind of brotherhood does of course exist among the bourgeois classes of all nations. It is a brotherhood of the oppressors against the oppressed, of the exploiters against the exploited. Just as, despite the competition and conflicts existing between the members of the bourgeoisie, the bourgeois class of one country is united by brotherly ties against the proletariat of that country, so the bourgeois of all countries, despite their mutual conflicts and competition on the world market, are united by brotherly ties against the proletariat of all countries (Marx, 1976: 388).

Recognizing the importance of regaining some form of hegemony, the Colombian state is willing to provide the United States carte blanch in tactics, methods, and campaigns over its sovereign territory and those living therein. Such immunity was recently witnessed when US Sgt. Michael Coen and a private military-based contractor César Ruiz were free to leave Colombia without trial after warrants for their arrest were issued related to the rape of a 12 year-old girl at the Tolemaida military base in Tolima (Martínez, 2009). Furthermore, upon returning to the United States, neither Coen or Ruiz were prosecuted for said crime even though Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s office concluded the youth had been sexually assaulted, had compiled evidence related to the sort, and had eye-witness testimony that decried the two as the violators (Alsema, 2009). Recognizing this as a violation of justice, one is burdened with the question as to how many more atrocities have gone unpunished over the last decade (and Plan Colombia, 1998/2000-2006)?

According to US ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield, "only six US soldiers committed crimes in Colombian territory in the last ten years … in other words, more or less three cases for 10,000 people" (see Wecker, 2009a). Most disconcerting, however, were Brownfield’s adamant comments that even if crimes had, were, or are committed, "[US] people have a right to privacy" (as quoted in Wecker, 2009a). Astonishingly, Colombia’s foreign minister Jaime Bermúdez furthered this position when referring to US state forces operating from the proposed seven bases. On national media, Bermúdez commented that not only would foreign military personnel receive immunity while serving in Colombia but that this is a long continued practice (see Martínez, 2009; Wecker, 2009b).

Immunity for US forces in Colombia is not a recent phenomena but rather an ongoing foreign policy agreement between Bogotá and Washington. In 2002-2003, the Colombian state relieved any legal barriers to crimes committed against its citizens by US military personnel through Article 98 of the Rome Treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the American Service-Members’ Protection Act (APSA) (see Isacson, 2007).[3] For the greater part of a decade, officials in both Colombia and the United States have made sure that Colombian institutions cannot inhibit nor intervene in US operations (during or after the fact) under the guise of stabilizing the country (and region). Former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld put it best when he said the United States’ has "an obligation to protect our men and women in uniform from this court [ICC] and to preserve America’s ability to remain engaged in the world" (as quoted in Stoner, 2004). John Negroponte, former US ambassador to the United Nations (UN), even threatened the UN when he stated, "should the ICC eventually seek to detain any American, the United States would regard this as illegitimate - and it would have serious consequences" (Negroponte, 2002: 1). In short, through these Immunity Agreements (IAs), US state forces have enjoyed relative invulnerability from the mayhem they have committed.

The basis for the IAs – and the most recent announcement of full-scale future immunity for US state forces on the seven bases – has partially been to insulate United States officials from again being embroiled in scandals related to structural human rights abuses. In 1986, the US was scolded by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) when it determined Washington was involved in terrorist activities of war, working with paramilitary networks, and approving the mining of Nicaragua’s Managua waterways as a means to destabilize the Sandinistas while in power (ICJ, 1986). What is interesting about today, however, is that the call from the Obama administration for immunity is welcomed by the Colombia state under Álvaro Uribe Vélez [2002-]. The reasoning: a dire need to prolong domestic sociopolitical stability and regain hemispheric economic control over a region that has experienced more than incremental amounts of economic, political, and social change, which could wet an appetite for more. As Lenin (1966: 241-242) recognized:

There has been a certain rapprochement between the bourgeoisie of the exploiting countries and that of the colonies, so that very often—perhaps even in most cases—the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries … is in full accord with the imperialist bourgeoisie, i.e., join forces with it against all revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes.

The catalyst for the seven bases and IAs is due to the rise and increasing stability of progressive social movements – both within and outside Colombia – that demonstrate the vulnerability of the United States’ imperial project. To lose ground in Colombia would be to not only lose the capacity to fiscally gain from the nation’s natural resources, cheap labour, and exportable commodities but it would further signal the ability of those ‘from below’ to continue building collective power through a united Latin America – a Bolivarian-like region that could withstand dominant monetary and militaristic imperial pressures. Instead of accepting the organic democratic principals of foreign countries and the majorities therein to create an alternative political model of representation and economic methods of development, the United States has and will continue to consciously work against self-determination.

James J. Brittain is an Assistant Professor within the Department of Sociology and coordinator of International Development Studies at Acadia University. He is the author of Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia: The origin and direction of the FARC-EP (Pluto Press, 2010), many peer-refereed publications for Controversia, Cuadernos de Sociología, Development, Journal for Peasant Studies, Labour, Capital and Society, Monthly Review, New Politics, Peace Review, Rethinking Marxism, Socialist Studies, The Saskatchewan Institute for Public Policy, Z Magazine, Zed Books, and various articles for Upside Down World.


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[1] Former US Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey expressed how the war against drugs in Colombia has, in fact, been a campaign to demonize Marxist-Leninist guerrillas rather than induce an attack against coca production (see Goff, 2004: 32). It has been argued that the United States has no intentions of curbing the global drug-trade due to the economic spin-offs created from it (Campos, 2007: 38-9; Scott, 2003: 89; Petras, 2001; Petras and Morley, 1995: 86).

[2] During Plan Colombia [1998/2000-2006], the US and Colombian state invested just under $9 million (USD) a day in counterinsurgency efforts (Murillo, 2005; Latin American Press, 2004). By the mid-2000s, the United States had provided over $7 billion (USD) in ‘aid’ (Campos, 2007: 38; Chavez, 2007: 96; Mondragón, 2007: 42).

[3] Under Article 98 and the Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Colombia Regarding the Surrender of persons of the United State of America to the International Criminal Court, criminal immunity was given to any US "official, employee (including any contractor), or member of the military, or any United States person" (United States Department of State, 2003: 2). This was, in part, possible through the ASPA where any US president has the capacity to suspend military aid to any country that does not exempt state forces from alleged or proven crimes committed on foreign soil (see Isacson, 2007; Stoner, 2004). For example, "nearly $112 million of Colombia’s expected 2004 aid was contingent on the Bogotá government’s signing of an Article 98 agreement. Faced with the possibility of losing this assistance, the government of President Alvaro Uribe signed in September 2003" (Stoner, 2004). Richard Boucher (2003), spokesperson for the State Department, justified this position by arguing:

It’s an important principle for the United States that those who want to adhere to the Rome Treaty, who want to participate in the International Criminal Court, can do so. That’s their sovereign decision to do so. But they cannot implicate others and pretend to carry out prosecutions against others who may not be participating, especially since we have our own legal system that deals with the same kind of crimes, and that we do deal with the same kind of crimes. We hold our military to the highest standards, and we don’t think that we need to rely on prosecutors under this court to decide when that needs to be done … So this has been a matter of principle to the United States and has been an important element of national policy. We have a law that was passed by our Congress that says that we won’t provide military assistance to countries who put American officials and military personnel and others in jeopardy of this kind of prosecutorial discretion under this court.